Canadian Musicians Keep the Cassette Alive

The Rural Alberta Advantage, LTtheMonk, White Poppy and more show off their tape collections
Canadian Musicians Keep the Cassette Alive
Photo: Brett Whittingham
The cassette revival hasn't become as ubiquitous as the vinyl boom, but it remains a thriving subculture, and the preferred format for many DIY bands releasing demos and EPs. The trend has become widespread enough that even mainstream artists put out their new albums on tape. 

We caught up with a few Canadian musicians to ask about their cassette collections — and they shared photos showing DIY releases by indie artists, vintage holdovers from past decades, and even self-recorded tapes from childhood. As it turned out, two of the artists we contacted run their own tape labels.

Below, check out the cassette collections of some Canadian artists. To quote Bratboy's Bella Bébê: "Long live the cassette!"

Bella Bébê of Bratboy

Photo courtesy of the artist

Bratboy singer-guitarist Bella Bébê's tape collection is a very DIY affair, with much of it consisting of childhood mixtapes, shoegaze soundscapes recorded on a karaoke machine, and demos of the songs that become Bratboy's bubblegum-punk smashers. In this photo, she explains, "I'm listening to a cassette of my brother and I being kids and making bizarre sounds that we recorded using the same Talkboy pictured that we've owned since the early '90s." She also collects tapes from friends' bands, and she cites Pale Red's Soft Opening and Dumb's DUMB EP 5$ OR FREE as particular favourites.

Dustin John Bromley of Brutal Poodle, Apollo Ghosts and NIIMIHK

Photo courtesy of the artist

Vancouver drummer Dustin John Bromley has played in numerous projects over the years, and the many connections he's made along the way are catalogued in his tape collection. "I'm currently mostly collecting tapes friends release or bands I've played shows with," he tells Exclaim! "They help me to feel connected to those people or memories in a small way." In this picture, he's highlighting personal faves by Gawdie, Smithy Ramone and Heavy Steps. He adds, "Those should all be available on their Bandcamps — hint hint!"

As a live member of Apollo Ghosts, Bromley is likely to pick up some tapes while touring this summer in support of the recent Pink Tiger. His grungy band Brutal Poodle recently released the single "Drainage," an outtake from their upcoming full-length — which they will hopefully release on cassette.

Adam Soloway of Central Heat Exchange

Photo: Lauren Hower

Adam Soloway of blurry Canadian/America pop project Central Heat Exchange collects music in a variety of mediums — but tapes are unique. "Unlike any other physical medium that I collect, each tape that I own has its own story," the Winnipeg musician tells Exclaim!

He's pictured here holding up personal faves Daniel Johnston's Hi, How Are You and 22 Degree Halo's self-titled album. He's also holding local Winnipeg band Animal Teeth's Happy to See You — the first release on Slow Shine Records, the tape label Soloway himself co-runs. "We've done eight releases in as many years," he says. "It's the slowest-growing tape label in North America."

Joleen Toner of Crystal Eyes

Photo: Brett Whittingham

The 1980s were the prime era for the cassette — and given that there's a distinct '80s new wave flavour Crystal Eyes' new album The Sweetness Restored, it's only fitting that synth/therevox player Joleen Toner has been gradually building a tape collection over the past decade. She says, "Lots of what I own are friends' bands or folks I've played shows with. If I'm travelling for a show or festival, I do like to pick up at least a couple cassettes from artists I've never heard. It's a fun way to get into new music, and [then] you also have a tangible reminder, or souvenir. I think my favourite discovery is this Galaxy Toobin' Gang cassette I bought at Zoo Zhop in Vancouver."

Fortunato Durutti Marinetti

Photo courtesy of the artist

Fortunato Durutti Marinetti (a.k.a. Dan Collusi of the Shilohs and Pinc Lincolns) drives a 1987 Volvo 740 station wagon, which has a cassette deck and inspires him to keep a collection of cheap tapes. His go-to used to be the Cure's singles 1986 compilation Standing on a Beach, until "it became so degraded that both sides played at once," he tells Exclaim!

