The Albums That Defined Indie Music in 2013: Perfect Pussy and the year of the cassette tape

How Syracuse noise-punks Perfect Pussy helped the cassette tape become so much more than a piece of nostalgia.

- Dec 30, 2013

This year, instead of putting our favourite albums into a no-doubt 100% objective list, we're taking a deeper look at how 2013's most influential records have shaped the landscape of independent music. Today, we shine the spotlight on Syracuse band Perfect Pussy and how they helped the cassette tape become so much more than a piece of nostalgia.


More THE ALBUMS THAT DEFINED INDIE IN 2013:

HAIM's Days Are Gone and the Rise of Ariel Rechtshaid

Deafheaven's Sunbather and Metal's Blurred Lines

My Bloody Valentine, Beyoncé, and When No Promo is the Best Promo

Daft Punk's Random Access Memories and the resurgence of Nile Rogers

Kanye West's Yeezus and hunger in a famished year


A little over a year ago, I worked the merch table at Toronto’s Double Double Land, handing out tapes to showgoers looking to support the local band. The coloured cassettes came free with cover (along with a digital download), but when I offered them out to the cramped crowd their reactions were mixed: some were excited to add another tape to their burgeoning collection, others laughed it off as the living embodiment of a BuzzFeed listicle, while some flat-out declined, mocking the format as archaic.

I’m willing to bet those transactions would go differently today, thanks to a little noise-punk band and their four-song demo. This past September, Syracuse, New York's Perfect Pussy self-released their explosive EP, I have lost all desire for feeling, on cassette, complete with handmade sleeves, a lyric-sheet insert and a digital download code. Under 13 minutes long, the album is raw and immediate, like frontwoman Meredith Graves is sing-shouting about (and at) her shitty best friends in the next room over. It’s not the kind of music you want to hear on vinyl; it practically begs the furtive, graininess of a cassette tape, labelled only by a peeling strip of masking tape.

That should have been an inconspicuous debut, but its insatiable underground word-of-mouth courted the interest of some heavy-hitter indie labels. Before the year was done, Perfect Pussy signed to Captured Tracks. That might seem like an odd couple pairing for the punk band considering Captured Tracks has basically become a barometer for a particularly warm, easy-on-the-ears kind of band with a penchant for reverb and jangle. But then again, this year alone, Captured Tracks released several new albums on tape, including Beach FossilsClash the Truth, Minks’ X-Rated Poetry, and a Mac DeMarco live session. When a tastemaker label like Captured Tracks is game to release their biggest stars' albums exclusively on a seemingly kitschy format, maybe that format has some capital beyond just kitsch.

Sure, it’s not as if the cassettes disappeared until 2013: tape labels like Burger Records in Fullerton, California, NNA Tapes in Burlington, Vermont, and Mirror Universe in Charleston, South Carolina, all have been around for years, and the format has always been present in the DIY, punk and experimental scenes, but 2013 is the year it finally reached its tipping point.

After many a (sometimes cloying) think piece on the pending tape revival, 2013 ushered in something beyond navelgazing: the inaugural International Cassette Store Day. On September 4, along with the regular smattering of weird obscure bands, popular indie rock stars like the Flaming Lips, HAIM, Fucked Up and Animal Collective all released special edition cassettes.

Fucked Up - Crusades (2006)

Whether or not you think a Cassette Store Day legitimizes the format, it does indicate its wider cultural relevance goes beyond ironic reinvention. And, at the very least, it brings attention to a cheap way for indie bands to release something tangible. When Perfect Pussy chose to release their EP on cassette, aesthetics and sound likely factored in the decision, but also sheer economics. Tapes are the cheapest physical recording format and there’s often no order minimum. When that local Toronto band decided to release their EP on tape last year, it also wasn’t a bold choice to seem cooler. Their prerogative was practical: CDs were on their way to obsolescence, vinyl was too pricey to self-release, and thus left tapes.

But cassettes aren't just some nostalgic anti-trend. They may also have commercial potential. At least Urban Outfitters thinks so. According to Vice, Burger Recs is collaborating with the retailer to make a Walkman dubbed “The Burger Buddy,” a player the label hopes will influence people to buy more cassettes... or at least take them off the shelf and actually listen to them. As tape labels get more popular, and bigger players are down to release cassettes, it looks like it should be right on-trend.

More THE ALBUMS THAT DEFINED INDIE IN 2013:

HAIM's Days Are Gone and the Rise of Ariel Rechtshaid

Deafheaven's Sunbather and Metal's Blurred Lines

My Bloody Valentine, Beyoncé, and When No Promo is the Best Promo

Daft Punk's Random Access Memories and the resurgence of Nile Rogers

Kanye West's Yeezus and hunger in a famished year

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