D.C. Label DZ Tapes Is Now Five Years Old — Wizened By DIY Standards

By Alison Baitz

DIY label DZ Tapes is now celebrating its fifth year in business, though profit has never been its goal.
DIY label DZ Tapes is now celebrating its fifth year in business, though profit has never been its goal. Courtesy DZ Tapes

Brett Isaacoff holds the secret to keeping something going for five years without burning out: relax.

That could be the motto of DZ Tapes, the D.C.-based record label Isaacoff started in 2011. At the time, he had decided that simply running a music blog — the now-defunct DAYVAN ZOMBEAR — wasn’t enough. He wanted to take it to the next level. And this Saturday the digital-and-tape imprint celebrates its fifth anniversary with a marathon show at local DIY venue Hole In The Sky.

Brett Isaacoff of DZ Tapes (photo: Julia Leiby)

Brett Isaacoff of DZ Tapes (photo: Julia Leiby)

How did DZ Tapes get here? Back in Isaacoff’s blogging days, he says, he kept receiving great submissions from indie artists — “so much so that I really want[ed] to find a way to share the work that was coming around my e-desk,” the D.C. resident says. “So I figured I might as well put out a mixtape.” He launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to put out a compilation. The label followed in its wake.

Now DZ Tapes has several cassettes under its belt, featuring both artists from here and elsewhere. It focuses on bands bringing new energy to D.C. and Baltimore’s underground rock scenes — label alumni include shoegazers Wildhoney and Big Hush, punks Hemlines and the fuzzy Nice Breeze, among others.

Sustaining any project for half a decade is no easy feat — perhaps doubly so considering the volatility of the music industry. But Isaacoff has figured out the formula: keep your expectations low and your planning short-term.

“It’s as hard as you want to make it, really,” Isaacoff says. “I’m just trying to have fun and enjoy myself and help people out.” By booking shows and working with interesting bands, he aims to give back to the scene that gave him — an avid showgoer himself — so much.

Hemlines "All Your Homes," released on DZ Tapes

Hemlines “All Your Homes,” released on DZ Tapes

Keeping his day job as a business analyst at a solar startup has helped grease the gears at DZ Tapes. “If I could make money off of [the label] I would, but it’s not something that I want to really force,” Isaacoff says. “I feel like blending the lines between quote-unquote business and pleasure might get a little messy.”

A steady path is as good a marker of success as any, though there have been certain high points — like when Rolling Stone published a piece about Speedy Ortiz right before they were to play D.C. house venue The Dougout, a show he booked. “Filled to capacity” isn’t quite the correct phrase for it — the 70-capacity venue was overflowing. “It was an extreme fire hazard, looking back on it,” Isaacoff says.

DZ Tapes’ future remains both certain and up in the air. There’s this weekend’s anniversary show — “It’s gonna be a banger,” promises Isaacoff — and a few more releases slated for the rest of 2016. But for the future-future? Isaacoff isn’t interested in pressuring himself. DZ Tapes is going “wherever it wants to go, really,” Isaacoff says.

DZ Tapes celebrates its fifth anniversary July 9 at Hole in the Sky