Reel World focuses on tape culture in an attempt to better understand the growing comeback of analog hiss.
In this issue of Reel World, we focus on the chill stylings of the Australia-based label, Airlines Tapes. Read through as Tripp Mostertz talks with founder Penny about his label’s beginnings and the current state of Australia’s music scene.
Tell us a little bit about Airlines Tapes. Who are you and how did you get started?
Well it kind of started out of necessity. At the time, some friends and I had a band that was touring and all that. We signed to this small, hip label in Sydney, which ended up being a terrible decision. That’s when I first noticed that the music industry in Australia is in a bad way right now. Maybe it was good to experience that early, I don’t know. But on the side, I was secretly recording this other stuff. So I wanted to put that out there, but no one was really feeling it… there’s just not many people in Australia we would work with. Instead, I started a label to release that album, and, with the help of Lee Nania, that was the Deep Fantasy tape. That’s how we got it going.
Airlines Tapes has a really cool and unique vibe, how did you come about creating it?
I didn’t really create a vibe, nothing like that. It’s literally me and my buddies putting out music that we’re into and we want other people to listen to as well. So if there is any vibe, I guess that it’s mainly coming from the artist. We are just as interested working on artwork and design as we are writing and recording music, so it’s not something we have to grind too hard at. It comes pretty natural. Some labels are so vibey, they try really hard too. If you have to grind like that to stay at a competitive vibe, you’re not being you. Just be yourself.
How do you handle the day-to-day operations of keeping Airlines Tapes healthy, wealthy, and wise?
I’m lucky, I got a good bunch of friends who are into the same things creatively as me, so I do get a lot of help. But day-to-day, you can do it however you want basically. Actually, if you take, for example, how a major record label runs their day-to-day operations… take that, then do every single thing the opposite way they would. That’s how you should run your label, man.
Surfing‘s Deep Fantasy was one of my absolute favorite albums last year. How did that relationship and project form?
Well, I had some songs written, showed Lee, who was in another band with me at the time, and he was digging it so we started recording. Those initial ideas grew and grew until we had turned it into something we were really proud of. Our drummer has since disappeared, so there are concerns over that, he’s a good friend so I hope he’s okay out there. We’ve got a new drummer recording with us so after the initial setback things are back on track. We’re pretty anxious about revealing our next album. There’s basically no sampling involved. We needed to make something real if we were to do it at all.
What was the inspiration for the Deep Fantasy artwork?
The idea came from an abstract painting. Jo thought it needed a certain vogue feel to it and he made the colors spot on. That image has multiple vibes and feelings when you look at it, it sums up that whole album in a way. It’s actually a man on the cover, most people just assume it’s a female because of the earring and lipstick, but don’t let your eyes fool you.
The artworks for all of Airlines Tapes’ releases are very visually appealing. How does each piece come about?
That’s definitely one of the fun things to do, most of the time our art director Jo Cutri designs the covers, he’s a good friend of mine from Perth. I guess each release is treated differently, but it doesn’t take long to visualize it. One of the best covers we’ve worked on was the Sage XVII tape. Jo had the idea as soon as he heard the first couple demo songs. We did a photo shoot and it was spot on. So it’s not just internet cover-art anymore, it’s an art piece to go with the audio, whether you bought the tape or the mp3.
Why choose tapes as a format to release music?
I’ve always loved the sound and look of tape, cassette, and VHS. I think a lot of people want more than just the mp3s of their favorite bands. Physically having the record or tape makes that connection to a band or artist you like, even stronger. Plus it’s the cheaper option to vinyl. So when starting out you’ve got to pay your dues on them tapes. I think we all realize not many people have cassette players anymore, so that’s just further evidence that fans want a physical piece of something they like, even if its just as a souvenir. That’s why we package our tapes the way we do, they are designed to be on display, not tucked away in a drawer, so go buy one.
What do you make of the Australian music scene at the moment?
It’s copped a huge belting over the last decade. Even somewhere like Kenya or Mali would have a better structured music industry than the one being run down here. There are no festivals worth going to anymore. How many times do they have to bring out Bloody Beetroots and Calvin Harris? They’ve been touring Australia 12 years straight. That’s the type of people who control music in Australia. Sugar Mountain is the only one we pay attention to, it’s an indoor festival with the friendliest vibes. Most of the time the acts are great too. One year they had Sun Araw, Prince Rama, John Maus, and Shabazz Palaces on the same bill.
Where would you like to see the Australian music scene in 5 years?
I’d like to see all current Australian major record labels and festival organizations bankrupt in 5 years time… we need all those people out. The next generation will do a way better job, they aren’t afraid of taking risks. At the moment, the people making the decisions are just playing it way too conservative and safe, in all aspects: bookings, festival headliners, the way they market bands/artists, the types of bands they push towards the public, etc.
What does the future hold for Airlines Tapes?
The new Bewilderbeast LP, Unreal_Estate, is out September 1st, which will be our first vinyl release. I can’t wait for people to hear it, it’s great. The new Surfing album shouldn’t be too far off, and there are a couple other releases set for later in the year too. A Bewilderbeast Australian tour is happening later this year hopefully and a couple original videos are coming soon as well.
Thank you for choosing Airlines.
Stream “Girl/Grain,” the latest single (debut) from Bewilderbeast’s forthcoming LP, Unreal_Estate—out September 1st via Airlines Tapes.