Cassette Comeback: Interview with Owner of Cassette Label, Comfort 35
The NFSA recently received a donation of 12 releases from the short-lived Melbourne-based cassette label Comfort 35 (2013–16). Sound Curator Nick Henderson spoke with Tom Martin, musician and owner of the label, about the reasons behind the return of cassettes.
Following the vinyl revival – the renewed interest in, and increased sales of, vinyl records – of the last decade, there has also been a lesser known and smaller-scale compact cassette revival, internationally and in Australia.
Since 2010, several Australian cassette-focused music labels have released some of the country’s most exciting and experimental music. These labels include Healthy Tapes, Habitat Tapes, Happy Endin, This Thing, Moontown Records, Rice Is Nice and Comfort 35.
While these labels are producing digital releases, they are accompanied by limited-edition collectible cassettes. The cassettes are often the only physical media released, sometimes in runs as low as 30 tapes.
As with the vinyl revival spawning events such as Record Store Day, which sprang out of the USA in 2007, Cassette Store Day started in 2013 in the UK, and is celebrated annually to recognise the value of cassettes as a music format.
Despite this revived interest and increasing sales, the cassette market represents less than 1% of world sales, a far cry from their height in the mid-1980s when they represented 54% of the global market.
I recently spoke with Comfort 35 label owner and musician Tom Martin about contemporary cassette culture.
How did you first get into cassette tapes? What was the first cassette you owned?
I first got into tapes through doing the layout and design for a tape release for a punk band (Gentlemen) that I used to play drums in. That was around 2012 I believe. I was really into how fun it was to design [them], and how cheap they were to produce. [The tape] came out looking really nice, and I wanted to find out more.
Prior to that, my dad’s friend had given me a heap of his old cassettes when I was in high school. I didn’t really have anything to listen to them on though. This included Ride, Buzzcocks, Primal Scream, Devo and a heap more.
When did you start producing your own music?
Probably when I was about 14 or 15. We used to have music classes in school and I made a heap of horrible noise music and released it all on Myspace and freemusicarchive.com. I was really into industrial, and made a lot of obnoxious digital noise stuff. I have a small amount of it, but lost a heap when I whacked my computer in a fit of teenage frustration and killed the hard drive. I’ve been home recording stuff fairly consistently since that age.
Why did you start your label Comfort 35? How did you come up with the label name?
With Comfort I wanted to create a small platform to create physical releases for things that might otherwise sit online, as well as releasing music I was involved with making. That was the main focus, but I was also kind of loving designing cassette covers and that whole process. Because I had started studying when I started the label, I didn’t have as much time or focus to actually make music, so the label kind of filled that part of my life during that period.
The label name came from a song from my first band (Franco Cozzo), the lyrics: ‘all that I am doing is about the comfort’. The number itself has a personal meaning to me which I’m not sure I entirely understand.
You also produce artwork for many releases, as well as related merchandise like t-shirts, badges, flyers – how important was the design side?
Having an outlet to design was a big part of it for me as well. It was a fun collaborative process. Sometimes artists would have the art completely formed, or they would give me an image and I’d go from there.
I’ve always made art as well as music, but that has always been contained in journals and notebooks. I never really had a platform for it. So being able to make fliers was a continuation of that, and it was kind of a platform to share my visual art because I never really knew what to do with it otherwise.
Image Gallery: Comfort 35 Cover Art
Why do you think cassette tapes re-emerged as a medium of choice for people producing new music?
I think there’s a few factors. I think part of it has to do with the fact that they’re cheap to make – as opposed to releasing music on vinyl. Part of it is novelty, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s nice to be able to hold something you’ve made in your hands. Similarly, for fans and collectors, it’s nice to have a physical copy of something you’re into.
I also think there’s something about analogue sound that appeals to some people, and the fact that a release on cassette is generally listened to as a whole; there’s no skipping tracks. It’s just a different way to listen to things, and curious minds always want to explore different ways of listening.
What is happening around cassette labels in Australia and internationally?
I’m a little out of the loop at the moment to be honest. I know there’s always interesting stuff going on; the last tape I bought was NIGHTCLUB VOL. 1 on Weirdo Mazic. A small little list off the top of my head would include: Paradise Daily, Nice Music, Listen Records, Vacant Valley. Internationally, I think one I’ve been super impressed by is Waving Hands. They do some amazing electronic reissues, as well as releasing new stuff.
Why do you think it’s important to preserve the work of labels like Comfort 35 with the NFSA?
I feel it’s important to preserve small bits of culture. If people are able to access it in the future, and hear the music as opposed to just reading about it, that’s great. Digital mediums like Bandcamp and Soundcloud are great, but like with Myspace before it, they’ll eventually disappear into the digital ether unless someone makes the effort to properly preserve the content.
People who work day jobs and also make music are amazing; they deserve as much recognition as those who try to make a career out of music. Often these artists don’t always have time to ensure that anyone looking back will be able to access their music. If an institution is helping with that, I think it’s fantastic.
If you have copies of cassette releases you would like to preserve with the NFSA that we don’t currently hold in our catalogue, please contact us via our Collection Offers page.
Main image: photo by Stas Knop from Pexels