Courtesy of Nevada Greene
By Jonas Weir
Columbia musicians Ben Chlapek and Matt Crook don’t care that cassettes are out of style. Tapes are the basis for their record label.
Their label, Dismal Niche, creates and distributes small batches of tapes—usually fifty to one hundred per release—and puts out music digitally.
Although tapes haven’t been widely popular since the rise of the CD, tape labels have been making a comeback, as evidenced by 2013’s first National Cassette Store Day event celebrated at record stores worldwide this past September.
Dismal Niche’s tapes have even been distributed by a Chicago record distributor, Carrot Top Records, and have received college radio play across the country. But it all started a year and a half ago when Ben wanted to release his own solo recordings under the name Neatly Knotted.
When Ben geared up to release his album, Mountain of Youth, the idea to start a tape label, which he and Matt had casually talked about, resurfaced. This time the two took it seriously, and Mountain of Youth became the first Dismal Niche release in February 2013—fifty years after the invention of the compact cassette.
Since then, Dismal Niche has released music from artists that hail from almost every genre. For gentle folk music, check out Vulvette. For chaotic punk rock, listen to Gran Mal. And for everything in between, try the Dismal Niche sampler.
The bands help with releases, but the founders take on a lot of work. Ben designs the art. Matt, among other things, thought of the label’s name.
While driving near the Washington-Oregon border, Matt saw a sign for the “Dismal Nitch,” a cove off the Columbia River where Lewis and Clark were mired for six days. The explorers were running low on supplies, and the situation looked bleak. Clark called the cove a “dismal little nitch” in one of his journals, which inspired Matt.
“We think of it as our own pathetic, little way to make meaning in our lives, so we call it our dismal niche,” Matt says, half-jokingly.
Cassettes are very niche, and sometimes making it in the music industry does seem dismal; that’s why this label is purely a labor of love. At least, the medium keeps overhead low. Ben also points out cassettes are more tangible than MP3s, more resilient than CDs, and cheaper than vinyl records.
“It’s kind of nice to have production and artwork with a warmer analog sound,” Ben says. “It’s also sort of a nostalgic thing. We all grew up listening to tapes.”
On top of keeping the budget low and nostalgia high, Ben and Matt keep all of the production in Missouri. They do all the art, tape dubbing, and packaging, but the tapes are manufactured in Springfield by National Audio Company, the world’s largest audio cassette manufacturer.
All Dismal Niche releases are available both digitally and as cassettes.