The office, if you can call it that, of Since 1972 looks like countless rooms dedicated to DIY music labels: floors littered with inserts, walls covered with show posters, shelves of LPs, and desks piled high with half-assembled releases. Consigned to a room in owner Drew Demeter's Madison Park house, the humble operation betrays its success in the world of noise-cassette culture. Releasing solely cassettes after his first few dalliances with vinyl and CD-Rs, Demeter is steadfastly dedicated to putting out tapes from some of today's most exciting experimental music groups. A long-time fan and collector of noise tapes, Demeter began Since 1972 in 2000 and has released music by such little known but renowned bands as Yellow Swans, Prick Decay, and Hive Mind, as well as scene titans Wolf Eyes.
The current cassette underground has links back to the early '80s when tapes became cheap enough for the average consumer. As the format became a viable home recording medium, they likewise provided opportunities for adventurous artists whose only musical outlets were their own efforts at starting record labels. Entities like Eclipse Records, Chocolate Monk, Hanson Records, and encyclopedic labels like RRR Records and American Tapes have hundreds of items in their rosters and have extended this idea to the present day, providing landmark releases for the noise genre and bedrock structure for an international tape network that coalesced in the early '90s.
Demeter initially tapped into the '90s subculture through a small magazine. "The big thing was finding Bananafish, who reviewed every tape they could find. There was tons of noise stuff in there and I started ordering tapes from different places." Bananafish, which recently released its last issue, tied together this loose web of mail-order labels by chronicling in detail the multifaceted aspects of the American noise scene with a bizarre sense of humor. However, it was working at the now defunct Anomalous Records store in Seattle that accelerated Demeter's interest in tapes and outsider music. He recalls, "I found out a lot from working there and got exposed to a lot of different new stuff. And then I got really into collecting. I really liked the music: weird fucked up shit, junk noise, harsh noise, and all that." Demeter made the crossover from fan to participant by releasing an LP by the Seattle-based group Climax Golden Twins, after which the label took off to include around 20 releases to date.
While the recent rise of CD-Rs threatens to beat out tapes for the lowest production cost, Demeter sticks by his chosen format. "[Cassettes] are still pretty cheap to make," he says. "I find tapes a little bit better to deal with than CD-Rs. I like the way they look better and the ways you can package them." Releases in the tape underground often comprise such ridiculous packaging as cases made out of lacquered wood, plaster, and odd mutations of plastic drizzled with spray paint. Since 1972, however, packages cassettes of challenging music and out-there sounds in black cases with j-cards featuring mangled Xerox art.
While continuing the tradition of an increasingly obscure format, Since 1972 has no shortage of accolades, including high praise from the likes of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and music writer Byron Coley in Arthur Magazine.
As larger labels like Sub Pop and Kranky begin to pick the fruits of the wild and varied garden of current noise makers, labels like Since 1972 are also enjoying a renaissance and, surprisingly, a larger demand for their obscure artifacts. Since 1972, like many indies, does short runs of its releases, with higher-demand tapes often being re-pressed. While editions are often under 100 copies, the tapes still get out to the faithful collectors. "I definitely give away a lot of stuff. It's almost even, trade to sell," Demeter explains. The trade network in noise cassettes is extensive and often provides incentive for others to start their own labels, creating a sort of gift culture for those involved. Still, for only dealing with a format that has seen a decline in popularity recently, Since 1972 is remarkably active, with a flurry of new releases on the horizon and backorders piling up. While mainstream music pushes the technical edge of selling digital music for iPods, below the surface remains a thriving old-school culture blasting out of thrift-store Walkmans. ■