Trash Tape records Showcase | Monday, June 27, 7 p.m., $10–$12 | Local 506, Chapel Hill Tuesday, June 28, 7 p.m., $10–$12 | Schoolkids Records, Raleigh 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Two high school kids meet at a Superchunk show at the Cradle. After bonding over the DIY values of Merge, Dischord, and Elephant 6, they start a band, then a label, releasing music by people in their circles in small batches of tapes, which they dub one by one.

If this story sounds ripped from 1990, think again: It’s taking place three decades later, demonstrating how durable certain antiquated-seeming punk principles can be for young artists today.

Nathan McMurray, 18, just graduated from Durham’s Riverside High and is heading for Chicago’s DePaul University in the fall. Evren Centeno, also 18, is poised between Chapel Hill High School and UNC-Asheville. Evren’s sister, Eilee, is a 20-year-old NC State student. In 2020, they founded Trash Tape Records with a Bandcamp page that now houses a baker’s dozen digital releases and a selection of tapes and trucker caps. After a number of virtual concerts, they’re running their first IRL showcase tour from Atlanta to New Jersey, with home dates in Chapel Hill (Local 506, June 27) and Raleigh (Schoolkids Records, June 28).

Though it seems like the cassette has been on the verge of a vinyl-like renaissance for at least a decade, Trash Tape came to it through the same combination of limited means, happenstance, and resourcefulness that their role models did.

Nathan found a cheap, unopened pack of 90-minute tapes at a used bookstore and started dubbing albums onto them, playing wav files on a phone plugged into the stereo and “mastering” the levels with the volume knob.

“In smaller circles, people are starting to buy tapes again. They sound cool, they look cool,” says Nathan, who has embarked on new format experiments since the label has sorted out how to properly make tapes. “Now, I’m trying to cut five-inch vinyl records using a Japanese toy record-maker. It’s terrible quality. I’ve been trying all sorts of weird stuff to get it to sound good.”

Nathan and Evren, who run the label with Eilee’s help, met at Merge’s 30th-anniversary show in 2019. They gravitated to each other for the obvious reason: “We were the only two people there who weren’t middle-aged,” Nathan says.

As the children of indie-rocking parents, they were already fans of Superchunk, Destroyer, and the Mountain Goats. Nathan can talk about Dischord Records and “the ethos and work ethic of ’80s hardcore” like a balding punk dad, though none of them really listen to old hardcore.

“I think a label’s only job should be to support the artist, and it shouldn’t do anything else,” he says. “It shouldn’t try to make gross profits, just enough to support itself.”

Evren, meanwhile, idolizes the freewheeling collaboration of the Elephant 6 Collective.

“We were inspired by the stories of that time as much as the music,” Evren says. “A conglomerate of artists in one city, all offering up their skills, with Julian Koster from Neutral Milk Hotel playing singing saw on an Olivia Tremor Control record—there was so much collaboration, and it’s not that it’s been lost, but those steps are being reconnected over the internet.”

Indeed, while their forebears were strongly associated with regions and genres, reflecting the record-store-divider culture of their times (the Chapel Hill indie of Merge, the DC post-hardcore of Dischord, the Athens psych-pop of Elephant 6), Trash Tape artists hail from Sweden, Australia, and all across the United States, playing in a wide variety of styles.

Nathan and Evren’s band, Welcome to Berlin, a sort of screamo Modest Mouse, has yet to release any music but is performing on the tour. The local dates also feature Koudi, a dance-y shoegaze band from New Jersey; Hill View #73, a young Atlantan from Bangladesh whose beguiling bedroom pop has vintage K Records vibes; and Durham’s NO PARKING, which thrashes the line between electro-punk and rap-metal.

Because many Trash Tape projects mainly exist online, Evren is drumming for no less than three bands on tour, while also working on a new collaboration with an artist from Sweden. These connections translate into opportunities, building a network of artists that can play or tour or couch surf with one another and pooling their fans—all virtues of the old-school indie community, though severed from the clannish, doctrinaire impulses that sometimes weighed it down.

“A lot of the modern DIY scene is not based on style as much as genuineness and emotion,” Nathan says. “People aren’t coalescing around how something sounds but around the fact that the music is very personal to them.”

“We have a group chat with all of our artists, and that’s really useful,” Eilee adds. “We haven’t even met in person, but people will send songs and say, ‘What do you think of this?’ or ‘Does anyone play drums or trumpet or do mixing?’ Sharing your art can be pretty vulnerable, and it’s nice that we’re all able to open up to each other.”

If the message is Dischord and the medium is Discord, then the spirit is accord, from the label’s earnest, affirmative marketing voice to the personal relationships that underlie it.

“I’m so proud of Evren and Nathan,” says Eilee, the only one who was old enough to handle PayPal transactions when the label started. “They’re my best friends. All the artists are so sweet, and I just wanted to make things happen for them.”

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