Reel World: DZ Tapes

Reel World is back with a spotlight on DZ Tapes.


Reel World focuses on tape culture in an attempt to better understand the growing comeback of analog hiss.

This month we chat with Brett Isaacoff of DZ Tapes. He hasn’t been in the tape industry very long, but it’s pretty safe to say that he’s already made his mark. With key releases from artists like Terror Bird, It is rain in my face., and Birkwin Jersey, Brett is proving that he has an eye for talent and a knack for curation. We hopped on Facebook chat to discuss everything from how the label got started, to where his blog Dayvan Zombear fits into things, to his plans for the future. Read on!

Can you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your operation?

My name is Brett Isaacoff and I run DZ Tapes out of my house in Washington, DC. The label is a modest, one-man project that was born out of fan support and artist contributions for my minimalistic music blog DAYVAN ZOMBEAR. My first release was the DYVNZMBR Community Compilation Cassette, and it included submissions from 30 experimental artists from around the world, totaling just under two hours of music, ranging in styles from what I can only hope to describe as biolectronic darkwave to hazy folkadelic glo-fi to psych-ambient drone soundscapes. It was made possible through a successful Kickstarter campaign where backers helped raise enough money to produce enough cassettes for themselves and all of the contributing artists. The triumph of this project provided enough momentum and raised enough funding to put out two ensuing cassettes in 2011. Five tapes later, I remain lucky enough to have maintained that initial level of support into the present day and look forward to putting out as many releases as my budget and schedule will allow. In addition to the cassettes, I enjoy putting out a monthly podcast mix of new music discoveries and hosting shows at my home for local and touring musicians.

So what made you want to create DZ Tapes out of Dayvan Zombear?

By the time I decided to start DZ Tapes, cassette labels were well into their resurgence, and as the blog started to gain a sizable following, I realized the potential for starting a label of my own. I wanted a way to give back to the music community by providing musicians with something tangible to sell or use for promotion and decided that cassettes would be the most fun and cost efficient option, not to mention they are a more personal alternative to CDs, which to me are devoid of warmth and character like that of analog mediums.

With DZ Tapes, I’m striving to provide everything for the artists at no cost in an effort to give them a slight advantage towards their next big project, whether that be touring, producing more merchandise or getting studio time. I think that contemporary musicians have a lot of great resources to interact with and grow their captive audience through digital means, but I’ve always felt that physical merchandise is the most intimate way for fans to connect with a band’s music outside of live performance.

You’ve got a pretty eclectic collection of releases. How do you go about lining them up? Do the artist’s contact you or do you seek them out?

Yea, I try not to focus too heavily on one type of music. I realize this lack of consistency might make building fan loyalty more difficult, but I like to remain open for all styles of sound. I try to focus on musicians who have yet to put their work out in physical form as a way to get the ball rolling. Despite receiving a decent amount of artist inquiries, most of the tapes started off with me reaching out to artists I had been interested in working with. That being said, I am continually faced with the problem of coming across submissions that I would be happy to release but lack the appropriate funding to do so. I’m working on slowly investing more money into expanding my operations, so hopefully I’ll be able to accommodate a larger number of artists in the near future. Currently there are plans in the works for two releases this summer, and once the budgets for those have been set, I am going to begin looking at how I can increase the quantity of different releases.

So what is sort of your mantra for DZ Tapes? Where do you see it going? I know that some labels use cassette releases as a jumping off point before delving into vinyl releases. Is that something you want to work towards?

I really just love sharing music! When I was a kid I just loved putting music on tape and playing it for people in hopes that it would bring them as much joy as it brought me. Recording things off the radio was a hobby, and grew in various forms, from burning CDs and making minidisk mixes, using Napster/Sharebear/Morpheus/Soulseek/whateverthefuck, to link-farming and torrenting, blogging and Bandcamping. I started DAYVAN ZOMBEAR to share with more people the music I had found and loved. Now with DZ Tapes i like to see each release as a way of giving back to the creative community through enabling musicians. This golden internet age has given us so much that I really feel compelled to contribute my own efforts in some way. The project has always been just another way to stay involved with the contemporary music renaissance. I have a lot of fun putting out tapes, and I think that I would enjoy vinyl even more, but it’s not in the cards just yet. Things aren’t moving at a very fast pace right now, but I hope to increase my output soon.

So now that you have the label, where do Zombearadio and Dayvan Zombear in its current iteration fit into everything?

The blog and podcast both serve the same mission as DZ Tapes, simply to help spread the work of creative independent artists. The blog focuses on free album downloads that I find deserving of acknowledgement (for whatever that’s worth). It also helps promote the other projects under the DZ umbrella. The podcast is a more concise highlight of notable tracks from the past month or so. Overall these pieces all serve the same purpose of promoting sovereign entities in the vast galaxy of music.

If you read some articles online about the resurgence of cassette tape culture, many people seem to think it’s trite, or worse yet they just chock it up to hipsters being hipsters. What value do you place on the medium and what do you hope to see for its future?

Hahahaha I don’t really pay attention to that talk, I just chalk it up to the old adage “haters gonna hate.” Cassettes have always been a part of my life, and when working within the budget of a young professional in an expensive city, I’m just happy to share in whatever way I can. All the projects I’ve put out have been accompanied by digital releases as well, so those who are concerned with the music being inaccessible can put that to bed. There will never be a lack of differing opinions regarding the music’s physical medium among collectors, but I think that so long as the music is enjoyable, there will always be room for tapes.

You just put out the very well received Birkwin Jersey tape. Other than that what can we expect from DZ Tapes in 2013?

Right now I’m working with San Jose-based producer Seabright on his next release due out this summer. He’s got a lot brewing in his camp and we’re both really excited for what’s to come. Additionally I’ve got my next compilation currently in production and set for release next month! Like the last one, this mixtape features a completely new line-up of acts from across the vast spectrum of contemporary electronica. Beyond that the next batch is still in concept mode. There is also a growing number of shows lined up for the next few months at my house, affectionately known as The Dougout, that my roommates and I are looking forward to.

Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions, Brett. Is there anything you want to add before we sign off?

Stay sound and keep curious \m/ thanks for having me.

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