United Cassettes arrives in Manila, music curator Kurvine Chua talks cassettes and mixtapes

United Cassettes arrives in Manila, music curator Kurvine Chua talks cassettes and mixtapes

A lot of things come in all shapes and sizes, and music is no exception. With the many different formats available, music lovers have access to the sound that suits their listening ears best — hi-fi, lo-fi, and everything in between.

And when talking about audio, we know there is no such thing as a permanent goodbye. In the age of streaming, vinyl has made it clear that it is here to stay. Record Store Day is now on its 2nd year in the country and a popular vinyl record store celebrates yearly with its own vinyl day. 

Now, the cassette is slowly making a comeback and worldwide cassette movement United Cassettes has arrived in the Philippines. Curated by musician Kurvine Chua (a.k.a. Memoryville), United Cassettes PH has found homes both online and in a little corner inside Spindle Community Store, a neighborhood record shop in Makati.

While the likes of Tower Records have slowly died out, there are a handful of record bars around the metro with most of their collection devoted to DVDs and a shelf for reissued Filipino vinyl records. More and more smaller record stores have popped up and have continued to build a strong sense of community among music fans. A lot of stores carry vinyl and a few cassette titles, but none of them are probably as updated and as well-curated as United Cassettes PH.

The Strokes' Nick Valensi once said that "people just want to appreciate music in whatever way technology allows them to appreciate it," and how right he is. In lieu with the rise of the music format of choice of the not-so-distant past, we speak to Chua on the importance of physical music formats, his favorite things about the cassette tape, how to start your tape collection (again), and releasing music the analog way.


Hi Kurvine! We know you’re more than a music enthusiast; you’re a serious collector of music who collects in all formats - vinyl, CDs, and cassettes. Of the three, why did you choose [to bring in] cassettes?

I’m a huge fan of analog media, and one of my dreams has always been to bring back the tape store experience to the Philippines. They have it in other countries, so why not here, too? I didn’t want to put up another vinyl record store, because there’s already a lot of that. Sure, some record stores here carry tapes, but it’s always just something on the side (not to mention pre-owned, too). I wanted something different, while still retaining that tactile experience with music.

I also wanted to have a store that explores a different side of the music. I wanted to bring in albums from bands and artists not usually being sold here. Being a collector myself, I’ve always wanted to see titles from the lesser known artists I love, other than just the usual ones. No one was really doing that, so I decided I was going to do it.

Can you tell us more about United Cassettes? What is it about and how did you end up running the Philippine chapter?

United Cassettes is a worldwide cassette movement aiming to bring together fans, musicians, and labels that share the same passion for tapes. Filip Zemčík is the founder and runs the Europe branch, Conor Ryan runs the US branch, and I run the Philippine branch. I also handle the United Cassettes Instagram account! We’re soon opening a Germany branch, so watch out for that.

Filip and I met through his label, Z Tapes. It’s a really, really cool independent label releasing bedroom pop/lo-fi music. It’s one of my favorites! I’ve released some songs with them. Though Filip and I have yet to meet in person, we already get along with a lot of things—not just with music, but also with our love for coffee and nature.
 

What’s your first memory of the cassette? Did you grow up on cassettes? 

I remember my parents had this Vanna Vanna (a trio from the Philippines) cassette when I was younger—I think that was during the 90s? I absolutely fell in love with it, particularly with one song. They’d play it in the car, and every time that song ended, I’d ask them to rewind the tape and play it again.

One time, my parents went to a gig of theirs, and they brought me along. In the middle of their set, they requested for one member of the audience to come up and dance with them. My parents pushed for me and, before I knew it, I was up on stage with the group. And guess what? They played THAT song. It was so cool.

Aside from the Vanna Vanna tape, we also had a lot of other tapes. Unfortunately, those are now gone. I had to start my collection from scratch, just like with my vinyl.

How did you listen to cassettes? Boombox? Walkman? 

When I was a kid, we had this stereo system that could play CDs and cassettes. That’s where I’d listen to a lot of music. Now, I have a couple portable players, tape decks, and a boombox from the 80s! You could say I’m obsessed haha. It’s fun collecting the equipment, too (especially if you can get them for good prices).

List your Top 5 Favorite Cassettes

That’s a tough one! Some of my favorites from my current tape collection are Everyone Everywhere’s 2012 album, the Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good, Fuvk’s Ghosted / Fragmented, The Replacements’ Don’t Tell a Soul, and The Maine’s Lovely Little Lonely.

In the digital age, how important are physical music formats?

