Life goes in cycles and what goes around always seems to come back around, but the fact that compact cassettes are enjoying a second life still comes as something of a surprise. The infinitely more practical and superior quality CD, followed later by digital formats, had appeared to have relegated compact cassettes to little more than a memory from our parents’ era. But at a market for independent labels, organised at Brussels Café Central every few months, it’s the one item sold by almost every label. Cassette-only labels aren’t even that rare, and they’re an ideal way to discover the more obscure and avant-garde styles of music out there.
A highly impractical and shabby medium like this is, of course, tailor-made for Belgians. They speak to our surrealist nature, and it’s no wonder that the cassette –revival is in full swing in Brussels with labels wrapping them in toilet tube rolls or limiting the release to 225 tapes each with unique handmade artwork, and all for very easy-on-the-wallet prices. Most of them can be yours for only 5€ or less.
The fact that they cost far less to make than vinyl (coupled with the fact that it’s far easier to avoid paying for copyright) is certainly appealing to music entrepreneurs just starting out. As they only require a couple of decks – which can be found easily for little money – some even make the copies themselves, and unlike CDRs, they are perceived as a lot less “disposable” . But low cost isn’t the only reason to glorify the cassette.
“In a world where music has become irrelevant, in a time where quantity comes over quality … a new force rises from within … armed with magic machines of ancient times … driven by pure passion and devotion…..fuelled by the craft and skills of their forefathers …. they will fight to make music free again … they will rage until the spirits of old will have their revenge … they go by the name … Chrome Brulee”
(Message accompanying the video above)
A love for the music, synthesisers and aesthetics of the 80s makes chrome tape a logical medium from which to take inspiration. Robert Magnet, Ricky Sunset, Tony Johnson, Michael Shredlove, Alex Mayhem, Kid Supreme & Club Cannibal, also known as the Chrome Brulée collective, make music “that’s an ode to the golden days of chrome cassettes”. Not that they’ve released anything yet. Apart from a couple of live gigs and a sparse and mysterious web presence, little is known about them and they seem to want to keep it that way. They perform in masks and don’t share much more than what you’ll find in the teaser above (though there’ve been a few up on the the 22tracks Beats).
The music is not unlike that of artists like Dâm-Funk or Onra, who both played a key role in bringing back the synth-fuelled 80s Funk sound – with a twist. Far less restricted and purist than the first, and not based on samples like the latter, it’s fresher and harder-edged with hints of the Detroit Electro sound of Cybotron or Model 500 and the sonic excursions of Vangelis or Paul Hardcastle.
Even though there’s hardly any ground for notoriety, the world of vintage electronic instruments is on board. The few live shows they’ve done have hit hard and everyone who has experienced them is quickly hooked. Expect half a studio on stage, with lots of smoke and masked men twiddling knobs, playing keys and hitting electronic drums over soundscapes coming from a chrome tape – far more exciting than your usual laptop live gig. Hopefully a release, even just on cassette, is soon to follow.
Another bunch of Belgians that sound like they came straight from the 80s is Maseratay, a new On-Point record signee about to release a 12”. No info about the members has yet been shared but the music sounds mighty tight – the kind of stuff that calls for hotpants and shiny track suits. A cassette release isn’t planned, which is a mighty shame, but maybe label-boss Alex should take it up a notch and go for a flexi-disc.
However bleak the 80s were in Belgium, they seem not only to claim our proudest moments in electronic music history, but they keep on inspiring our young new artists. One would almost hope the current crisis deepens because, musically at least, we definitely thrive during them. All nonsense aside, these two acts have the potential to go a long way. Far further, perhaps, than the cassette craze itself.
As a little bonus, here are 5 vintage Belgian synth-laden classics from the 80s: