I was first in touch with Rudi Tuscher in the mid 1980’s. I remember being very excited to break into the European trading scene with him and a some others. I think the Nisus Anal Furgler tape came from him although I am actually not sure. It was sort of magical to me . A blurry world of foreign home tapers doing the same thing I was doing here. But was I understanding it properly? Was it just for fun? Were they more serious about selling their tapes? And did they? I was to get much more insight and exposure to the international home recording scene soon thereafter. Besides Rudi, People like Andy Xport, Lord Litter and Mick Magic opened this can of worms even farther and I was hooked.
Rudi also tipped me off to Steven Tetzloff although I was later to find out about his music from others ( like Ken Clinger). I think Steve himself sent me tapes too. I’d like to reconnect with him but cannot find any info.
From Southern California, home recording musician Steve Tetzloff was a fascinating lo fi singer. He seemed reclusive to me and although I do believe we were in contact there was very little chattiness or banter between us. His style is distinctive, especially his voice. Certainly not a great singer or instrumentalist the sum of his parts added up to something special. Tetzloff released a few tapes on Rudi’s Calypso Now label.
Rudi’s own band, Pull My Daisy, did some outstanding power punk pop songs. Short and shouted but with hooky elements. Here they are in performance in Germany in the 80s.
interview with Rudi Tuscher
What years did Calypso Now operate?
I started in 1981 organizing concerts in the local youth center (AJZ) under this name. In 1983 I began the label work with a small catalogue of about 30 tapes, and the last catalogue is from february ’89 – after that I deleted the whole back catalogue. Some vinyl records were released after that until 1992, but only from my band Pull My Daisy, due to lack of time I could not keep up the distribution/label work for other musicians any more.
Where did the name come from?
The 80’s were a very dark period, everybody was talking about a coming nuclear war, 1984 was getting nearer, the year of George Orwell’s Big Brother – the apocalypse was all the rage. So Calypso Now meant to say: Fuck this whining, have fun, dance – something in this direction. Of course I was nor pop nor disco, I just hate it when everybody’s saying the same without even thinking any more, living kind of a political chic.
Why did you start the label? Was there a philosophy behind it? A certain style of music you wanted to present?
Like most decisions in my life, this came totally unexpected and spontaneous, it was just something that interested me very much. I was a saxophone player at that time, practicing scales every day, playing free form sax and noise in a new wave band, dreaming to be the next Archie Shepp. To fulfill my dream, I emigrated to New York with my saxophone in the spring of ’83, but was back home in the autumn. What I brought back from New York was
1. the knowledge that all New Yorkers envy the Europeans for their cities
2. two issues of Op-Magazine I bought in a bookstore at St. Marks Place
Op had literally tons of tape reviews, and that was probably the first time I realised that there are a lot of musicians out there who use tapes to bring out their music. That was totally new to me, everybody around me was still struggling to get out their vinyl recordings, going to expensive studios to record, suffering from old school studio engineers who didn’t have a clue. Switzerland only had the rather costly Sunrise Studios, where a lot of Wave and Recommend Records were produced, and that was it. So, to cover studio costs you had to sell a couple of hundred vinyl records, no chance to do something quick and dirty for no costs. Tapes, now, they did offer this possibility. Plus, the first Tascam 4-track cassette recorder reached these shores, so everybody could now record and release their stuff.
So, the philosophy behind Calypso Now was to push the cassette as a medium everybody could use, everybody should use, damn these stocks of vinyl singles of unsuccessful bands they still keep in their parents cellar. Make a tape, you can always erase it and use it for another production. I really rooted for the medium and also got quite some attention from the media here, to the point they started calling me the ‘cassette pope’. That was a wonderful point of departure for a later publicity stunt, by the way. Just read on….
During all the existence of the label/distribution service I only handled music I liked, music I listened to myself. I have a very eclectic taste, so you’ll find everything from garage bands to free improvisation and hard core experimentalists.
Did you approach artists to release tapes on Calypso Now or did they offer them to you?
In the beginning I wrote to the people whose tapes interested me, tapes that were reviewed in Op mainly. So I would also get in touch with people like Frazer Nash from Music For Midgets (UK), who had quite an impressive catalogue and who pointed out some more tapes to me. From 1984 on I started to release tape compilations of Swiss bands who gave me exclusive tracks they recorded for the project. Yeah, I’m still quite proud of those productions, because they were aimed at the shops and came with real printed covers in an LP-sized package, and we managed to cover the expenses.
So with all these activities it was normal that more and more unsolicited tapes from other countries got sent in. A typical phrase was “your name just keeps popping up, so I thought I’d send you this tape”. Plus, there were artists that grew quite close to the label and sent me every new release they made, and sometimes also their back catalogue. That was the case for people like Steven Tetzloff, Evan Schoenfeld, Martin Newell (Cleaners From Venus). Switzerland also had an important scene of free improvisers and noise makers, and they were more than happy to have this new channel, so I got a lot of submissions from them too.
