By Julijana Capone
CALGARY — Since 2010, Winnipeg cassette label Dub Ditch Picnic has been putting obscure tunes to tape and helping to keep underground cassette culture alive.
With limited-edition tape releases and reissues continuing to surface from cassette-only labels all over the world, the resurgent interest in the format has given collectors even more to salivate over. An International Cassette Store Day—happening today in select stores worldwide—has even emerged in response to its Record Store Day counterpart.
While Dub Ditch label head Chris Jacques says he won’t officially be participating this year, there are over 100 cassette titles, and many new releases, available through the label’s Bandcamp for those who want to add to their archives. Plus, you can check out releases from sibling label, Sundowning Sound Recordings, which was added to the fold in 2014 for the distribution of CDs.
“I grew up with cassettes,” says Jacques. “As a kid I had cassettes, because I didn’t have a very good turntable at home…I used to take all of my paper route money to buy tapes. It was all heavy metal tapes at the time.”
What started in 2010 between Jacques and fellow noise-making pal Cole Peters soon became the cassette label known as Prairie Fire Tapes (now Dub Ditch Picnic) and the imprint’s first release, a split cassette featuring their separate underground noise/drone projects at the time, White Dog and Gomeisa.
In their first year, the niche label specializing in noise, drone and experimental music, put out over 20 cassette releases by acts, including Repulsive Bile, Tom Carter and Vomir. But feeling limited by the label’s narrow focus in genre, Jacques formed Dub Ditch Picnic as an extension of Prairie Fire Tapes the same year.
“I started Dub Ditch on my own as a way to release whatever I wanted to,” says Jacques, who would helm the label solo after Peters moved to another city. “If there was a local or Canadian artist, who I liked and thought should have a physical release, I thought I could do it and not have to ask anyone for permission.”
That notion of helping artists have a physical release of their work continues to motivate Jacques. “There are tons of people that are doing stuff,” he says. “Are they professional musicians? No. They have jobs and other lives, but it’s still a big part of who they are. If I can do a small run of 30 tapes, then they have something in their hand and they can say, ‘Hey, at some point in my life I did this, and it’s really cool.’ It’s nice to be able to do that for people, because you just don’t get opportunities like that all the time.”
Now, five years in, Jacques has released a cornucopia of limited-run albums from global unheardofs and acts making waves in underground circles. Currently, his best-selling release is by Scotland psych-rockers The Cosmic Dead, whose album, The Exalted King, sold 85 of 100 copies during its pre-sale.
“Before it was actually released it was almost sold out,” he says. “Then we pressed another run of 75 and they all sold out.”
As Jacques explains, there are some benefits to selling tapes over other formats—the biggest being their convenience and low cost. “For bands playing live, it’s great. A record might cost $17 to $30. You have to have someone who is really committed, and has cash in pocket to get that at a show.”
Tapes, on the other hand, are less bulky to carry around and usually run at about $5 to $6 a pop. “You can’t really buy much else for that much money,” he says.
While Jacques is certainly an enthusiastic consumer and supplier of hard-to-find and far-flung tunes, he says that he’s “probably the worst kind of collector,” because he’s not particularly interested in holding onto an album for more than a few weeks unless it really moves him. In fact, it’s the trading aspect of cassette culture that has always kept him involved.
“Winnipeg is so isolated,” he says. “I don’t get to meet a lot of the people whose music I’ve released, but through the label and trading cassettes, and just having this stuff out there, I have been able to interact with all sorts of people, way more people than I would in my day-to-day life.”
“It’s just building on this world community of weirdness.”
Visit dubditchpicnic.bandcamp.com to purchase rare Dub Ditch Picnic cassette releases and stream over 100 titles from their back catalogue. For more tunes from the label’s sibling label, Sundowning Sound Recordings, visit sundowningsoundrecordings.bandcamp.com.
Top Five Releases from Dub Ditch Picnic (in no particular order)
Breath Grenades—Space Rawk Replicas (Dub Ditch Picnic)
Winnipeg underground legends the Breath Grenades have been in existence for well over 20 years. Space Rawk Replicas was originally released in 1996, and is said to be the band’s only proper album ever put out. The reissue is now available on cassette. “That is one of my favourite albums that was ever recorded in this city,” says label head Chris Jacques. “I think they’re such an underrated band…I don’t think people realized the depth of where those songs were coming from. I don’t think even 20 years ago I realized where some of the key points were coming from. Now I can listen and hear all kinds of crazy post-punk. Plus, the songs are so great. I love ‘em.”
German Army—In Transit (Dub Ditch Picnic)
In Transit is a compilation of sounds from the L.A.-based German Army, an avant-industrial duo that have drawn comparisons to Throbbing Gristle. In recent years, the mysterious and prolific combo of Peter Kris and Norm Heston have put out nearly 20 releases on too many cassette labels to list. This 70-minute CD from Dub Ditch is one of only two non-cassette releases ever put out by the group. As their Bandcamp album description notes: “In Transit allows fans who missed out on earlier limited edition cassettes an opportunity to hear some of the earliest GeAr sounds known.”
Human Music—Sup (Dub Ditch Picnic and Sundowning Sound Recordings)
Informed by lo-fi forbearers Guided By Voices and Eric’s Trip, Human Music’s self-recorded jangle-pop sound seemed ideal for a tape release. “There are just some slight things in the master with the way that it’s delivered and how the songs are knit together that really speak to cassette,” says Jacques.
DJ Kinetik—The Grisly Discovery Presents DJ Kinetik’s Cosmik Freakout! (Dub Ditch Picnic)
From the crates of Winnipeg selector DJ Kinetic, this four-part series of mixtapes features a rare assemblage of cuts, including space rock, prog and psychedelic oddities, along with loungey library tunes and obscure funk gems that capture a lust for the kind of ‘70s sleaze pulled from a John Holmes porn or blaxploitation flick.
No UFO’s—Mind Control (Dub Ditch Picnic)
The project of Vancouver’s Konrad Jandavs, Mind Control is the follow-up to his debut cassette, Soft Coast. “He sent me some recordings and it was really cool Krautrock-y post-punk with this cut-up method where a song would start, and at the apex it would cut into something else,” says Jacques. “It was just so fresh and great. I was really excited to be able to do something with him.”AB, Alberta, Dub Ditch Picnic, Manitoba, MB