The fifth Cassette Store Day takes place on Saturday, Getintothis’ Cath Bore examines the value of the humble tape.
With trends and mass movements – there’s always a kickback.
Awkward sods that stubbornly refuse to go with the flow or be swayed by new ways of thinking. Music consumption in 2017 carries few better examples.
As streaming and not paying for music becomes an almost accepted norm and CDs are reduced to beer mats (sales of the shiny silver disc shrunk by 11.7% last year) – vinyl is now the cherished and cheered, must-have format.
But little is said of the humble cassette tape which, in its DIY aesthetic corner, is carving out a respectable niche for itself.
The Home Taping Is Killing Music mantra of 1980s seems a laughable concept now; there’s something ye olde worlde about the skull and crossbones and pompous instruction (courtesy of BPI) printed in old vinyl album inserts.
Telling people not to tape Sunday’s Top 40 singles chart off the radio, or record a copy of an album they’ve already bought, to give their mates, brings out a wistful sigh over those innocent, pre-Napster times.
File sharing site Piratebay has a cassette on its logo, mocking the very connection, as if to say, ‘look at how far we’ve come.’
Yet, the cassette is edging forward again, little by little, and none more so that in my own home.
The old ghetto blaster reluctantly brought out to play the very occasional tape died suddenly yet painlessly over the summer and finding a new cassette player was a challenge.
New ones for a good price and on the high street are as rare as rocking horse drippings; the only option was one from a charity shop, for ten quid.
‘And here’s your one month guarantee,’ said the young woman behind the counter, not overly sure what the hell it was she was actually selling. But she seemed very relieved to be shifting it at long last.
And yet, the ten pounds cassette deck is faring well, a definite step up from its predecessor, and motivated a bringing down of cassettes kept in the loft. Bin bags of them, left to gather dust, now back in usage.
I’m not alone in my new found fondness for the cassette.
New and established artists have started releasing albums and EPs in the format – the romantic concept of the demo tape is on the increase; smaller concerns, both bands and labels, acknowledge that cassettes are cheap to make. And, importantly, that people will actually pay money for them.
The fifth International Cassette Store Day (CSD) this weekend takes place in UK, USA, China, Japan, France, New Zealand and Australia and seeks to celebrate the cassette while championing new releases.
Brit Williams from Blak Hand Records, who run Cassette Store Day this year, told Getintothis: ‘I won’t sit here and say that cassettes are the best way to listen to music, ’cause they’re just not.
“Sure, the sound quality cowers next to digital, but I think this renaissance in tapes is about way more than how they sound. If you wanna buy the tape, buy it, look at it, listen to it, let it collect dust on your shelf, it doesn’t matter,” she says.
“Either way, you’ve helped a group of individuals put their music out, and have been a part of something bigger than just hitting play on Spotify. Because you’ve bought that tape, maybe that band can now go on tour, or go into the recording studio, all because you invested in a supposedly dying format. That’s what it’s about.’
Bigger names are canny enough to see cassette sales as a small income stream, but an income stream all the same.
Blossoms released their debut album on cassette last year; and big name reissues like Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP, and Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain, did extremely well.
The cassette has found interesting and alternative markets. In the US, for example, a large number of cassettes are sent to inmates in prison from friends and relatives, as the soundcarrier is the only way the incarcerated are permitted to listen to music.
Inspired by Record Store Day, the intention of CSD emphasises the affordability of cassettes – the average cassette album costs just £4-6.
“It’s getting people excited about physical releases, without reaching too far into their pockets,” says Brit.
Liverpool’s Dig Vinyl record shop will stock the CSD release Tripping Party by Los Bitchos this Saturday, but also regular cassettes from Merseyside bands and labels, including The Hangman from Psycho Comedy, plus tapes by The Electric Lazarus and Katie Pham and the Moonbathers.
“I think cassettes are a nice piece of memorabilia for people to have from their favourite bands or to remember a special gig by,” says Yvonne Page, the shop’s business manager.
“It’s the same reason why people are drawn to vinyl, they want something physical they can hold and look at and admire, which just doesn’t exist with digital formats.”
Other UK shops, such as Rough Trade East and Rough Trade West, and Banquet Records are also taking part in CSD while Liverpool based label Modern Sky UK are giving away a sampler by signing up to their mailing list (see tweet below).
— ModernSky UK (@ModernSkyUK) October 10, 2017
“Cassette Store Day is important because it has become a community of labels, shops and musicians working together to celebrate this trending DIY aesthetic. At the end of the day, it’s supposed to be fun for all involved, and at the end of it, maybe pick something rare or limited edition up while they’re at it,” adds Brit.
“The event has grown so rapidly over the last few years, I have stores in Malaysia, South Korea and Mexico trying to get involved! I didn’t even think they knew who we were, but it’s all about word of mouth and the power of social media, I guess.
“Cassette Store Day says, let’s praise the independent labels for being resourceful and creative, for looking at affordable ways to help bands out.”