Writing this down, I now realize that I just did too much in this short period of 83 to 88 – a big compilation almost every year, the growing interest of the Swiss scene to have a tape with Calypso Now or have it distributed, all the tapes that came in from the other countries – all wanted to get their stuff out, but rarely anyone of them wanted to buy other tapes. The buying was done by mail order customers, and I constantly kept on trying to bring tapes into the shops, which was a bit frustrating, because interest from that side was rather low, plus you had to offer discounts on the already rather cheap tapes. Sorry, that was a bit off topic whining now.
For example, how did you come to release Steve Tetzloff’s tapes?
Steven Tetzloff had a short review in Op, I contacted him and he then sent me a master of ‘Beautitude’ for license release. I can’t remember about the sales, but I can remember that me and my friends instantly started to love his music, it was just so cool his use of the cheapest rhythm box around (Casio VL-1), put some gloomily distorted guitar and bathroom vocals over it, mumbling about ‘lick my spit off the wall’ – I still adore this tape, and I’m very sorry that his music does not seem to have found another home, apart Calypso Now. After Beautitude he kept on sending his other tapes, ‘Buzzworld’ and ‘Flyspecks’, they were all released, they are all wonderful and I still listen to them today. I also did put a track of his on the only single Calypso Now did ever make, ‘Sex Sells’ – made at the same time as the big label catalogue with the same name, sporting a nude pic of Tetzloff on the front. Great stuff.
I also had the same relationship with Evan Schoenfeld from Seattle, WA, by the way. I wrote him for a tape I read a review about, I fell for his music, and from then on he sent me every tape he made for license release, and I would have wished for him to reach bigger shores. There was some interest from the german label Amigo, who had a singer named Schwefel who also had this glam approach, but it seems it never came to more, so all you can find from Schoenfeld are the things on Calypso Now, although he was at the right place with the right people, names like The Green Pajamas or Endino (not the really famous one, probably a brother?) popping up in his recording credits. Maybe he was just too early, or probably it was that he never wore flannel.
You did many compilations I believe, mostly European artists from what I can tell. How did you make the choices of songs? Would just pick your favorites from the tapes you received?
There were three types of compilations I have done. I already talked about these ‘big’ Swiss productions, where the bands recorded for the purpose of the compilation, some also gave me unreleased tracks from their archives, in one case I had to buy a session master tape from national radio (that did hurt, that’s why I remember it… especially since this particular band never mentioned their Calypso Now cassette releases in their later discography – snobs). These compilations were the ‘Splendid’ cassingles, ‘This Is Guitar Town’ with Geneva garage bands, and ‘Chart Attack’ with mostly shoegazing and psychedelic bands from Smalltown, Switzerland.
Then I compiled samplers with Swiss artists for release by other labels in the USA, Japan, France, UK – for those I usually could chose the songs from tapes I already had, since I really did get a lot also for my radio show I did on several Swiss radio stations. ‘Sonique Suisse’ is a typical example of that, also the ‘Starspot Compilation’ (both are still available ;-) . And, yeah, all the tracks have been selected because I liked them, no fillers, no payola involved.
Third type of compilations were done with tapes I played on the radio, so they not only reflect my personal taste, but very often the tracks have a special thrill to them, some unusual trick, all the while being accessible to the listener. ‘G-String Murders’ or ‘Soft Touch’ are the ones I’m talking about here. By the way, your buddy Geoff X. Alexander would have fitted on such a compilation. Why he hasn’t been included? Don’t know, I learned about him too late, probably.
I almost forgot about the ‘Wer Mit Wem?’-Compilation, where I invited improvising artists I already was in touch with to contribute, no theme was given, I released what they sent me as-is. Swiss artist Eva Lips did a great package for that, by the way, having all her friends collecting milk containers for a time, and she then used those to assemble it.
Were there ever much in the way of sales? Or did you mainly trade these tapes?
Honestly, I don’t have any records any more, but sometimes I find a note on a master or a copy of a royalty statement I sent out. I know, labels usually lie about royalties, but I couldn’t – I would have been too ashamed to send out ‘zero-royalties’-statements. The only tapes that really sold were those Swiss compilations, because they could be sold at shops, they had an LP-sized cover to fit the shelves. Of the other productions, the sales didn’t always reach two figures, and never three. As far as trades were concerned, I didn’t feel allowed to trade tapes of other musicians, so either I sent my own stuff or a cassette of my radio show, but there was not really a lot of trading going on, just those chain letters were you were asked to send a cassette to the first address and then send the letter to ten other people.
