I read an article in the Montreal Gazette yesterday about a cassette revival. I’ll admit I did a double take reading the title, and my first thought was “I thought April’s Fool was tomorrow!”. But no, a quick Google search confirmed that it is a real trend, and has been going on for a few years. (What can I say, I never know what the cool kids are doing) Vinyl had its comeback, and now cassettes are being embraced by indie hipsters everywhere as a great way to distribute your music. I’m calling the 8-track revival for 2018 right now.
Indie bands, turned off by the cost of pressing their music to CD, are now embracing cassettes as a cheaper way to distribute their albums, often adding a download code to the package. They’re small, unusual and retro, and provide a physical component to music that many find missing from digital downloads. And everyone’s doing vinyl now, and we know how horrible it is to be doing something other people are doing, so cassettes are on their way back. Not even 3 years after Sony killed the mighty Walkman. Good timing there.
I understand the LP craze. The large artwork can look awesome, laying down the needle on the platter requires enough skill to emphasize the experience, and the analog sound has a warmth that is unique (although that warmth is often obscured by surface noise and enough pops to rival a popcorn machine). And since it’s not portable (Imagine having a turntable in your car!), it forces you to make an experience out of listening to music, and not just put it on as background noise.
But the cassette? Just because we were collectively brainwashed for part of the 80’s into buying them doesn’t make them cool. We were buying them because they were small and could fit into our Walkmen (or is it Walkmans?), but today I have an iPod that’s the size of one cassette and contains about 1000 albums. The size battle has been fought and lost.
And cassettes were loved by the record industry because they broke all the time and you had to rebuy them.
- Tape snagged in the deck? Yep. Now you’ve got half a song on each side that sounds like an acid trip experimentation.
- Broken moving parts? Yep. Now it won’t play, unless you transplant the tape into another cassette body (Been there, done that).
- Tape unspools? Kids, start carrying a pencil with you. You’ll know what to do with it once you need it.
- And how about wear and tear? The more you play your favourite album, the crappier it sounds! Isn’t that awesome?
One of the biggest improvements brought on by CDs and carried over to digital files is random access. No need to listen to 3 other songs to get to the one you like! (Don’t tell me this destroys the album experience. What it destroys is the nasty habit of releasing 3 good tracks surrounded by 7 filler ones). Well with cassettes you can play a little hide & seek trying to find where the hell your track is! But I remember that I had some decks that could find a track by fast forwarding to the next 2 second blank. Isn’t that great? More wear and tear on your tape! And it didn’t work with live albums, or albums that flow songs one into the other.
So after reading a few articles on this fad, I came to this conclusion: the people jumping on this bandwagon weren’t around the first time cassettes had their go around, and they are probably being sold much more for show, as a curio, than for playing (even though many articles mention tape parties).
When I was a kid, my grandfather had an antique radio in his living room, one of those big stand alone cabinets that must have been about 5 foot high. I though it was the coolest looking thing, but my grandpa would say “That old thing? It’s rubbish, I’m going to get rid of it!” I didn’t have any history with its limitations, so I idealized it. He realized it was clunky and didn’t sound very good compared to the little portable radio he had in his room.
Well kids, cassettes are the same. They may seem like a nice retro artifact, but believe me, they need to stay buried in the past. A cassette revival? Come on…
And get off my lawn!
I’m scheduling this article to be published tomorrow, April 2nd. Otherwise I’m afraid it’ll look like an April’s Fool joke.
Other good articles on the subject:
He's also a regular contributor at the very rad site Montreal Rampage