words & pictures / KEEGAN HUGHES
When was the last time you listened to a cassette tape? Probably at least a decade ago, right? Would listening to one now bring back nostalgia-soaked memories of a simpler time?
As it turns out, there’s a label in Ottawa producing brand new content on the old-school medium. They’re called Lost Angles, and they’ve sold over two thousand tapes since 2015.
Josh Starkey, possibly better known by his online moniker “Hex-A-Decimal,” is the regional manager of this venture. He, with his partner Sterling Campbell, stumbled across hundreds of unused blank C-90 cassette tapes while working AV translation jobs one summer.
“We were clearing out the bosses’ storage closet, which is basically where old gear goes to die, and we came across boxes and boxes of old unopened cassette tapes,” said Starkey.
At one point these tapes were used to record meetings, but had been put in storage once more efficient methods became popular. Starkey and Campbell saw this as an opportunity, and began to use the tapes themselves.
The genre of choice for tapes is vaporwave (not vapourwave, sorry Canadian friends). It has foggy origins in in the early 2010’s, and an almost exclusively online following. It’s a type of electronic music with a vibe that is difficult to explain without listening to it.
“It’s sort of like a vague memory of contemporary surrealist art in the 80’s, but specifically corporate,” muses Starkey.
At this point, I would recommend visiting Lost Angles’ Bandcamp and giving something a listen. It’s difficult to understand the aesthetic any other way. Just click on their music tab, and pick the album cover that speaks to you.
Enjoyment of the genre varies from person to person, especially because of its very specific aesthetic, says Starkey. He says he thinks that people from the 80’s and 90’s really appreciate the look. Growing up watching VHS tapes, Starkey developed a taste for static.
“You either get it, or you don’t, or you’re on the road to [getting it],” laughs Starkey.
After deciding that they wanted to distribute music on the tapes, Starkey and Campbell put out an open call on the reddit board r/vaporwave. One of the first artists to approach them, Incarta’95, wanted his tape to be labelled as a limited release, with only ten copies available. Soon after a couple copies sold, he said that Lost Angles should mark it as “Sold Out” to increase hype.
With multiple artists showing interest and boxes full of blank tapes, Lost Angels geared geared itself towards having resources available. This meant that there was no risk if they wanted to promote and support little-known artists.
Starkey dubs the tapes himself in a small office space. He has a computer, an audio interface, and four tape decks. All of this allows him to make four identical tapes at a time. Lost Angles tapes are dubbed in real time as well, meaning that the process happens in real time. This is done to preserve quality, but not to make the tapes perfect. Starkey likes artifacts like pops and bits in his sound.
“At the end of the night it’s still going to be a tape, so it’s going to be low-fi,” says Starkey. “I don’t like things to be perfect, and I think vaporwave embraces that.”
The online vaporwave community is much larger than that which finds its way into real life, especially in Ottawa. Starkey cites cities like Toronto and Montreal as having much more active scenes, even though other genres get more attention.
However, Starkey has high hopes for the Canadian scene. He says knows that it is more predominant in the UK and the states, but hopes that it expands more to the more Northern art scenes.
“I really hope that more people see it, I think that it has such a unique vibe to it and lots of people would vibe with it,” says Starkey.
And what better way to spread ideas than memes?
“I find that memes are the best way to spread the genre,” laughs Starkey, “you’ll find that it spreads more effectively that way than through the music or the artists.”
You might be familiar with Macintosh Plus’ song “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー”. I’m not implying that you’ve listened to it in its entirety, or ever heard its name. However, there have been tons of memes circulated scored by this song.
For a medium born online, that only makes sense.
Now I must advise you, this article is in no way exhaustive. I have not covered all of what Lost Angles does, and I have not even scratched the surface of the vaporwave genre. However, I hope that if either of these things are even remotely interesting to you, you decide to check them out.