Fresh off the release of Fortunato Durutti Marinetti's dreamy debut album Memory's Fool, he's posting here with a fresh find. "Last week, I found a cassette of Tracy Chapman's first album in a free box on someone's front lawn," he explains. "I took it for the express purpose of mailing it to my friend Jill Cooper in Vancouver because it's her favourite album of all time, although I don't think she has a cassette deck."

Ghostkeeper

Photo courtesy of the artist

Calgary-based indie rock adventurers Ghostkeeper have always had an experimental, exploratory sound, which they will reintroduce on May 27 with Multidimensional Culture (via Victory Pool), their first full-length in nearly a decade. Their eclectic influences are on full display in this photo from Shane Ghostkeeper and Sarah Houle, including tapes by Rosanne Cash ("One of Sarah's favourite sing-along records"), Fuck Off Dad ("[a] bombastic free improv rock noise record") and Holgans Are Dead ("One of my all-time favourite local bands"). 

Kamikaze Nurse

Photo courtesy of the artist

How much do Vancouver art rockers Kamikaze Nurse love cassettes? Put it this way: singer-guitarist KC Wei has an entire pantry devoted to tapes. The band are pictured here in that very pantry. Wei has Smashing Pumpkins, Neil Young and the Velvet Underground stacked on her head; drummer John Brennan has Slayer and the Beatles; bassist Sonya Eui is holding Egyptian Lover and Laurie Anderson; and guitarist Ethan Reyes has a suitcase full of tapes, with the Dharma Bums in the place of honour at the top. The band say in a statement to Exclaim!, "Cassettes are the best way to listen to music in the kitchen, while touching and eating various foods."

Wei also runs Agony Klub, a tape label that also publishes zines and other printed material — although Kamikaze Nurse have signed with Mint Records for the upcoming album Stimuloso on June 3.

LTtheMonk

Photo courtesy of the artist

UK-born, Hamilton-based rapper LTtheMonk grew up on tapes, because his parents' old car in the early '00s had a tape deck. That's why he prefers collecting classic albums, like his dad's old rock tapes — although he's pictured here with Ossiscope, the 2019 release from fellow Hamilton hip-hop artist Devin Bateson. "All of this is why getting my own Kinks, Drinks & Hip-Hop project on cassette in 2019 was such a special moment — a love of music through cassettes coming full circle," he tells Exclaim! More recently, he released the album On the Wall in 2021 and the single "The Lo" earlier this year.

Nils Edenloff of the Rural Alberta Advantage

Photo: Jessica Babineau

As the CD era took over in the '90s, the RAA's singer-guitarist Nils Edenloff held onto his tape collection longer than most — and he recently got the collection back, when his mom did some pandemic cleaning and sent him this box from the basement. He was an avid taper of the radio, even going so far as to record MuchMusic's The Wedge on VHS and then record that to cassette — although the quality became so bad, "it sounded more like The Disintegration Loops."

He tells Exclaim!, "Eventually, some of those blank tapes were recorded over with hours of me learning to play guitar into a boombox and trying to write songs, which eventually led to me borrowing a friend's 8-track and recording some of the first songs I ever wrote. Unfortunately, I didn't have the forethought, to note which tapes were used for these recordings. So, somewhere in a box full of tapes, there are some embarrassing songs that my high school self really wanted to share with the world, limited edition one of one."

The Rural Alberta Advantage recently returned with the EP The Rise, their first new music in five years.

White Poppy

Photo: Ida Maidstone

Crystal Dorval's interest in tapes began due to her own music-making under the dream pop moniker White Poppy. "I also have my recording tapes, as I've been recording my music to tape for a long time," she tells Exclaim! "I sort of fell in love with them as objects and also prefer their sound." Her 2013 album Drifters Gold recently got reissued on tape through Constellation Tatsu, and she released a synth tape in 2020 under the moniker Uilos. (White Poppy's most recent album, 2020's Paradise Gardens, came out on vinyl rather than tape.)

In addition to tapes of her own music, she has some cassette releases from friends' bands and some new age albums. She cites the soundscapes of Tropical Tradewinds by Nature's Magic as a favourite recent find.