Documenting A Live Music Scene: A conversation with the man behind Philataper - WXPN
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Strand of Oaks at Union Transfer, one of the shows documented by PhilaTaper | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com

You probably didn’t know it, but at the last concert you attended you may have been standing next to a taper. Just ask Kris, a.k.a. Philataper, who has been documenting live gigs for over 20 years. Just a quick perusal of his Soundcloud page shows a treasure trove of local happenings: Strand of Oaks at Union Transfer, Hiss Golden Messenger at Johnny Brenda’s, Doug Paisley at Boot and Saddle.

Recording shows isn’t contained to only the jam band scene, where tapers have been found in designated areas at shows for decades with portable recorders, preamps and microphones on tall stands. True, it’s the only scene that often openly allows taping. In fact, that’s where it all started for Kris (who asks that his last name remain anonymous because of the nature of his hobby). Originally from western Pennsylvania, just above Pittsburgh, he’d begun taping in the early ‘90s at Grateful Dead shows by patching out of others’ rigs before he had his own gear. It eventually became a major pastime for him as he quickly became entrenched in the culture of trading tapes and other formats, amassing a huge archive of his own and others’ live recordings along the way.

But since the jam band scene is an exception to the norm when it comes recording and sharing live performances, tapers have to be extremely stealthy when recording other shows.

“Most of the time I’ll run a compact rig that I can pretty much hide on my person,” Kris says. “So, you wouldn’t see me [taping]. You’d probably notice me shooshing you if you tried to talk to me.”

He says his equipment was designed by two other tapers who live in southeastern Pa. area and have also been extremely prolific for over 20 years. The custom preamps Kris uses were designed specifically for the German-built Schoeps microphones. The designer was a technical engineer and longtime Dead taper; when he gave up the hobby, he passed the schematics along so that the preamps could continue to be built. That’s just one example of the strong sense of community tapers feel toward one another. And it truly is a community built on a foundation for sharing their work with others.

Tonight Kris is converting digital audio tapes (DATs), a format introduced by Sony in the late ‘80s for a friend. The recordings range from Joe Strummer at the TLA on November 24, 1999, to Tori Amos at the Tweeter Center on August 20, 2005. And by the sudden excitement in Kris’ voice, he reveals that a big portion of the fun in his hobby is revisiting old memories.

“And as I was picking up that box, half of the tapes were in the middle,” Kris says. “They had never been listened to. I really had fun listening to them, it really takes you back.”

However, with any type of bootlegging, those involved run the risk of getting caught. And for tapers, that could mean being kicked out of the show, or even worse, surrendering their prized recording. But Kris has had some good luck in his time as a taper.

“The only time I’ve had any trouble actually taping at a show was John Hiatt show at the Keswick,” he admits. “His road manager actually had me removed. But the guy from the Keswick was telling me I had to either go put all my stuff up in their office or in my car and then I could come back and watch the show. Then John Hiatt’s man was asking for the tape, but that was a hard disk recorder so I didn’t have a tape. And really, I’d rather just leave, so I did. That was probably around 2005.”

Unlike Hiatt’s camp, some musicians are interested in hearing their live recordings. Last, year Kris met Damian Jurado when he came to Philly and says Jurado was pretty excited when Kris gave him DATs he’d recorded of him from a few years prior. Kris befriend Philly’s own bluesy psych-leaning Josh Olmstead Band after recording their set opening for Doug Paisley at the Boot & Saddle this year. They liked Kris’ recording so much that they invited him to come tape them again.

When listening to a live recording from Kris, you’re getting the performance as you would hear as if you were at the show. He says he’s among the minority of tapers that don’t do much post-production to their recordings.

“I might EQ something if it sounds a little off or I might put a fade in and fade out or do a hard limit if there are some hard clappers around that are overpowering the music and pushing the peaks into the red,” he says. “I’ll separate them into individual tracks and I’ll always do one for the encore break so it flows seamlessly with the track before it. It’s my hobby so I just try to keep it that way. I treat it as a my nights out of the house.”

Looking at the folder on his computer for this year, he’s recorded 41 different shows in 2014 alone (as of the first week of December), which includes both the opening and main acts. He estimates having 400-500 total recordings. He says he knows of about a dozen other tapers in Philadelphia that get out to at least one show every week, but he knows of a couple others that tape shows, he says, at least three or four times a week.

Kris appreciates the other tapers in his community because he’s able to catch the shows he otherwise wouldn’t be able to hear. Recently he was going to tape the Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Keswick, but could only get tickets to two out of three shows. However, a friend had recorded all three, so Kris was happy he was able to hear the night he missed. He felt the same way when that same taper recorded all three Bob Dylan shows at the Academy of Music last month and both nights of Fleetwood Mac played the Wells Fargo Center in October. Perhaps that’s the advantage to having taper friends for anyone in or out of the taper community.

“That’s probably the beauty of it though,” Kris explains. “I don’t have to go to one of those shows to hear them because I know one of those guys got it. I’m much different because I’d rather make the only tape of a tour of an up and coming band that I like.”

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