As Above, So Below: Hansen Brings the Underground to Light


A cassette pressed by Drongo Tapes containing a real bug in each of the 50 copies. Photo Courtesy Elliott Hansen

Elliot Jester, Staff Writer

As local live music returns and begins to flourish again, one small operation is helping keep Seattle’s scene alive and well. Elliott Hansen heads Drongo Tapes, an independent label involved in tape pressing, distribution and shows.

Drongo Tapes thrives on the unexpected, being run by an ethnomusicology student. Ethnomusicology is the study of music through the cultural and social aspects of its creators/creation. Hansen’s involvement in cassette culture informed their choice of study, allowing them to maintain a personal interest in music while exploring the relationship between music, people and culture. 

Hansen seeks to create a place where small-run releases can show off outside-the-box artists, using a sliding-scale payment model on tapes to encourage exploration and discovery.

 “It’s so easy to pick up any random tape on a whim for $5, if it’s just got cool artwork, [a] weird band name, a local band or whatever, as opposed to spending $20 on a record that I might not end up liking.” 

A card design featuring credits for the song list on release DR-28. Photo Courtesy Elliott Hansen

Releases under the label don’t lean towards a single genre, further lending to a sense of discovery for listeners in their catalog. “[I] try (keyword try) not to let my releases all fall into too much of a specific sound. I make ’em at home, it feels good to make things for people with my hands, and try to make ‘em look nice.” 

This at-home and natural approach to running the label has led to a comfortable time for Hansen, as well as one of growth, during COVID-19.

“I’ve always dubbed & shipped tapes from home, and lots of artists I work with are home-recording weirdos anyway, so I had plenty of material to work with, and was, for the most part, able to continue as normal.” 

Hansen also uses Drongo as a platform for events, from small venues to guerilla outdoor shows. As COVID-19 progresses for better and worse, live music returning to the area has been a tentative process. Hansen has seen a positive change over the past couple of years now that shows are happening again.

“It’s cool to see people masking up and coming ready with vax cards to shows, and it makes me cautiously hopeful for the future of live music as covid continually proves to be an ongoing problem.”

The context of creation is always changing. This fact is evident now more than ever because of COVID-19, and Hansen demonstrates the joy of discovery and experimentation in music, not just in artistry, but in shows, labels and experiences as well. 

“Music only exists as long as people are participating, listening, and making it happen, and I wanna try to be part of that.”