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Utility Tapes: New cassette label launches at Bishops' House

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Adam Zejma.

Like vinyl before it, the humble cassette is undergoing something of a renaissance. UK sales rose to 100,000 in 2019 - twice that of the year before. As in the mid eighties, when the C86 compilation shone a light on the jangle pop sound, tapes offer a quick and convenient format for the DIY underground.

Utility Tapes is a new Sheffield label dedicated to leftfield sounds and a minimalist approach to design. We spoke to founder Adam Zejma to find out what attracts him to this much-maligned medium.

Why launch a tape label?

I know it seems a bit odd in 2020 to be making cassettes and selling them but there are some definite benefits. I think that some people, like me, have a very tactile relationship with recorded music, and tapes appeal to that. Also, they say you should stick to what you know and tapes are all I know.

Many people would say that cassettes are worse for sound quality.

Cassettes are worse than vinyl, vinyl is worse than MP3s and MP3s are worse than CDs. Sometimes it's good to be bad.

Are cassettes undergoing a renaissance?

Compared to 15 years ago, definitely. It's nothing compared to the resurgence in vinyl sales though. I would say that the peak was a couple of years ago when you started getting major record labels jumping on the bandwagon and doing a limited run of Nevermind on cassette and similar, but that doesn't seem to have lasted.

I don't want to be doing the tape version of some buzz band's new album

They are easy to create from start to finish yourself, which will ensure they always have a special place as a medium for releasing music quickly and easily.

Tell us a bit about some of the releases you've got coming up.

The first three releases are really in keeping with this idea I have in the back of mind which is to make sure that the label is being "useful". I don't want to be doing the tape version of some buzz band's new album, I want to be releasing the weird project that never found a home or the demos that are actually way better than the finished article.

Utility Tapes 1 to 3 fit this ethos and I've already planned Utility Tapes 4 and 5 which will be announced in early March. I have a song from Utility Tapes 4 stuck in my head as we speak - it's going to be great.

What kind of music will people hear on Utility Tapes 1, 2 and 3?

You'll hear a real range of sounds. Space Malk is instrumental, fully improvised experimental rock music. Think long songs that unfold and blossom over time.

Sammartino can be relied upon to do something strange

The Minnesota Nice / Zejma collaboration is a transatlantic internet collaboration between Ben Hinz (who runs an effect pedal company called Dwarfcraft) and myself. It's atmospheric noise music which swings a bit industrial on 'Houdini' and more mellow on the B-side, 'King'. And Sammartino... well he's Sammartino. Huge synthpop songs about alchemy, aliens and the occult.

What's in store at the launch party at Bishops' House?

It's going to be great! Two bands and artists that have never played live before and Sammartino performing a unique collaboration in a unique venue in the 16th century Bishops' House. Sammartino can be relied upon to do something strange. I am very excited about it.

Sam Gregory

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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