Interview: Z Tapes asks Vacant Magic asks Z Tapes ask Vacant Magic

F Hey Jon, this interview game is easy. I ask you a question, and then you ask me one. You’ve been doing your blog for a long time, why start a cassette label just now?

J Well for a while now I’ve been wanting to get more physically involved with music, so starting a label just seemed like the best route to go. Plus it gives me an opportunity to work closely with various artists and help put out music that I think more people should hear.

J I know you recently put your blog on hiatus to focus more on Z Tapes and United Cassettes, but what initially made you want to get involved with music?

F I’ve been listening to music since childhood. Back then we’d record songs from the radio onto cassettes, and listen to those songs over and over again. My brother was also an inspiration for me; he had a band, and like me he listened to a lot of music. Eventually I realized I was discovering so much music that I needed to store it somewhere. That’s how Start-track (my blog) began, and from this point onward I’ve been increasingly involved with music.  It’s become my main focus during my free time.

F Your blog’s name refers to cassettes. What your story with this format?

J There isn’t really a back story. It just seemed to click. I actually didn’t even start collecting tapes until after I started the blog. Up until then I was mainly about digital stuff, but I guess you can say I discovered that I had a love for them (tapes) around that time.

J What would you say have been the best and the worst moments since starting your label?

F The best moments are orders for Z Tapes’ entire catalogue, reading small messages that people send me expressing how much they enjoy the tapes, and coming across nice words on other blogs. Every bit of positive feedback means a lot to me. The worst moments are connected to unfulfilled promises that I’ve made. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. As an example, a band I was working with had all the tapes, and I couldn’t force them to ship out orders, or even to send the batch to me. I was using the wrong system to ship these orders (by relying on the bands instead of myself). I’ve learned my lesson, but it cost me a lot. I almost gave up on my label. Running a label is tough.

F What do you dislike about music blogging?

J Submissions. Mainly because I feel horrible when someone writes out a super nice message and then I don’t like their song. That and one time someone sent me a song called ‘Malcolm X in the Middle’. Worst name for a track ever. Real life also gets in the way sometimes and I start to feel like I’m falling behind, but I’d never give it up though.

J You said that running a label is tough, and I can already imagine the things that I’ve yet to experience, but what advice would you give to those looking to start out?

F Don’t be naïve. Be honest. It’ll be hard work, and many things will take time. Keep in mind that not every album should be released. Each release should have current or potential fans, otherwise you may end up with releases that nobody wants to buy. Also, only release stuff you like. Promoting it will be much easier, and you won’t get bored.

F Did you try to create a blog that was different from others, and do you have a similar goal with your new label?

J I just try to keep it as real as possible. I don’t want to buzz blog. I write about stuff that I know some people probably won’t even like besides myself and maybe a select group of people, and I guess that can be like a double-edged sword, but oh well. Like, people say chillwave is dead but I still love it. Post-hardcore and screamo isn’t as big as I’d like it to be anymore either but I love that too. I write for people that may come across that stuff and get just as excited as I do when they hear it. As for goals, I want Cassette Rewind and Vacant Magic to be examples of diversity. There are so many people making music that is overlooked, and I think that music scenes everywhere should mirror all of those people and make it known that diversity is happening.

J United Cassettes is such a great idea that I’m surprised it didn’t come about sooner. What is the main idea behind it, and where would you like to see it a year from now?

F When I started my label I was looking for blogs reviewing cassettes and as far as I know, there just weren’t that many of them. But it wasn’t until this summer that I started to think more seriously about the whole United Cassettes project. I wanted it to be the missing platform that cares about small cassette labels and the music they release. Promoting releases and writing to numerous blogs is exhausting for the people who do it, and isn’t very efficient. I felt that there had to be a way to make things better.  So I started working on United Cassettes. The creative process was pretty easy, because I knew exactly where I wanted to go with the project. To begin with, we wanted to offer free space for press notes, for posting reviews about cassette releases and interviews with interesting people, and to set up a map of cassette labels. The greater idea is to unite these labels, as a means to stand tall against larger labels, with larger amounts of money flowing towards PR, marketing, etc. United Cassettes aims to be the place where labels, bands, fans, and collectors can find what’s new, what’s worth checking out. In an ideal world, with UC as their tool, labels would help each other and promote releases together, support the cassette industry as a result, so that it may live forevermore and bring more and more amazing releases to life. We’ve just started, but our plans are beyond the actual site or map. We have greater things in mind, and want to offer more label-oriented services. My hope is that a year from now the site is very much alive, that the map has grown to house many more labels, and that we are both using the awesome features offered by UC. But that’s the future. It’s true that I dream of becoming the number one website for cassette labels and fans, and I think it’s an achievable goal.

F Have you ever felt like you needed a break from blogging and/or from listening to new music?

J As far as blogging goes, yeah. I still do sometimes just because it can be a lot to keep up with when it’s just me and I have so many things I want to do, but I’m trying to get out of doing that. When it comes to listening to new music, I’m always looking. I do tend to listen to more old stuff though but that’s only because it’s music that I grew up with.

J What are you looking forward to with Z Tapes? Any new releases on the way or anyone that you’d like to work with in the future?

F I’m planning tons of releases but it will also depend on my budget. I look forward to a moment when I don’t have to put all my money into releases, which hinders my ability to be fully functioning. One day. In the next few weeks we’re releasing pet cemetery and Dead Katz. I’m excited about both of these releases.

F Do you have any other hobbies besides music?

J That’s honestly my main thing right now. I’ve been tossing around the idea of starting a zine or a website based around black culture in music and the arts, but that’s hasn’t moved past some brainstorming yet.

J Is there anything you’d like to say to people reading this?

F Support cassette labels and the people behind them. They put a lot of time and money into it. Cassettes are not dead, and never will be.

Jon runs Vacant Magic

Filip runs Z Tapes

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A lo-fi bedroom pop cassette label run by Filip Zemčík based in Bratislava, Slovakia