We chatted about the releases they had coming up: Among other things, a second full-length by Lerosa, a live piece by former Cluster member Conrad Schnitzler, and albums by Donato Dozzy, Fred P and Vladislav Delay, all limited to 100 copies, all with handmade artwork. Cul got more and more excited as we talked, and several times the connection broke. "Sorry," he said, "I'm walking around my garden now." Before I knew it, we'd been chatting for twenty minutes, and I still hadn't called out the elephant in the room: Why tapes?
"I don't mind admitting [that] I smoke quite a lot of pot," says Cul. "When I go to a club, you can't smoke in clubs anymore. So I'm always going out to my car, and my car has a tape deck. It has a CD player too, but that's in the boot, and you don't want to be fucking around in the boot. So you need tapes. So we've got tapes in the car, so when you want to have a smoke and a bit of privacy, you whack a tape on. It's great!" Cul laughs, "Sorry for that flippant response... I don't see why they shouldn't be used, really. They're portable, and they sound great."
Cul and Harris tend to play down the peculiarity of cassettes, partly because the decision to use them came very naturally. Harris had planned on starting a label for nearly a decade, but until recently, vinyl was financially out of the question. MP3s are useful for a modest budget, but neither she nor Cul wanted to run a net label. Tapes, meanwhile, are a cheap and interesting way for small labels to release music physically, and with no middle man.
"We're not the first people to put music on tape," says Cul. "There's a lot of US labels, especially in the more DIY indie, punk, noise scene. Some of that's electronic… But you don't really get house, techno, electro sort of stuff on cassette, and I don't see why not really." There's also the fact that Cul and Harris—AKA "Team Further"—just plain like tapes. As a teenager living in Blackpool, England, Cul would stay up on weekends recording the Essential Mix, and with the advent of the internet, he joined forums for trading bootleg tapes of DJ sets through the mail.
As for Harris, prior to her years of touring with John Digweed, she was more into making mixtapes than DJing in clubs. "I didn't even want to bother with it," she says. "I just made tapes for people because I really liked listening to records. Then I played at someone's birthday and just kept getting booked after that." And while it may be an acquired taste, cassettes have a very distinctive sound: "A little bit hissy at the top end, a lot of bass compression at the bottom end. It's just wicked."
Cul's feeling toward digital is a bit more staunch: "I've never bought an mp3 in my life, and I'm not about to start." He's not lying: in 2008, Cul became interested in a digital release by Aybee, the Oakland-based deep house producer, but just couldn't stomach buying mp3 files. "So I emailed him and said, can you put all those songs that you're selling on your website on a CD for me, print out a tracklist and send it to me, and I'll send you $15? And he did that for me."
Rather than judging Cul a tough customer, Aybee was impressed. The two stayed in contact, and 18 months later, Aybee released an album on Further, entitled Ancient Tones. He found the idea of releasing on tape especially intriguing: "You know from the start of the process that anyone buying a cassette is very serious, because the amount of toil associated with the medium," he said. "You know they are listening, and won't be skipping through the next track as with digital. The emphasis lands back with the artist in the form of 'OK, you're here… now what do I want to say?'"
It's a sentiment that's echoed by Lerosa, the Irish producer whose debut full-length, Dual Nature, was Further's first tape. "Because the cassette sort of forces you to go through each track and listen to it, I think it's still one of the best mediums for an album," he says. Dual Nature takes full advantage of its format, leading the listener though a well-paced sequence of abstract landscapes and musical sketches. "I like albums like Carl Craig's Landcruising and Drexciya's Neptune's Lair, where the music goes a bit all over and is not just focused on dance grooves prepped with the DJ in mind. So I approached this project with the hope of doing something that was more than just an extended 12-inch."
Harris feels that by releasing limited edition, handmade full-lengths, Further has tapped into a latent demand among house and techno artists. "It seems like people really want to do interesting projects, things other than just standard 12-inches," she says. "People are bored with mp3s. There's nothing to hold, nothing to give somebody... people want albums now. Plus, you need cool artwork to show your boyfriend or girlfriend."
to do what they always wanted to do."
For Cul, albums have always held more appeal than singles or EPs: "I want to hear the whole broad spectrum of what an artist is trying to convey to the world… and albums are a lot better for that." In recent years, his preference for full-lengths has been at odds with his love of electronic music, leading him to spend more and more time listening to rock classics (his current favorite is Neil Young's On the Beach). By giving his favorite house and techno artists a better way to release deep, contemplative music, he's basically filling a gap in his own listening experience, while at the same time creating a unique opportunity for artists.
