The love for cassettes stretches beyond mere nostalgia: to Bishop, they're legitimate—if not ideal—sonic vessels for the music he loves. "I like the natural filtering of the tape," he explains, "I like how it kind of strips off a bit of the high-end and a bit of the sheen," an effect that adds a certain ghostly pallor to the imprint's releases. The world-weariness of the medium humanizes the distinctly artificial experiments pressed onto the magnetic film. But he also cherishes the visual aesthetic, the way the magnetic heads move with the music. The cassette "brings some sense of fragility to what otherwise is almost this ethereal, invisible gas that we put ourselves into and listen to."
The preoccupation machinery seems an unavoidable result of Bishop's surroundings. Redcar doesn't occupy the scenic, rural niche, nor is it dominated by the ghosts of heavy industry like Manchester—instead, it's sort of both. "I'm a ten-minute walk from the beach, and a ten-minute walk from a hill 500 feet above sea level with loads of woods and forest which continues for a few miles. I could walk in one direction and not go past another house for the best of 35 miles, [or] I could walk 15 minutes in the other direction [and end up] in one of the biggest petrol chemical plants in Europe."
That clash of machinery and nature helps to illuminate the curious appeal of Opal Tapes. There's no shortage of underground cassette labels releasing sonic doodles and concept-driven experiments, but the music on Opal feels distinctly tangible and accessible. It has roots in Bishop's old love affair with hardcore, but also in his deeply personal connection with drone music, which he fell in love with in his younger years because it reminded him of "those big cooling towers and the endless rumbling of the industry."
For something based out of a bedroom, his label started out auspiciously. Bishop's first releases came in the form of three tapes from already established artists: Australian beat shaman Dro Carey (as Tuff Sherm), American analog head Huerco S., and experimental underground all-star M Geddes Gengras (as Personable). These releases spanned guttural techno, broken house, enveloping synth wave and new agey drone, sometimes all on one side of a cassette, exploring any of the same ideas through vastly different palettes. It's a label full of contrasts, driven by Bishop's unique curatorial desire. "It was supposed to be about people coming from house and techno who were more interested in making textural music or non-rhythm based music... and people coming from 'outsider' music and making more rhythmic music. The Huerco S. tape is the absolute embodiment of what [I'm trying] to do with Opal Tapes... the perfect melting pot of sound, crumbling tropes of house music brushed out to oblivion. Beautiful, but also kind of sparse."
But for every synth reverie á la High-Tech Hi-Life, there's something like Function Trax Vol. 2, a helping of frantic ghetto-house beats from Leeds' DJ Ford Foster. That might sound out of place, but while Opal Tapes isn't a dance music label, it isn't not a dance label either. Even the Foster material is tinged by distortion and aggression. This thread of dance-not-dance connects even the most disparate of Opal artists. "The stuff that is sort of dance floor-friendly ends up becoming more bedroom based, maybe because it's too wild, or too hot.... too raw. You'd have to EQ so much of the high-end out [in a club]." Bishop isn't much of a clubber himself, though that's probably due to his living in a town with "zero artistic culture" outside of stodgy museums and galleries. Nonetheless, he commends Ben UFO for playing Opal Tapes material in his sets, showing that he pays attention to the dance music world, even if he isn't an active participant.
Like many cassette labels, there's something almost charming about how small the Opal operation is. Each release is limited to 200 copies max, with some getting only 50, each completed by hand in Bishop's home before being sent out into the world. His choice of small runs has more to do with capacity than anything else, and it's not the cheapest job in the world: printing, supplies, postage and even gasoline—he has to drive a distance to a post office from his rural home—all factor in. The profit margins are thin, and he charges as low a price as he can, but he insists "I'm not doing this label to fail."
With a highly prolific and consistent opening year, 2013 is Bishop's oyster. The next few tapes, already up on the label's website, include the EBM doomsaying of Traag and the blackened synth pop of Ex-Con, further widening the Opal horizons. These tapes make violent dynamism their central concern, somewhat removed from the comforting drones that underlie Huerco S. or 1991. Other producers on board for this year include Dublin house producer Lumigraph, Vancouver hardware wizard Cloudface and American Uio Loi, who makes "glowing ambient... [with a] crunching jacking that goes through it." It's a truly international roster. "The person whose music I put out that lives nearest to me is about 60 miles away—DJ Ford Foster, who lives in Leeds."
If that weren't enough, Bishop has a brand new series of releases up his sleeve. A collaboration with friend Matthew Kent, AKA Mirror & Gate (the name means "reflection, and then progression"), will focus on split releases from two artists each: one with allegiances to techno with another who prefers drone and synth music, "just to show the bleed between the two styles." The first comes from Basic House along with Cleveland producer Prostitutes, and the next from Montreal's Hobo Cubes—"a total synth master"—and modular specialists Rolling Acres.
Then there's vinyl. High-Tech Hi-Life was pressed by Boomkat, but Opal Tapes just had its own first vinyl pressing with another project of Backman's, MCMXCI. Skogen, Flickan och Flaskan is straight-up techno compared to his 1991 work, so it makes sense to put it on vinyl—but it's also unforgivingly savage (and it was a tape first). New York's Anthony Naples also has a release coming, which Bishop hopes will end up as a 12-inch, as well as a forthcoming slab of vinyl from renowned ambient musician Yves De May. It might be called Opal Tapes, but what's in a name? "Vinyl's just the next thing, man. There's no big story." And while there may indeed not be any "big story" surrounding Bishop's humble endeavour, that only makes it all the more impressive.
Download: RA Label of the Month 1301 Mix: Opal Tapes
(right click + save target as)
Filesize: 113 MB
01. Traag - Airbrushed Insides - Opal Tapes
02. Basic House - Dandellyon - Koppklys
03. 51717 - Essex Queen - Opal Tapes
04. Pita - More Break After The Terror - Mego
05. Kevin McPhee - CSA File
06. RA-X - Untitled - Bunker Records
07. Dariius - Black Car NYC - Salon
08. Unknown - Terris
09. Cassegrain - Eud - Prologue
10. OND TON - Spitfire - Opal Tapes
11. IVVVO - Rainy Rave - Opal Tapes
12. Work/Death - Simplified Methods For Imperfect Messages I - Three Songs Of Lenin
13. Ex-Con - Transferència / Reagrupament - Opal Tapes
14. Urea - Went
15. Basic House - Davids Skull - Opal Tapes
16. The Hers - Baby Came Out Like Good Gear In The Sun - Sex Lies Magnetic Tapespan>