Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Check Yourself (Checkers' Collective)

Posted By on Tue, Jun 19, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Bandcamp can be a beautiful thing, most of the time. If anything, its effective.

The song's done, the song's ready, put the song up - its an easy-to-remember link and people can start streaming. Go.

Still, though, it's an airless, 2-dimensional glowing screen, no razzle, no dazzle, not even an LED-light cascade or iTunes "visualizer" action. It's the fresh produce straight off the back of the farm truck, lightly washed. Have a bite.

So, then, somehow, over the last five years, cassette tapes came back. Just as vinyl records came back ten years ago, this new form, a more punk, or DIY-quick-and-dirty route, is a comparable reaction to the rattling meh, the disillusioning intangibility induced by status-after-stream-after-link-after-megaupload.

Before we were born, before most of our parents were born, the culture had already started shifting as major labels began selling Long-Player vinyl records, moving beyond the 45 rpm singles of the late 40's and early 50's and into the 33? format, later bolstered by art-work or coming packaged with posters and all kinds of sanctity-elevating adornments.

That we came through the dark myspace tunnel and out the other end of Facebook-Music's mouth, we now want to hold something again, something more substantial then clicks-with our earbuds-on. And when one MusicHead entrepreneur, say, J.R. of Checker's Record Collective, wants to support a scene but doesn't have the coin to drop on vinyl pressing, cassettes, then, have come to make sense as a viable alternative for achieving that physical sonic sanctity.

J.R., whom local-show-attendees  and bandcamp-streamers will know as a contributing member/player/singer in groups like Ferndale Acid Scene and the once-notorious comment-board-quibble-stirring Jesus Chainsaw Massacre, just wants to make something that is "better..." "better for bands than just a CD-R or a net label consisting of bandcamps..."

And so, towards the end of 2011, he got Checkers' Records Collective going, (a name honoring an old music shop in Hillsdale that he and his comrades from bands-gone-by used to frequent "more often than we probably should have..."), and has since attained about a release-per-month average, offering limited runs of 25 (or 50) cassette releases for groups like House Phone and Passalacqua.

This week saw the release of ambient noise-tweaker and sample-swirling Loop Goat (out of Lansing), a full LP-sized album, and later this summer there'll be an E.P. from Detroit-based psyche/blues warblers Duende.

Three months ago, the Guardian gave a reverent nod to the historic feats of Indie record labels during the 1980's (How indie labels changed the world). The dream's still alive and well. But in Detroit, it looks a little different. Smaller labels like Checkers' specializes in cassettes, Five Three Dial Tone dabbles in tapes but also does special vinyl singles, while Bellyache Records has put out some full length vinyl LP's.

"The major label thing seems so far detached from Detroit," J.R. said. "It feels as though it is more of a badge of honor to get on an independent label like Hozac or Burger Records."

J.R. isn't ready to say that major labels are dying. No, indeed, not with behemoth online retailer Amazon lucrative music cloud covering the big four labels-> 

~

"As long as music is a profitable commodity," said J.R., "there will be large conglomerates to exploit it."

What it comes down to is the old conundrum of art-vs-commerce, that scaly, vampiric demand upon the neck of the singer's soul, the return on investment.

"When there is such a large emphasis and pressure put on ROI, the artistry can be lost in the process in order to appease the public."

Whether you like cassette tapes or if you roll your eyes, you can't discount the heart, the beating heart that's not worried about marketability for commercial-jingles, that throbs across the magnetic reels of these plastic-sealed sound recordings, offered by whoever: Checkers, LifeLike or Axis Mundi...

"My goal is to simply put out music that I like by groups that I think are doing something different," J.R. said.

Next: an LP/EP from Duende, plus " Sheefy McFly & the Delorean (in which J.R. plays guitar/keys) and Ferndale Acid Scene have releases coming in August.

Once known best for as a PC pugilist calling everything round' this "scene," exactly as he saw it, he finds it funny, now, to be contributing "to the scene," on some level.  "I just really enjoy culture-jamming, so to speak," says J.R. "Between playing in bands, co-editing Motor City Rocks, and running Checkers, my time is pretty much devoted to the scene in one aspect or another."

"I suppose it's quite funny; I spent my first couple years trying to destroy it and perhaps... this is the rebuilding?"

~More info on Loop Goat's latest-- here

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