Interviews aren't a regular occurrence on this blog but I really wanted to chat with Manchester DJ/Producer Ruf Dug after I found out about his Ruf Tapes mix series. Each mix has a theme and unlike most of the mixtapes around at the moment it's actually recorded onto tape. Regular readers will know I have more than a passing interest in cassettes so I was keen to speak to Simon aka Ruf Dug and find out why he'd decided to go down this route.
Tell me a little bit about the Ruf Tapes mix series, what was the inspiration behind that?
I have a pal, Marcel Vogel, and he said to me a little while ago I needed to work my Soundcloud more and should put more mixes on there. So I made a resolution for 2013 to put out more mixes and to get them all on the Soundcloud.
At the same time, I'd been getting into some old Broadway Sound (Manchester reggae / streetsoul crew) mixtapes that were on YouTube and I really wanted to make a tape in homage to that sound, and had managed to get hold of a nice Denon cassette recorder for a tenner off eBay, and my girlfriend found a load of blank TDK FE-90s in a charity shop for a few quid.
So all the elements were in place - it didn't take too much thinking to develop things a little further and come up with the Ruf Tapes concept (a mix on one side of an FE-90 every fortnight, themed, all vinyl). Much credit to Hunee for coming up with the name as well… It's mad you know, Marcel Vogel and Hunee are between them responsible for so much that is good in dance music culture today. Like, massively disproportionately so… MEGA DONS!
You have certain rules in place for your mix tapes, do you find that working within these rules has pushed you into areas you wouldn't normally go creatively?
Well the only real rule is that I'm only giving myself two takes for each mix… The thing which perhaps is most particular to cassette as a format is the lack of instant random access - you're locked into the flow. When you're recording a mix into a computer, if you crash a mix you can just keep the thing running and go back and re-do the mix knowing that you can edit it out afterwards - on cassette it's just not so possible - you have to rewind all the way back to the beginning and try again. And I'm the kind of person that would bust 17 rewinds just to make sure I got the beginning alright so I needed a rule there to make sure I could get out a mix a fortnight!
So far it's going OK, on the last one I recorded I used up my rewind before I even played my first track as I set the tape recording too early. It certainly keeps things exciting, and it feels more like playing out, that "edge" is there… I haven't popped a total train-wreck on my second take yet though so let's see how rigidly I adhere to the rules should one crop up!
You also did a live set recently using cassettes, what kind of set up did you use and was it difficult to pull off? Did you get any feedback from the crowd about it? Is it going to be a one-off or have you got more planned?
The live set came about again through a need for speed and efficiency; I had the call 2 weeks before the show and at that point I didn't have a live set, had no plans to ever perform live - as far as I was concerned the tunes I make are tools for DJs to use on dancefloors and that's about it. But it was a good show (Maria Minerva at Kraak) and Jayne the promoter is a legend and when she asks something you don't really say no!
From the outset I was determined there would be no laptop in my setup at the show, and I started to wonder about how I could pull this off. I've been using tape in the studio for a LONG time… I used to have a Revox B77 1/4 inch reel to reel back in Sydney, and for the last 18 months or so every tune I've made I have finished off by recording it onto a 4 track Tascam cassette recorder - each tune is recorded as 2 tracks of drums and 2 tracks of everything else. So I have in my studio a big stack of cassettes which are the master recordings of all of the last year's output.
Now pretty much any mid-90s "electronica" act that performed live basically took a multi-track ADAT of their tunes, ran it into a mixing desk and dubbed it out live (or just straight up mimed over the top of it), so I figured well if it's good enough for all that lot then it's fine for me, plus the cassette angle is a bit fresh… I got Tapeline to make me up some cool yellow custom blanks, spent a night making copies of all the masters, one tune on each tape, and the live set basically consisted of the Tascam four track going into a mixer with an echo box and dub siren on it, and I twiddled a bunch of knobs Mad Professor style and tried not to make the feedback sound too harsh…
I think it went down pretty well! I was super nervous it being my first time, and also being a little concerned that people might not buy into the concept of some dude playing cassettes on stage as being a "live performance". Speaking to people afterwards though, the two main comments that came through were 1) people really enjoyed the action of me changing cassettes between tunes, it sparked something fondly reminiscent in their minds (or for the younger ones just confused them completely), and 2) everybody remarked how warm and crunchy the sound was - the DJ right after me played a CD as the first track and loads of people commented on the immediate difference in sound quality. That for me is an affirmation that cassette tape is a viable and vital format that transcends gimmickry.
Anyway, I was encouraged enough by the whole thing to do it again, and the next Cassettes 'N' FX show is gonna be for Wet Play at the Sounds From The Other City event in Salford on Sunday May 5th.
Why do you think there’s been such a renewed interest in cassettes, even Juno Records have been writing about tapes and they don’t even sell them?
I think there's a few reasons. It's been long enough since we abandoned cassettes as a medium for them to return in a more considered fashion, much in the same way as the vinyl revival occurred. That most people listen to music on YouTube these days shows that crisp high fidelity is not the paragon it once was and besides, we've got such digital clarity now with in-the-box producing that a -inf db noise floor is easily attainable and also BORING AS FUCK. So given that crisp fidelity isn't necessary, cassette can be re-considered.
Also, the sound of cassette is really nice, and people have been using it in productions for a number of years now - especially artists that The Wire and all that mob get well excited about. And you know how it goes, something that's hot in The Wire ends up filtering through to the hipsters and then the mainstream eventually.
Furthermore, it's really cheap to put stuff out on cassette. For vinyl you're looking at a grand minimum to press something. OK you can do it a bit cheaper but it's still hundreds and hundreds of pounds. You can bang out 100 cassettes from Tapeline for about 80 quid. And yes, you could just release your music digitally for minimum expense but that's just so mundane, isn't it? If you put out a tape you've the tangible physical fetish object like with a vinyl release ya know…
As an addendum - Juno sell tapes now!!! I managed to get them to take 10 copies of my Wet Play mix tape and they sold them all!!!
What are your plans once the Ruf Tapes series is finished, have you thought about starting your own cassette label or do you want to move onto something else?
Hmm I haven't really thought about the end of the Ruf Tapes series yet! I don't know if I would go the whole hog and start up a cassette-only label, but Tapeline is literally 3 miles from my house and I have been involved in putting out a few cassettes last year - we did the Wet Play Tape-Casts and also did a limited Seahawks release just before Christmas. I definitely think I will pop some more tapes out, probably just under Ruf Kutz if I do though. I'd like to do a compilation pack of the best of the Ruf Tapes once I've got a bunch done, like the old 6-pack mix tapes they used to dish out at the big hardcore raves...