When I first moved to New York, I came with just my clothes and a few books. I left all my CDs and records at home. Ripping what I could, figuring anything I left behind that I actually wanted would reveal itself to me over the years. What followed was a strange week where I tried to cobble together a new record player setup. I found myself looking at receivers in strange upper west side apartments while hounding my dad over email to send me the cream colored speakers I remembered sounding so great when I was a kid. I got the speakers, I bought a new record player, and finally, I found a receiver on Craigslist. The woman was desperate to get rid of a gorgeous tape player as well, but not quite desperate enough to give it to me for free. She threw it in for five dollars. I never did anything with that tape player. I’d long given up on cassettes, and the only person that wanted it was a friend that never actually bothered to come get it. It collected dust in my apartment for a year, and when I moved, I left it there next to a broom and a washing machine that leaked.
Years later, I started buying cassettes again. They were cheap, but more importantly, they felt like an exciting breeding ground for new artists. A low stakes way to try out some new material. If I didn’t like something, it was only five bucks. I could hold onto it and see if I came back around, or I could just give it away. I ordered tapes fairly constantly, despite the fact that my method for actually playing them was to hook up a cassette recorder to the computer speakers and boxy Logitech subwoofer I got my freshman year of college. It’s not the most ideal way to listen to anything—it looks messy, and sometimes I have to jiggle the headphone jack—but it does the job.
I’ll admit that the cassette buying has become kind of a problem lately. I don’t have a place for them, so I stack them on a window sill. I’m not actively blocking any light, but it’s getting close (if anyone has any good recommendations for cassette shelving, holler in the comments). Most recently, I ordered a batch of cassettes from a label called Bathetic. This isn’t a new thing. For as long as I’ve been aware of them, the dudes who run that label have been releasing exactly the sort of thing I’m looking for: ambient experiments that may or may not have been recorded in suburban towns, swampy, murky, but not actually so difficult releases that are worth five dollars for the art alone. They put these tapes out often and in such limited runs that they sell out almost instantly. Last night, I listened to a couple recent releases on my shitty tape setup while laying in bed (this and this, if you’re wondering). While I was doing it, I started thinking about the concept of community and being stoked on what your friends do.
The other day, the trailer for the documentary about the final days of LCD Soundsystem came out. I was at that last show, and watching the trailer, I felt like I did when I was at the show: jealous that I wasn’t more connected to that scene. Maybe jealous is the wrong word. But when you see a bunch of friends celebrating an incredible achievement, you feel like maybe you missed out on being part of something, even if your something is probably happening right now, right under your nose with your own friends. Not so coincidentally, a lot of LCD’s music dealt with this specific conundrum.
Over Christmas, Bathetic Records released a free, downloadable compilation of music by artists they’ve released, as well as other people they know and like and appreciate. It’s messy and imperfect, and honestly, not as good as most of the tapes I end up ordering from them. But the sense of community present in it is clear. It feels like art—however flawed—for art’s sake, and while I can’t imagine I’ll go back to it much, it’s important that things like that still exist, and are still paid attention to. Who knows who from that tracklist will go on to do something bigger. Maybe no one. Maybe half. Definitely not all of them. But it’s a document of a specific time for the people that made it, and even if that doesn’t mean much to the world outside of their circle, it means something to them, which is likely the most important part.
Download: Bathetic Records’ Expressway Compilation