Localized: Cassette Drift
Between the swirling electronica of Cassette Drift and the avant-goth danceability of Body Horror, September’s Localized showcase will present some of the most lively and dynamic post-punk Salt Lake City has to offer. To set the stage, solo, synth-pop artist maximradar will open. See all three acts for $5 at Kilby Court on Thursday, September 21 (doors at 7, music at 8). SLUG Localized is sponsored by Riso-Geist.
It’s said that opposites attract, and SLC duo Cassette Drift demonstrates that opposites also make primo musical partners. During our interview, both of the group’s members expressed how dissimilar they are while also marveling at their ability to cooperate despite their differences, and their music holds the proof of their cohesion.
The resemblances between Cassette Drift and bands such as Depeche Mode and New Order are obvious, but to simply call the band an ‘80s throwback would be reductive. The duo puts too much fresh emphasis on cinematic scoring, atmospheric soundscapes and glitchy beats. Rather, it’s more accurate to say Cassette Drift took foundational sensibilities of ‘80s goth music, blended them with shoegaze influences à la Slowdive and recontextualized them for contemporary appeal. The outcome is an intoxicating cocktail of ambient dream pop, retro new wave and cutting-edge electronica.
“I start from a granular feeling … And I’ll sit down for two hours before I go to work and try to figure out a verse from that and not let that feeling go. Really dwell on it.”
The disparity in how the two approach songwriting is the most notable of their differences. Aaron Valentine—Cassette Drift’s primary vocalist, lyricist and synth player—typically generates music by building from external inspiration. “I’m not one of those artists that hears a song and then creates it,” he says. “I get inspired by sounds, and I do the same thing with lyrics. I get inspired by words and phrases.”
Guitarist Mike Smith, on the other hand, usually takes an inside-out approach to composition and lyricism. “For me it’s exactly the opposite,” he says. “I start from a granular feeling … And I’ll sit down for two hours before I go to work and try to figure out a verse from that and not let that feeling go. Really dwell on it.”
Valentine and Smith both grew up in Kaysville, attending the same junior high school, but they didn’t actually meet until they were college-aged in 1996. Valentine had posted a flier at Graywhale Records looking for a guitar player for his band Lotus. Smith—who was studying jazz guitar at the University of Utah—saw the flier while browsing there one day. He contacted Valentine, and the two began playing together soon after.
When Lotus dissolved, Valentine and Smith lost touch until a mutual friend reunited them for a country rock band years later. In 2016, the two came up with an idea for an ‘80s-inspired electronic project. Valentine says he “threw a couple tracks over [Smith’s] way, he sent some stuff back, and before we knew it, it was what we were looking for.” This was Cassette Drift’s inception, though they initially went by the name International Fateline.
“[Valentine] does most of the base, like the foundation. I’d say that three quarters of the songs have been done that way.”
One surprising detail revealed during our interview is that Valentine and Smith exclusively collaborate asynchronously. “I don’t think we’ve ever really been in a room together writing,” Smith says. Valentine typically shares songs and snippets he’s written over Google Drive, and then Smith adds guitar tracks and tinkers with the songs. “[Valentine] does most of the base, like the foundation,” Smith says. “I’d say that three quarters of the songs have been done that way.”
This wholly virtual model probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but it enables the duo to keep up with their careers, families and other musical projects while copiloting Cassette Drift. As an added bonus, it means they can both work when they’re at their creative best; Valentine does his composing at 10 p.m. while Smith finds his best flow at 5 a.m.
When I asked if they’ll release more music soon, the band say they’ve been working on an upcoming album of shoegaze covers with 12 different local bands. If Cassette Drift’s stirring version of “A Forest” by The Cure is anything to go by, this album should prove a refreshing yet faithful take on its source material.
Once published, the cover album will join Cassette Drift’s many other releases on major streaming services. You can catch the duo live on September 21 at the SLUG Localized show.