In the era of ubiquitous SoundCloud mixtapes, Jezenia Romero, DJ and founder of the music label Bunny Jr. Tapes brings back the tactile and nostalgic pleasure of physical cassette tapes. That euphoric feeling of being an early 90s kid or teen, waiting for your favorite song to come on the radio (in my case SWV’s Downtown and Jade’s Don’t Walk Away) and hitting the record button on your tape deck. Or hanging out in your room and pulling out the accordion style booklet to gaze at the dope album art and read those amazing lyrics that a cassette experience offered.
On the label’s site, you can purchase cassettes ranging from $7 to $10, and be shipped an affordable piece of art that’s a closed edition. You can touch and feel it, and then pop it into a tape player. The heartbeat of Bunny Jr. Tapes is its collaborative spirit; Romero is constantly partnering with artist friends and creatives. There are several tapes co-curated by artist Jordan Nasser, like Respect Your Elders, which schools listeners on iconic singers from the Arab world, or Cumbias and Comida to quench that thirst for sultry cumbia classics. There is a tape for every mood.
For the L.A. native, owning a femme-founded business and repping womxn is paramount. Romero aids her twin sister Jazmin, a jazz/soul singer and electric guitarist, by supporting and promoting her gigs. Romero also works with Guadalupe Rosales, founder of the Veteranas and Rucas and Map Pointz IG accounts, now solely overseeing the Veteranas and Rucas IG page. Next up is New York City this weekend at MoMA/PS1, where Romero is dropping ten mixtapes by ten WOC artists. And to think this all started when she bought a tape recorder for $10 under a bridge from a homeless man with an eBay account. Crazy right?
Part of the reason I like tape is because it demands my attention. I have to get up to flip the tape.
Talk to me about the genesis of your music label Bunny Jr. Tapes, why did you start it?
When I started producing a lot of tapes I didn't know what I had started would lead to creating a music label. Bunny Jr. Tapes really happened incidentally. I had been self-releasing my own music for a couple years at that point and had always been a fan of tape. I finally put a name on the project just as a way to catalog it. The first two releases were bands that I played in, and then I started playing with mixtapes.
So, walk me through the actual recording process, you make a master tape and then duplicate them?
The recording process is not that interesting to me. Usually it starts with an audio-visual story I want to tell, coupled with the desire to be able to hold it in my hand. I’m a fan of customizing. I’m from L.A. and I think it’s something I picked up from being around car culture. So yes, after the idea is developed I organize the tracks, I make a master tape on my Tascam, and then I duplicate them.
Working with other artists is a big part of my label. The great thing about cassette tape is that it’s not exclusive to just musicians. For example, I had no idea what kind of music Cynthia and Travis of Maroonworld were into, I just knew I really loved the photographs they were taking. Sometimes, it’s a kind of blind collaboration but that’s part of the fun because it’s my way of collecting/archiving someone’s audio visual expression. So, sometimes I work on the tape art with the artist, and figure out the visual language with them, and sometimes they know exactly what they see and hear and I just produce.
How are folks engaging with the mixtapes? Do they actually need a cassette player to listen to them? It has to be amazing, because it’s nostalgic for some people and then feels like a new discovery for Gen Z kids.
It depends really. I think I’m starting to learn that people participate with listening to music in different ways. Part of the reason I like tape is because it demands my attention. I have to get up to flip the tape. It has a hard start and finish and requires a body. I think some people appreciate that and the tangible aspect of it, but then there’s people who can’t be bothered. So, everything has a strict "only available on tape" policy. I don't pay too much attention to how it’s being received because I make them regardless, but I have been noticing more tape makers coming up.
Basically, what happened is that at some point ninety-minute tape stopped being manufactured, and no one cared enough to learn how to make it again.
On a recent podcast, I heard you talk about a ninety-minute tape no longer being manufactured, that it has disappeared off the market, and in a way it meant you would disappear. I really felt that, can you expand?
Yes, I was really shook by this event. Basically, what happened is that at some point ninety-minute tape stopped being manufactured, and no one cared enough to learn how to make it again. I know that part of my business mission is to archive and document and the loss of ninety-minutetape just made me feel like tape took a step closer to becoming obsolete. There’s just an era of DIY that feels less and less accessible now. Almost as if the tools I grew up with using are disappearing. I don't know how to fully articulate the sentiment, but it’s a feeling that just makes me want to make more.
The world is dark af right now, what kind of political message is Bunny Jr. Tapes sending out to the world?
I’m honestly so politically fatigued, it’s hard to get specific about everything I’m trying to say. I’m really just trying to be a servant in my community and offer this platform as an alternative to a traditional music label and also document the culture and community I’m a part of. There’s also a part of me that wants to try to change the concept of "label" a little bit. I see myself as an administrator at my label and the artists have the freedom of making whatever they want. It’s important to be a woman that started her own music label but more important to be a woman advocating and providing this platform for other womxn musicians and artists. So, with all of that, I think I’m speaking loudly with how my label works.
Besides running Bunny Jr. Tapes, you also manage your sister Jazmin ‘Jazzy’ Romero, an up-and-coming musician. How do you navigate family and business?
Well, I've never been a manager before but I’m a BIG fan of my sister’s music and I support it by any means. Jazzy is also my twin sister and that is an unbreakable bond. We support each other in a huge way, and the compromise and understanding between us happens so fast it doesn't ever feel like it’s something we’re "navigating.”
You’re also an admin on the IG account Veteranas and Rucas, which preserves the history of Latinx and Chicanx culture in SoCal. I feel like Bunny Jr. Tapes and Veteranas y Rucas share that some ethos. Can you talk about curating that account and its cultural value?
Veteranas and Rucas is an account started by Guadalupe Rosales and I came in just as a second administrator. Guadalupe and I bonded because we both understand the importance of archiving our Chicanx history. That account writes itself in a way. The history being told is submitted and Guadalupe started a platform for the archive to exist on. It’s important because it’s a history that really needed an administrator and that didn't exist until Guadalupe created it. I’m just happy to participate in keeping it alive.
So later this month you’ll be at the Come Together Music Festival at MoMA PS1 releasing ten mixtapes by ten different WOC artists. Can you talk about these artists, and their new music being put out by the Bunny Jr.Tapes label?
The new artists, are all women who I admire and I feel are making important work in my community. Their tapes will be available this Saturday and Sunday, March 23 & 24th at MoMA PS1.
Necia ( Aru Apaza, Jessica Castro, Ingrid Romero)
Chroma ( June Canedo, Ladin Awad, Sienna Fekete)
Farah Al Qasimi
GOOGOO PXL (project is to remain anonymous)