And it works. "I had tried to release a full-length before but it had not worked out. Lots of hassle," says Lerosa, "Whereas with Further it was extremely easy from the start... I liked that attitude in them, they just came across like it made perfect sense so I went along with it." Lerosa was so happy with the experience that he's already gearing up for another cassette, which he says is "likely to be veering towards electro."
Listening to Further's albums by Lerosa, Aybee and Donato Dozzy, it's clear that each artist felt comfortable going a bit deeper than they might have on vinyl. This is partly because of the cassettes' limited audience: "We're only releasing one hundred copies, so there's only so many people that are going to hear it," says Cul. "It's just for the artists to have fun with really, to do what they always wanted to do."
The absence of financial pressure is another unique aspect of Further's operations. Lerosa finds that tapes provide "a way to release material that other labels, constricted by the vinyl necessity of being DJ-friendly, would not chance to put out." As Cul sees it, the financial realities of vinyl mean a lot of great material by house or techno producers never sees the light of day. "I know that Lerosa offers a label ten [tracks] he's made recently, and those vinyl labels say 'this one.' And what's getting left over is the interesting stuff that we can release on tape."
Probably one of the biggest tape advocates around today is Conrad Schnitzler, a former member of the kraut rock groups Cluster and Tangerine Dream who re-released one of his live recordings earlier this year on Further. For Schnitzler, cassettes take on a political dimension: "This medium made me free of the music industry," he says. "The cassettes are omnipotent. For me and my work it was of absolute importance to have cassettes." Schnitzler and Further Records have a strikingly similar approach to music: Back in the early '70s, Schnitzler would self-release tapes in batches of 100, each recorded at home with handmade artwork, exactly as Further does now. The process allowed him to sidestep labels and distributors, which was the only way he could hope to release such avant-garde material.
Cassettes played a big role in the sound of Schnitzler's music as well: sometime in the early '80s, he invented the "kassetten konzert," which was basically a live mix of many different cassettes, each of which contained a narrow piece of the whole. The result tended to be arrhythmic and rather cacophonous, as heard in the October, 1984 performance featured on his Further release. "I was in love with the cassette and its possibilities," he says. "With Further Records an old feeling [came] back into my life."
Not all of Further's artists see the medium in such romantic terms. Dutch experimental artist Ian Martin, for instance, considers tapes to have "history and charm," and believes it's important to release on multiple mediums, but all the same asked that his album Intensions be released on CD as well as cassette. "Cassette is an older medium… a CD is easier to spread and everybody can play a CD. Plus, my idea was to make a one hour mix of my music, which can't be done on tape."
They're portable, and they sound great."
Donato Dozzy also felt unsure about releasing music exclusively on cassette, but not until after he'd finished K, his debut album, which saw release this spring on Further. He was so happy with the result that he wanted to release it on vinyl as well. It's not hard to see why: in Dozzy's world of ultra-deep techno, down-tempo and droning tracks do have a place on vinyl (not least on Dozzy's own boutique imprint, Aquaplano), and besides, the second half of K could work at serious techno clubs. Further obliged without hesitation, and K will be pressed on wax later this summer, making it the label's first vinyl release.
The Dozzy album raises the question: With a decent fan base established, will Further start releasing more club-oriented 12-inches? "I'm going to say probably," says Harris. "It would just be weird not to... If the Dozzy album works, we'll probably keep doing cool vinyls. But it's very expensive, so we have to be sure." In the meantime, Further's tapes are set to keep rolling out, with albums in the pipeline by Convextion, Jamal Moss (AKA Hieroglyphic Being), Anders Ilar, and Raica, Chloe’s experimental project with the artist Seth Thomas. (According to Cul, other ideas include "a comedy industrial album, a Texas-themed album complete with limited edition chicken wing grease paper, and/or an album consisting of [Convextion] fucking about with strings for 60 minutes.")
Given Team Further's unusual zeal for the medium, it's hard to imagine them giving up the little plastic rectangles anytime soon. "People always ask me, 'should I buy two of these in case one breaks?'" says Cul. "It's not going to fucking break! I've recorded a hundred of these. I've gone through about three CDs on every run of recordings we've made because it just starts skipping after a while. But tapes...tapes are bomb-proof. Like cockroaches."