So important! There’s a serious lack of connection among humans today. This so-called social media—there’s nothing social about it. Everything is super easy to get—books, movies, music, you name it. A lot of people these days can’t even pay attention to a song from beginning to end, what more an entire record. That’s where the physical format comes in. With something like a tape or vinyl, there’s no easy-press next button. You get to appreciate the art in its entirety, not just with the music, but also with the other elements, such as the album art, insert, liner notes, etc. You have to “work” for the music—things like finding a good player, maintenance, putting in the tape—this all leads to a more personal experience with music. Also, there’s less piracy.

How does a music fan’s interaction with a vinyl record, a Spotify stream, an iTunes download, a cassette tape, affect their relationship with [the] music? As a collector? As a musician?

Physical formats are purer—you can hold them, as opposed to something digital. Also, I’m an album listener, so it makes more sense.

A lot of worlds open up, too, once you get into tapes and records! Say you’re in a music store, and you see a tape from an artist you’ve never heard of. The album art intrigues you, so you pick it up, bring it home, and then play it on your deck.

“Wow, this is actually good! I’m glad I got this,” you say.

While listening, you read through the liner notes, and you see a bunch of names that helped out with the music.

Next time you’re in the music store, you come across a different album with a familiar name.

“Hey, this was one of the folks who contributed to that tape! I might like this, too!”

And so you pick it up.

Sure, you can do something like that with the Internet, but it will never, ever be the same. There’s just a lot of awesome things you can do with physical formats. Bringing your friends over to listen to your new finds, trading tapes with each other, etc. I could go on and on. Physical formats are also flammable, so that adds to the beauty.

As a musician, getting to release my music on tape is not only inexpensive (compared to vinyl), but also eye-catching and analog! I love the entire experience. I know people who record direct to tape!

What’s your favorite thing about cassettes? (Personally, mine is being able to make real mixtapes with them. Creating one was so personal and it was also such a physical effort.)

Yeah, that part is sooo cool! Other than that, I just love how cute cassette tapes look! I want to eat them. Also, they fit in your pocket! A lot of new ones today even come in various colors and designs. They’re super fun to collect and own.

How do you maintain your tape collection? Do you have a tape cleaner?

I have a head cleaner for my players! But I more often find myself using cotton swabs dipped in alcohol to clean the heads. For the pinch rollers, I use water to prevent ruining the rubber.

For my tapes, I don’t expose them to direct heat or put them near things with strong magnetic fields. I also make sure to play them in full, per side, as much as possible, so that the wear isn’t focused on one song. Before putting them back in their cases, they have to be fully fast-forwarded or rewinded, so that the tape isn’t just hanging in the middle, exerting unnecessary pressure.

Also, a lot of people don’t know this, but the best way to store tapes for more than a while is upright, not flat. This prevents the tape inside from sagging. I don’t know how true this is, though, because I don’t hear it get talked about often, and I see a lot of stores and houses with tapes lying down.

What is your thought process when you go out to buy cassette tapes? Things to consider: price, quality, rarity, etc.

If I see something I like, chances are, I’d get it! They’re not that expensive, too.

With pre-owned tapes, condition is something you have to watch out for. A lot of old tapes, especially those not well-maintained, are prone to issues like audio dropouts. To prevent problems, I usually inspect how the tape looks—Is it still pristine? Are there white things on the tape itself? Are the screws rusted? If it’s brand new, you don’t have to worry about these things.

How do you choose which tapes to feature on United Cassettes? What labels are on United Cassettes?

There’s so much good music out there! Not just from the past, but also new ones! I don’t understand it when some people say there’s no more good music being made. Those people aren’t looking in the right places! Bandcamp is one of the great resources for discovery—it’s home to a lot of wonderful tape labels, too.

Every tape I sell in my United Cassettes store has to be something I love. I don’t want to sell a tape I’m just so-so about. It’s actually extremely difficult being surrounded by all this good music—I have to stop myself from buying my own stock, sometimes.

Also, I tend to bring in less-known music with United Cassettes. These tapes deserve to be heard. Even if one doesn’t know them, they can always check them out first, in places like Bandcamp or on the United Cassettes website. Even better, why not take a chance and bring home an unfamiliar tape without previewing it? It’s guaranteed to be good, anyway!

Some of the tapes I carry in the store right now are from independent labels like Forged Artifacts, Disposable America, Z Tapes, Citrus City Records, Doom Trip Records, Run for Cover Records, and Spirit Goth. I also have tapes coming in from Galaxy Train, Topshelf Records, and Tiny Engines! I’m trying to get some from Neoncity Records, too.

