The Cassettes Revolution Inexplicably Continues

A resurrection of the cassette? Frankly, I don’t get the odd nostalgia for this past-its-time technology. Maybe it was all those years hauling them about in my car, having them rattle around in the footwell on the passenger side, the tape jams, the broken hinges on the cases and the overall crappy sound–not to mention the tapes that melted on the dashboard during the summer. They were successful only because they were more convenient that vinyl records. And who’s got time to create a 90 minute mixtape in real time anymore?

So why are so many people intent on keeping the hateful things alive? Collectors Weekly takes a look.

Most of us old enough to have grown up with cassette tapes have fond memories of recording off the radio, copying albums, or making mix tapes. But we also recall that horrible moment when the tape you’re enjoying suddenly grinds to a halt. You press the eject button and try to pull out the cassette, only to find the machine is holding onto the tape. It takes some doing to set the tape free, while you curse your fat fingers and search for a pencil to dig the tape out. Once it’s released, you have to meticulously undo knots and attempt to smooth out the wrinkles in the tape before you wind it back up. But the cassette never quite plays the same, likely to get caught again in the exact same spot.

That’s why, at first glance, it’s baffling that millennial music lovers are embracing the cassette tape, as new indie cassette labels are popping up all over the country. Over the last decade, the retro format has gotten so hip that an annual event called Cassette Store Day launched in 2013 and big-name artists like the Flaming Lips, They Might Be Giants, Animal Collective, Madvillain, and Karen O have put out limited-edition tape-only releases for the celebration. With all the digital music you could dream about available at a click and new records being pressed on high-quality vinyl to provide analog warmth, why would you want to get tangled up with tape?

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “The Cassettes Revolution Inexplicably Continues

  • July 20, 2015 at 10:34 pm
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    But Vinyl’s not much better. The off-centre pressing that makes the pitch rise and fall with each revolution of the record. The crackling and break-up during the guitar solo. The inner-groove distortion that ruins the final track on each side. Having to lift the needle up half way through the side to blow off the dust. The realization when your records crackle furiously that you should have changed your needle months ago and you’ve ruined your records.

    Reply
    • July 21, 2015 at 12:37 pm
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      I agree with mr. selfy above, I hate the very idea of messing around with vinyl, it seems ridiculous to me, to fuss so much over something with measurably worse sound quality and it’s myriad of technical flaws, most of which will almost certainly get worse with time. It must be the perfectionist in me, but all of the maintenance, the cost of entry and ongoing expense – all of it sounds like just a hassle to me.

      Cassettes I remember somewhat fondly for a time in my life, from being a kid until the time when CD players and then burners became affordable. They certainly could be a pain in the ass, and sounded pretty bad. But besides being all we had, they were fun for a while; the ability to make mixtapes and even record yourself was great, and in a way the bad sound quality fit with the music I liked as a teen: metal, industrial, etc. It definitely fit with the punk & DIY ethos.

      I once read a bit of a study about how people generally prefer to hear their favourite type of music the way they first heard it, which is more likely than not to be imperfect – either live, or from a mono speaker on an old radio; bad quality speakers turned up too loud. It’s raw and immediate, and that’s almost necessary when you’re a teenager experiencing music. Many people prefer mono for that kind of busy, in-your-face sound. I get that part – you want to re-live that.

      On the other hand there is the collector mindset, and how maintaining and curating your collection becomes a hobby, something tactile to look at, take care of, fuss over. That type of thing is for some people and not for others. I think that makes a lot more sense for vinyl than for cassettes though; cassettes seem more suited for re-visiting a type of sound than for being a true collectible, given their size and almost disposability – even more so than CDs! Vinyl seems more suited to collectors and analog purists.

      The cassette resurgence is puzzling but not altogether less improbable than vinyl. They both offer something digital doesn’t; but it is most certainly not definitively better sound quality, it’s just a different sound, one all wrapped up in nostalgia and experience.

      Reply

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