An interview with Alex of cassette based 'extreme experimental' label Deathbed Tapes.

    Deathbed Tapes

    In a relatively short space of time, Deathbed Tapes has become a formidable force in the noise, power electronics & ‘extreme experimental’ underground with over 270 releases and a commanding roster of artists. Here we discuss the history of Deathbed Tapes, run-ins with the Church of Satan, endorsements from My Chemical Romance and more. 

    Discipline Mag: Hi Alex, thanks a lot for speaking with Discipline Mag. You’ve been running Deathbed Tapes for a good number of years now. Can you introduce the label and tell me when and how it all started?

    Alex: Hey! Yeah, just over 5 years now. I started the label in 2018 after being ignored by all the labels I wanted to work with at the time. I had already been helping out with Bizarre Audio Arts (doing art, dubbing tapes, packing orders) which is where I made some of the early connections. My original idea was to release my own noise and arrange some fun noise comps since I was discovering some classics at the time. The first noise comp PROJECT DISCONNECT (DBT002) took like 6 months to put together so after that I started trying to speed up the process. 

    DM: From where do you run Deathbed from?

    Alex: Piqua, Ohio. When it started I was living with my parents, but I bought a house in March of last year. 

    DM: Something I feel is quite intrinsic to the label is the deformed face motif – Henry I believe his name is. What was the inspiration behind him, and how did he come to be the ‘mascot’ for Deathbed Tapes? 

    Alex: There wasn’t much thought put into it. I had a manilla folder filled with loose artwork for collages and pulled his face out of the pile. It was a scrap from a collage I did with dozens of WWI plastic surgery patients.

    Deathbed Tapes

    DM: As implied by the name, you predominantly operate with cassettes. What was it that drew you to this format? 

    Alex: They’re cheap and easy to DIY and I like the way they sound. And the way they fit in my hand or pocket. I like the variety of shells. I grew up with toys that recorded or played cassettes so it’s always been a fun format for me.

    DM: How do you source your tapes and what are some of the trials and tribulations you encounter when running Deathbed Tapes? 

    Alex: I try to buy blanks in bulk when I can find them. I just bought 800 C60s on eBay for like $450. Last year I found like 1,000 tapes and vintage cases on Facebook Marketplace for a steal. Most of them ended up being Type II. 

    I’m always hunting for cassette cases too. There’s a corner in my basement with thousands of various clamshells. I won’t need to buy VHS cases for at least a decade. 

    But most Deathbed releases are custom loaded and pro-dubbed by duplication ca. It costs a bit more, but since the batch sizes have grown I no longer have time to dub them all myself. 

    I’ve done like 270+ releases now, so the trials and tribulations are mostly a thing of the past. Supply chain issues are the biggest problem now. 

    Grim Noise Cassette
    Grim - 'Cheerleader'

    DM: For me personally, I see an overlap between industrial/noise music genres and analog music formats. I’d loosely describe this overlap as being the result of industrial music’s channelling, and reinterpretation of, the sounds of production. Therefore analog music formats, especially those which produce sounds by way of moving components, are the most natural formats. I feel this sentiment is more relevant in the current day where digital music has become the norm. I’m wondering what you make of this – whether you feel similarly or think I’m reading too much into this?

    Alex: I often use shitty handheld tape players in my recording process. Recording with the pinhole mic, over-saturating the tape, recording it back from the built in speaker. So for me it’s definitely the most natural format. But I don’t think many people take “the most natural format” into consideration when releasing their music.

    DM: Given your insights into the industry, how do you feel the appetite for cassettes is these days? Was there a surge in interest during the lockdown era? How is the interest today? 

    Alex: The label really blew up during the first few months of lockdown. People were making Deathbed fan art. Most releases were selling out day one.
    Things have died down since then, but I’m still selling a lot of tapes.