The radio show was broadcasted on several local radio stations, later I got involved with national radio as a monthly guest who brought his silly records and some wild tapes. I even got paid real money for that. And of course I did get a lot of tapes for these radio shows, too.
Who were some of the other artists you released?
I already mentioned Evan Schoenfeld and Martin Newell a.k.a. The Cleaners From Venus, both highlights. I also had a cassette of Eugene Chadbourne licensed to me for a year (only…), had to pay top dollars for that. The same goes for Trance Port Tapes, where I got masters and packages from the US, they brought Timothy Leary, among many others. I also had license agreements with english labels, which led to Throbbing Gristle, Nocturnal Emissions, Portion Control, Attrition, Legendary Pink Dots. From german labels I got Einstürzende Neubauten and DAF – this one was sent to me by Non Toxique Lost, a group that was already in the very first catalogue. They are still active, by the way, releasing great CDs of industrial music in very limited edition. Also P16.D4 were already in this first catalogue, and it was their idea to release tapes in license instead of sending around the actual copies. The deal with them was the model for all future deals: Split the profits (price minus tape costs) 50/50. So I got it from them; later on Hal McGee from Viscera, whose first two tapes were also on Calypso Now, told me he learned that same approach from me…
Leslie Singer was also someone I admired very much, but her tapes were not on the label, I just got sent a handful from the US to distribute. Today I regret very much that I didn’t have the guts to ask her for a license release – I was probably a bit afraid of this wild female noise maker.
Artists from ‘The Improviser’ were a good part of the Calypso Now catalogue, Jack Wright, Wally Shoup, Davey Williams, LaDonna Smith, Sue-Ann Harkey and her Seattle noise makers as well.
A steady stream of artists also came from the concerts that were organized by a friend or myself at the local youth center. That’s how the tapes of The Lo Yo Yo came about, the band of Mick Hobbs (Officer) and Alig (Honeymoon Killers). The late Nikki Sudden also sent me a master cassette for license release, and later he played here in town, and I’m still amazed how open he was to the request of this small obscure Swiss cassette label – no contract, no questions asked, ‘here’s the master cassette for you’ – love you, Nikki!
Is there a complete catalog of the label on the net?
I’ve just recently begun to bring my catalogue to the net – fortunately I was curing from hospital for several months, so I started the blog to keep track of my findings in the archives, which were just unorganized boxes that travelled with me for the last 15 years. There I also published scans of some of the catalogues, the most complete being the big 1988 catalogue. But there’s also discogs, where I started this january to add all the releases. It’s not complete yet, but most of it can be found there.
You are also a musician. I even confused one of your groups with someone else because you both appeared on a tape I received. Opposite to what many people did, you seemed to champion other peoples music more than your own. Does this seem true to you?
That’s an interesting remark – and it’s true that I didn’t promote my own stuff very much, also because I never really took it serious. Although I think what we made still works, we used to be secretly amused about the seriousness of some of the darker artists – our motto was “we indulge in the common playing of strings and brass to promote our one message: worship womanhood”, we wore suits and ties, we had, as Wally Shoup wrote about us, a “theatrical lifestyle”. Talking about Nisus Anal Furgler (and Drunken Dolphins) here, projects that existed for the cassette scene, although we did some live gigs.
That all changed when I took on the guitar again, founded Pull My Daisy with my girlfriend and Esther from Chin-Chin .
Yeah, that’s the publicity stunt I mentioned earlier, so I have to tell it now.
Our first release was a video of 30 minutes, filmed by a friend at rehearsals, that went quite unnoticed, we were too fresh then, and you can’t really promote a debut on video. So we recorded seven songs on a the Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, just the backing tracks, and went into a friendly studio, where the backing tracks were copied onto the studio tape, and we filled up with lead and backing vocals and some more guitar, all in one day, mix included, if my memory serves me well. Cheapest professional recording ever made…
Next step: the ‘cassette pope’ sends out a promo sheet for a picture disc of his own band. Not only vinyl, A PICTURE DISC – that was really something indulgent at that time, and it had the effect of the customer who orders meat in the vegetarian restaurant. We had their attention. And when the picture disc came out, it was our gaily colored tour poster, glued on records we got from the bin of Recommend Records, useless promos they got. The music was on an enclosed ‘free’ tape. That did it. Later in the same year the cassette got picked up by a german label for a beautiful yellow vinyl release, and I heard Thurston Moore bought a copy when in Zurich, that’s how great it looked.
And from then on we played more and more gigs, released singles, tapes and two more LPs, and that was the time when I didn’t have the time any more to promote or distribute other people’s music.
In the USA there were magazines like Option, Factsheet Five and Sound Choice during the 1980s to review your tapes. What was happening in Europe to get the word out?
