Image:Bedroom Cassette Masters
A few years ago, when browsing a synth users forum Simon Holland, AKA Carillon, came across a heated argument as to whether digital replica plug-ins of classic synths sounded as good as the real thing. Holland, a home producer, cheekily posted the recording of a plug-in into a Roland Juno 6 synth but recorded it onto an old cassette tape and deliberately mixed it badly to emulate a vintage drum machine.
With it’s tape hiss and warble, many of the pro-authentic synth crew commented on how it was a prime example of a vintage synth sounding better than the pretenders.
Holland never owned up to his prank/synth trolling, but the idea stayed with him when he began trawling the web for authentic old synth and drum recordings for his Bedroom Cassette Masters compilations that collect lo-fi electronica recorded between 1980-89
“I decided to allow stuff that had been produced to sound like 80s bedroom music because I thought that if someone bothers to produce something in a lo-fi vintage spirit then why shouldn’t I include it?," explains Holland.
Now up to volume eight, the Bedroom Cassette Masters series is a true dedication to synth (both vintage and non vintage) electronic organs, keyboards, and drum machines. Just no guitars!
We had a chat to Simon about the tapes and the process behind them.
Noisey: What is the key to getting the music to sound like it was produced in the 80s?
Simon Holland: Let’s first differentiate between the kind of vintage, lo-fi synth and drum machine music that I compile and the Retrowave movement which is all about recreating the sound of 80s professional music studios.
Your common 80s bedroom musician had usually persuaded their parents to buy them one half-decent synth and they would also have a cheap Casio keyboard or maybe a toy electronic organ. Multi-tracking using two cassette recorders was common but the ideal was a four-track cassette recorder which could achieve some excellent results.
For today’s wannabe lo-fi artist the easiest way to sound lo-fi is to buy authentic, vintage equipment and work within the parameters they present. In the early 80s sync-ing up some synthesisers with drum machines was tricky so bedroom musicians would be forced to play a repeating riff or background rhythm freehand for the entirety of the song - not merely looping a bar on a computer. The occasional performance mistake is often what gives life to these old recordings. Once you know the limitations of the old equipment you could in theory set about recording using replica plug-ins and digital audio software like Logic or Ableton but the temptation with software is to smooth out mistakes and so you begin to erase the lo-fi feel of the music.
Sometimes when I receive submissions I can't immediately tell if they are authentically old especially when artists include vintage-looking home-made artwork and photographs where they have dressed in 80s garb!
Do you have a favourite original 80s track and a fave replica track?
It’s hard to pick favourites and I’d rather not name what I think are the sounds-like artists here because for some of them their entire thing is to suggest the music they make has been discovered on old reels of tape or has some other plausible provenance. But amongst my favourite artists - some of whom have tracks on several of the compilations are: Fayshalarts, Mild Peril, Daz Odeum and United Simesky Institutes.
The 80s were a special time for this type of music. Acts like Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and Ultravox were using a lot more synth heavy.
Everyone can tap out a tune on a keyboard, it’s a lot easier than guitar. So I think this simplicity was part of it, as was the ubiquitous drum machine that meant you could have a steady beat that went on forever with no need to have a drummer. Additionally I think the sounds that came from synthesisers had a deep-rooted futuristic connotation in that generation. We had been brought up on science fiction movies full of sound effects produced by early Moog synthesisers and certainly in the UK many television programmes had either purely electronic scores or lead melodies played on synths that worked their way into our unconscious minds. Dr Who, The Tomorrow People, Hereford Wakes, Survivors and My World. I am sure this futurism appealed to us later as teenagers and I also think the sterile nature of the sounds sometimes perfectly captured the mood of your typical teenage angst-ridden mindscape.
The Bedroom Cassette Masters logo looks very genuine too.
Rachel Laine is an old friend who produced early cassette covers for me when we were at school in the 80s. I sent her some scans of old cassette manufacturers and she reworked a classic BASF design into Bedroom Cassette Masters. She also produces the PDF music and artists guides that come with each download. We fill them with mostly authentic but occasionally fake vintage ephemera from the 80s which she painstakingly reproduces using old fonts.
For more Bedroom Cassetter Masters releases head to their bandcamp page.