    DM: Some notable releases and artists you’ve released include The Skull Scriptures by Bastard Noise, releases by Justin Broadrick’s Exit Electronics, releases by Controlled Bleeding, Richard Ramirez & Black Leather Jesus, and Deathbed Tapes has also been a mainstay for Maso Yamazaki and his Controlled Death outfit – to name a few. What releases are you personally most proud of? And what are some hidden gems you’d recommend people check out?

    Alex: I really enjoyed doing the blackout series – the tapes that came in black zip bags with folded up posters. Vomir’s LIVE FROM THE CATACOMBS comes to mind. The GRIM special edition tapes that came in painted guitar pedal enclosures were a highlight. Any release with a skintape music video. I listen to the Contagious Orgasm tapes more than any others. Cromlech is a recent favorite.

    Vomir Live From The Catacombs
    Vomir 'Live From The Catacombs'

    DM: What is your take on the current state of extreme experimental music, akin to Deathbed? Where have you seen it go, and where do you think it will end up?

    Alex: I feel like I haven’t been around long enough to have a valid opinion on this. I’ve seen a lot of new labels come and go. It’s hard to keep a noise label running unless you’re super passionate about it and have tons of free time. I’m worried it will end up with more net labels and less physical media labels. 

    DM: There are a couple of Charles Manson interviews on the Deathbed Bandcamp. How did you release these? Were there any kind of legal elements for you to negotiate? 

    Alex: I also did a Dahmer and BTK tape. The serial killer tapes started as a way to sell some leftover blank cassettes. The audio was just ripped from YouTube. No legal elements. I didn’t have much of a following at the time so I knew it would fly under the radar. 

    DM: I remember when Deathbed Tapes rereleased Strange Music by Anton LaVey there was some pushback from LaVey’s estate. What happened there and what was the outcome? 

    Alex: It’s kind of embarrassing so I’ve tried to brush it under the rug… I reached out to the “Official Anton LaVey” page asking about a reissue. They replied that the rights belonged to the family and that they would have the family’s lawyer reach out to me. After some negotiations I received a licensing agreement in the mail with Stanton LaVey’s signature. I paid a licensing fee, a cut of sales up front, and sent them 50 artist copies. A few months later I was contacted by the Church of Satan… a friendly cease and desist of sorts letting me know that the members of the family who owned the rights hadn’t signed off on it. Stanton ghosted me but continued to sell his copies of the tape for $66 a piece on eBay until he died. 

    Anton LaVey Strange Music
    Anton LaVey 'Strange Music'

    DM: There’s a story I think I only know half of that apparently helped give Deathbed a bit of exposure. Jared Leto, or possibly someone similar, made a very public purchase and endorsement of the label… ? Would you be able to give the full story and correct what I’ve got wrong.

    Alex: Gerard Way! and Frank Iero from MCR. They’ve both been big supporters and super cool guys. Gerard posted a box of tapes I sent him on Instagram so I gained like 5,000 MCR fans as followers overnight. He just bought a STRANGULATOR distortion pedal – I’m hoping it ends up in his noise rig. 

    DM: What are some songs or artists you enjoy who are the most antithetical to Deathbed? Any guilty pleasures?

    Alex: 99% of the stuff I listen to these days would fit in with the label but I occasionally put something on for nostalgia like The Cure, Boards of Canada, Joy Division, GY!BE, Depeche Mode, etc. 

    DM: You’re doing a lot for the noise/experimental/industrial scene, and I’d like to thank you for your contribution to this space. I’d also like to provide an opportunity to transmit any words of wisdom, advice, insider knowledge or anything else to your community.

    Alex: Thank you! Keep pushing boundaries and keep experimenting.

    Keep up to date with Deathbed Tapes by following them on Instagram or Bandcamp and by visiting the website

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    The founder and creator of Discipline Mag, Daniel has been an ardent follower of music subculture for as long as he can remember. The combination of this interest with many years spent abroad confirmed the necessity of Discipline Mag as a vehicle to tell stories from the underground.