Without the mags you mentioned there would be no Calypso Now, as I said earlier. Here you had some independent music magazines that reviewed tapes on a regular basis, SPEX in germany comes to mind. At the same time there were quite a few cassette-only ‘zines, like Band-It, Kino aus der Kassette, later there was 59to1 – but they all had the same flaws, that they reviewed more and more vinyl as soon as they got known, and then just faded away – rightfully so, me thinks.
There were also prophets like JAR who did a lot of promotion with his Berlin Cassette series, compilations made from regular cassette releases. I think he made 4 to 6 releases each year. You should also check out IRRE Tapes of Matthias Lang, he was very active in promoting bands and cassettes, all the while working a regular job and supporting a family, I believe.
Did you get a chance to meet many of the artists you released?
There’s actually a story quite funny about that. When I started in ’83, I was already over 30, with a background in leftwing bookstores and the 60’s underground and such, so I was used to networking, meeting people, making plans, getting together. So for me it was just natural to spend the next holidays on a bike trip through the german black forest up to Nuremberg, about 700 miles, with my girl friend, and I wanted to meet all those people whom I had tapes from, like Achim from ExtremMist. And that was so weird, those kids, because that is what they were at that time, they must have been shocked that this old man comes to their parent’s house, where they have their own studio, at least I felt like an alien there, and no one ever invited us to stay or even asked where we would sleep. Until we got to Nuremberg, where Stefan + Petra Lienemann, today known as Fit + Limo, greeted us with wide open arms: “Oh, you’ve come such a long way, now you can rest here” – this memory stays in my mind for ever, because it was so much the very right thing to say at that moment.
This relationship stayed on until our band Pull My Daisy split up, and we played several gigs over the years with The Shiny Gnomes, Limo’s (Stefan Lienemann) band, and Calypso Now had two tape releases from them, one live, one studio outtakes from a Polydor album.
As I was also organizing concerts at the local youth center, which is quite an impressive dome for 600 people, I could set up gigs for some of the artists, Legendary Pink Dots, LaDonna Smith/Davey Williams, Nikki Sudden, Craig Burk, Shiny Gnomes of course, very few of them have also been released on tape.
At some time I also travelled around the country a lot, checking out local scenes, meeting bands, having a good time all around.
Did Calypso Now ever close or has it been going non stop for all these years?
After Pull My Daisy split up in ’92, that was the end of the label, I just threw all the stuff in boxes, some letters even unopened, and it’s only now that these boxes get opened again and I try to come to grips with several hundreds of cassettes, promos, masters, taped radio shows and such.
Do you think there is any legacy to Cassette Culture? Any important musical or sociological impact?
What cassette culture brought us, was the possibility to break free from the usual studio/pressing plant/distribution/label-system, because anybody could make a tape, and the minimum costs were around 1.95 (in any currency) for a production. A lot of people suddenly freed their minds. It’s what computers and the net do today, cassettes are forgotten, but they were first. Is that an impact? Probably not. Because we would be at the same point today with or without cassettes, the internet is today’s cassette culture, it freed the minds of a lot more people. And anyhow: Mail Art was first, really.
But, let’s face it: MP3 never sounds as good as a noisy analog cassette through a booster/equalizer or full blast on a cheap portable tape recorder.
How do you think the internet has affected the underground scene?
Did it? Only kidding… But: is there still an underground scene? I don’t really think so, we have just a lot of scenes now that are existing side by side.
Is the internet more superficial to you?
If you read my answers to some of the questions above, you’ll notice that I find some kind of superficiality in the cassette scene as well – for instance, there were more sellers than buyers much of the time. It’s just a lot easier to go online, surf around, put stuff up on myspace or youtube than it was in the 80’s. But that doesn’t necessarily make the internet the home of the superficial. No, I have no problem with the easy access, because I find a lot of unexpected creativity on the net, just follow the links I posted on my blog where I researched the career and parodies of french Star Academy loser/winner Cindy Sander.
What keeps you interested after all this time?
I may look old on the outside now, but inside, behind my eyes, lives still the same person.
What is your next project?
This is still changing by the month. I’m blogging my archives now, this will keep me busy for another two years. There’s also a book coming out about the Swiss punk scene of the 80’s where I collaborate. A first book had come out on the years 76-80, and that one turned out really really great, so I’m looking forward to a great piece of history writing – although I never was the type of guy that was interested in his past. That has changed during the past 6 months, and that’s also why I’m glad you made this interview with me. Thank you for that, I really appreciate your underground archives project. As so many of the cassette scene I’m following what’s happening on the music blogs, and you can keep track of my findings and my projects on my blog..
Any other thoughts?
As I’ve mentioned, I’m coming out of a rehab of more than a year in total (not, not drugs, rather a kind of plastic surgery…) – it will take me another month or two until I can take up gigging with my band again, and I really did miss this juvenile excitement. Check it out here or surf to www.hotcha.ch for a complete view of past present and future.
Thanks Rudi, all the best, Don