The second cassingle in the Impossible Colors Club
  • Adele Nicholas
  • The second cassingle in the Impossible Colors Club

Growing up, Adele Nicholas loved getting tapes in the mail. She’d order them and wait, and eventually they’d come, sometimes packaged with extra stickers, buttons, or patches. “That’s what I loved about getting tapes as a kid,” she says. “You get this thing in the mail, and it might come with something you weren’t expecting. Even if it’s tiny, it feels really special.” The founder of Chicago-based microlabel Impossible Colors now mails out her own tapes, filled with the music she makes as Axons and with her band Puritan Pine. The label’s new cassingles series, the Impossible Colors Club, ships split singles from local bands to subscribers every month.

On Tuesday, October 21, Nicholas will send out the second tape, a single featuring exclusive songs from Strawberry Jacuzzi and Post Child. “I really love the process of making homemade tapes,” she says. “I enjoy dubbing them and making the inserts. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that, and I thought it would be a cool and fun way to give something to people in the Chicago music community—help bands that I love do a really fun, small release so they could have a cool little art object to sell.”

Each tape in the series features inserts and labels designed by Chicago-based artist Kriss Stress (of Notes & Bolts fame), and every month the cassettes will be a different color. While the two singles so far both feature upbeat garage pop, Nicholas says she’s looking for bands that complement each other’s energy rather than for acts that fit a particular genre. She scopes out possible matches at concerts. “One of the future tapes will have Videobug backed with C. Batteries,” she says. “Seeing both of those bands live, I realized that what I love about them is that they’re electronic music with tons of guts and anger and craziness. They’re both harnessing this abrasiveness within the context of electronic music.”

An analog, mail-order tape-subscription service may seem antithetical to the current trend toward digital streaming services such as Rdio and Spotify, but in Chicago, boutique tape labels already sell out limited runs to people in the underground music scene. Nicholas says the most rewarding thing about the project so far has been seeing people post photos of the first cassingle in the Impossible Colors Club. In her eyes, the culture of streaming music dissolves the sense of “belonging” to a particular band, genre, or subculture. “I always think about the changing notion of showing your allegiance to the music that you like,” she says. “Collecting tapes or CDs or records is a very physical way to show that. With streaming, you never have to decide what you have an allegiance to.”

Contemporary cassette culture is one way that music fans—albeit a small minority of music fans—have resisted the compulsion to digitize. Tapes fit somewhere between deluxe vinyl and lossy MP3s. They’re tangible, but not expensive; they can be made at home fairly easily in small batches. “They’re easy to share, and they’re a fun object to have,” says Nicholas.

One of the first allegiances she ever swore to a band was via cassettes. “I had the first two Weezer records on tape when I was young,” she says. “I remember listening to those over and over. Actually, I wrote a song about that with my rock band, all about Rivers Cuomo and listening to the tape over and over until it broke.”

With the Impossible Colors Club, Nicholas hopes to replicate that experience, sharing music in a format that’s physical and breakable and asks more of listeners than pressing “play” on a screen. “I want to do a bunch of cool things for subscribers over the year,” she says. “This is a big adventure, to do this long-term project.”