Happy Cassette Store Day! It’s a remarkable feat for a medium which was all but consigned to history with the onset of the download, streaming and various technological advances introducing platforms making ripping and the transfer of sound files easier. The fondness for the ailing cassette hasn’t gone unnoticed, the biggest seller at this year’s Record Store Day wasn’t as you’d rightly expect a wax platter, but a trusty old tape release put out by Metallica. Yet the success of ‘No Life Till Leather’ should have come as no surprise to the indie kids, whether a curious fad for vintage or a fashion statement, the last few years have seen the rise of cassette only labels, admittedly prevalent in the experimental / drone / noise spectrums of the music scene. Recent years have seen a growing number of fledging bedroom labels adopting them as their chosen weapon of issue. In some respects there’s a cosy nostalgia and a sense of coolness attaching to the cassette that far out strips the relative sound merits of vinyl, I mean how many of us of a certain age have sat up at night compiling cassette track lists for loved ones and friends or sat there illegally taping copies of albums lent from mates? Pilfered from siblings or bought from shops (with a view to taking them back next day).
Or maybe there’s a griping fondness for hours spent with pencil in hand trying with difficulty to repair tapes chewed by players (I won’t even mention the joys of cutting and splicing the blighters) or weeping when you’ve found that your tape heads have decided to slip, with the result that they’ve recorded your Peel show or Top 40 countdown either too slow or too fast. In a digital age where everything is designed for ease of use and speed, the trusted tape was perhaps the most un-user friendly resource ever. Even transferring them digitally is a painstaking process requiring real time processing and an equal amount of time cleaning and enhancing their sound.
To give you an idea of how popular cassettes were at one time is to consider this small but relevant fact – the cassette was the most popular medium for pre recorded music in the 80’s outstripping vinyl sales to such extent that by 1988 – their peak year – over 73 million were produced. That said I must admit to having a lasting love for them, I miss my Silver radio cassette and my Hitachi 3D Boombox, they both went to the sound system scrap yard in the sky many years ago. But the cassettes, they still thankfully remain – over 3000 of the blighters. I’ve even got the first blank cassette I ever owned, a realistic c-60 from Tandy – remember them, then there’s the TDK – the iconic AD90 later to be superseded by the SA model, then there was the Sony tapes in green and purple while who could forget those Pete Murphy adverts for Maxell – a popularist choice for many in varieties of red and gold – we quite liked the XLII brand. I was always a tad fond of the That’s brand – the quality, the sound, the look and of course the durability made them top of my shopping lists in the early 90’s – a fact made ever more better and lighter on the pocket that Richer Sounds sold them at extremely competitive prices – how could we resist.- with the TX and MH versions being our chosen weapon of recording.
One of the rarest cassettes ever to go to auction was a demo tape by Radiohead, thought to be the only copy in existence, the cassette dated back to the mid 80’s when the band still traded under the name On a Friday – after a frenzied bidding war the cassette finally sold and realised some $2,000 for its seller. Elsewhere early cassette issues such as Muse’s ‘Newton Abbot’ demo, Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ and those early self released outings from Porcupine Tree are still to this day high hitters on the auction sites.
Like vinyl, the cassette has in recent years, slowly returned to the fray, still largely the domain of the true DIY bedroom label, there’s been a slow surge in labels releasing limited cassette variants to attract record collectors and completists alike, where once vinyl editions were the carrot on the stick to bring in early sales, there’s been in recent years a reliance on the tape medium. As to why is anyone’s guess, though the limited outlet for vinyl pressing may point one way, some have suggested the intimacy afforded by the cassette in so much as to their personal nature, their relative ease of use and convenience, that sense of being closer to the band and more so, closer to the recording. Personal in terms of bands hand producing them, including art work, inserts, the whole marketing mechanism of selling them at gigs affords the consumer something that the other mediums really can’t compete with.
Another area where tapes out trump other mediums are their legacy, I’m referring to tape culture, perhaps only file sharing comes close, it’s to do with that whole tape sharing / swapping ideology, trading, bootlegging and bastardising recordings through cut ups, splicing and many other wonderfully inventive methods. I swear I have a killer 20 minute plus home-made version of The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’ lurking in one of the many boxes in our gaff not to mention a truly spaced out self made edit of Agents Aren’t Aeroplanes’ ‘The Upstroke’. And of course lest we forget NME’s legendary C-81 and C-86 freebies, in the blink of an eye or nearly an hour and a half the one time bible of the musical masses inadvertently coined a genre of their own that enabled lazy journos of a certain ilk to tar and feather bands beneath ill fitting flags – personally we loved the freebie cassettes put out by the short lived magazine the underground but what do we know.
And so to the third Cassette Store Day soiree, started by accident, an idea born out the gathering of some folk from the Kissability, Suplex, Trangressive and Sexbeat tribes, that the first occurred, just as the forgotten cassette was celebrating its 50th anniversary was another happy coincidence. An international event now, not quite up there with its vinyl sibling but generating enough clout to have a fair few big players sporting their wares tomorrow – notably the Kaiser Chiefs and the Maccabees – alas not our personal cup of tea for we’ll be searching high and low for a limited outing of ‘Shogun Assassin’ through light in the attic as well as a handful of Burger Records must have’s and a few well heeled releases on the third kind imprint including a Halloween mix tape. And talking of Halloween…..for another then.
Details of all releases / participating stores and one eye watering gubbins go to –