I want to stock tapes from so many other labels as well, but I have to sell the ones I have first! There’s just so much good ones out there—Middle Class Cigars, Fox Food Records, you name it.

I’m also trying to stock local bands/musicians with tape releases! Right now, I have savedhistory’s album released on Mount Seldom, and I’m bringing in Pamcy’s Piso Isa. I also have tapes from my own music project, Memoryville. There’s a lot of others out there! We have ビクター MKII, we have these amazing local punk bands with tape releases, and I’m sure there’s more. So if you’re a local band/musician with a tape release, please contact me!

How should future collectors start their cassette collection? Are you a fan of buying physical formats and keeping them on the shelf, never listening to them?

The point of a music collection is to listen to it! I’m not the type to buy something just because I know it’ll be rare and then keep it on the shelf, unopened. That’s sad! For me, it’s all about the music. I want to listen to my tapes again and again until they get so worn out, and even by then, I’ll still listen to them, because tapes are charming even with their imperfections.

Also, remember that it’s not a competition! Music is beautiful, and it doesn’t matter if you have one tape or a thousand in your library. What matters is the love for music. On a side note, I could say the same for the current state of some of our local scenes, what with their cliques and crab mentality. I hope that changes!

Where can music fans get their cassettes and how often do you get new releases? Do you have old cassettes? (asking for myself, I really want this Ben Howard cassette. There’s only 200 of them in the world.)

You can get your tapes from either the Philippine website at ph.unitedcassettes.com or from our physical space in the Spindle Community Store. Stocks differ for both! We also have the international store at int.unitedcassettes.com which ships worldwide.

I try to get new stock regularly, but there’s no specific time frame between each fresh drop. It’s always a surprise! Sometimes, I announce them; sometimes, I don’t. I like the thrill.

Most of what we carry are sealed copies, but I do bring in a few pre-owned tapes from time to time. Aside from our brand new cassettes, we currently have some oldies but goodies, like The Cure’s Disintegration and D’Sound’s Beauty is a Blessing. We also have some out-of-print tapes in our inventory.

There are a few local musicians, including yourself, who have gone the analog route and released music on cassettes. I was just in Taipei and this record store had a tiny shelf dedicated to cassettes with releases from all over Asia and a few from America and Europe. Aside from vinyl, do you think cassettes will be a popular physical format for local releases instead of CDs? I mean, would you have ever thought that the cassette would outlive the iPod???

Definitely! I wouldn’t be surprised if more artists started putting music out on tape. Like I said earlier, there’s just something special about analog. It’s not like digital. One factor that I think would push more local releases on tape is the inexpensive production cost. It’s easy to put stuff out on cassette—you can do it from your bedroom!

Memoryville - Someday We Will Rule the Universe. My music on tape!

Have you ever made a mixtape? What was on it?

Absolutely! One of the things I love about mixtapes is how crafty you can get with them. When I make a mixtape, I want it to feel like an album. It should make sense from start to finish. Some songs I’ve put on a mixtape include Fuck Yr Fans by Bratmobile, Coffee by Copeland, After the Gold Rush by Neil Young, and Opening Mail for My Grandmother by the Hotelier.

Can you make us a mixtape?

I’d love to! Here ya go. I’m putting this one in our physical space. Anyone reading this can get it for free—just give the password, “Bandwagon Philippines.” First come, first served!

Title: I Hope You Feel Better

Playing Time: 35 mins.

 

Side A:

  1. 'smile' by fuvk

  2. '400 & 57' by Pia Fraus

  3. 'You to Me Are Everything' by The Real Thing

  4. 'B&C' by Utada Hikaru

  5. Androgynous by The Replacements

 

Side B:

  1. 'I’m a Loner Dottie, a Rebel' by The Get Up Kids

  2. 'Playgrounds' by Gingerlys

  3. 'West Side Story' by Camp Cope

  4. 'Lonely People' by America

  5. 'Gardensong' by Funeral Advantage


Where to find United Cassettes PH:

  • Online at ph.unitedcassettes.com
  • At their physical space in the Spindle Community Store, located on the penthouse level of Creekside Mall, Amorsolo Street, Makati City (near Little Tokyo, Makati Cinema Square, Café Libertad, and Habitual Coffee). Open every day from 1 PM to 8 PM.

  • Stocks differ for both stores!

Follow United Cassettes PH on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

For more information, email ph@unitedcassettes.com