The Death of the Tape

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This week marks the tragic passing of an old musical companion – the C90 cassette tape, Getintothis’ Peter Guy pays tribute to a remarkable love affair with one of music’s loveable mediums.

So, I’m going through the motions on an altogether bland Monday morn, 6Music is blathering in the background, when, while applying the final touches to two expertly prepared rounds of toast, out of the radio speakers some unassuming jolly heralds the news that major retailers won’t be stocking cassettes and therefore – ‘The Tape Is Dead!’

Without breaking stroke, I complete my breakfast ritual, reboil the kettle for a mug of Kenyan, plonk myself down in front Sky Sports News and savour this excuse of a meal. It’s only while polishing off the final mouthful of crumbs, that the news registers.

No more tapes.

Ever.

A medium that introduced me to the joys of not just music, but far more important things like girls, friendships, forming bands, breaking new bands and of course the holy grail – the blessed compilation!

It suddenly struck me how vital this totally impractical, ugly piece of equipment has been during my formative years of ‘getting into music’ – and indeed getting on with the finer things in life.

Without tapes I’d have never started collecting music – for indeed not only did I buy my first album on tape (Bananarama Greatest Hits – don’t mock, I was seven), but the tape was responsible for my voracious scouring of the shelves in Woolworths and WH Smiths for the finest in cutting edge sounds (eg: Snow’s Informer – all apologies, mock at will).

This small pleasure grew by the week and has continued unabated to the present as I hungrily track down the latest top tunes (albeit in different formats) and add to a bedroom which closely resembles a small HMV.

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Then there’s the cover mounted tapes given away free on music weeklies. What would I have done without the ultra-rare live in session version of Arnold‘s latest B-side.

Back in the pre-downloading days, when music wasn’t such a disposable commodity, spotting a freebie attached to Melody Maker’s frontcover was a godsend. Not only was it fun attempting to prise the sacred rarity from its mount without ripping said paper to shreds (the swines appeared to have stuck the damn thing on with virus-ridden chewing gum) but the tape’s contents were almost always guaranteed to contain several new bands you needed to know.

Such gems over the years included Oasis’ infamous Wibbling Rivalry transcript not to mention a superb demo rendition of Live Forever. Sessions tracks from Radio 1 Britpop legend Steve Lamacq were tossed out, plus countless remixes, one-offs and live tracks from artists that today wouldn’t dream of giving away such high quality recordings on the hundreds of free straight-to-the-bin CDs splurged out on today’s ‘zines and newspapers.

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This sense of music as a commodity simply didn’t exist during the era of the tape. So much so, myself and other addicts wasted precious hours decorating sleeves with fancy typography, cuttings or cryptic messages. Such was our love for the product the results were quite often better than having the original.

Then of course there was the art of recording a demo. You didn’t have to own an 8-track or a snazzy computer like today and get to grips with Pro Tools or cubase, no you simply needed a cheapo cassette deck, simultaneously hold down record and play and wahey – you’ve the most tinny, hissy, lo-fi bedroom recording this side of a Graham Coxon solo LP.

It was all rather marvellous assembling in your mate’s spare bedroom with ridiculous lyrics about torturing supply teachers and sexual antics down the under-16s disco and jumping up and down upon completion of your first potential chart-topper.

One other associate of mine took this art to new limits by recording an entire anthology entitled the Coronation Street Tapes which includes hours of painstakingly pieced together noises, soundbites and dialogues between Emily, Mavis and Percy Sugden which was then looped to create a sinister and frequently disturbing soundtrack. It’s a wonder he wasn’t sectioned.

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Without doubt the most tragic aspect of the demise of the cassette is the lost art of mixtapes. A function that’s forever introduced geeky schoolboys to foxy schoolgirls. The playground conversation usually goes:

‘Oh, you like Belle & Sebastian?’

‘Well I’ve only heard one song of theirs…’

‘Great, I’ll do you a tape, with other stuff you might like too.’

‘Ok, you could drop it round on your way home tomorrow…’

‘Gettin!’

Laddie then legs it home and spends the entire evening, night and morning perfecting every millisecond, ensuring the running order, artwork, and carefully considered lyrical themes are in place for a bit of hankypanky. But God help the fool if he should accidentally record over the beginning of a track for this would clearly indicate a lack of care, thus severing any notion of bike shed action.

Nowadays with the advent of burning and ripping (CDs, not footballer’s sexual practises) compilations can be knocked out in minutes, rather than the hours it took with tapes as you painstakingly spent hours fast-forwarding or rewinding for the desired track.

The other great aspect of mixtapes was the social side. Lots of friendships have been cemented thanks to tapes being passed around.

Hours were whittled away during school, college and university holidays making and sending tapes. Even while studying my post-graduate journalism degree, six of us (several of whom you’ll know if you read the local press) passed a series of tapes round and kept up the tradition long after the course was over. It was hugely rewarding, for with each tape came bits of the senders personality, in-jokes and of course the music.

And now, tapes are forever lost. Consigned to shoeboxes, lofts and bins around the country.

Rest in peace – you will be missed.

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