24 Dec 2015

why i am obsessed with cassette tapes

Little hard plastic cases with reels of wafer thin black tape. Cassettes are fucking weird. They were introduced after vinyl, but seem so much more retro already. As a medium, they're flawed in so many ways, and I'll get that over and done with now because slagging them off is not what I'm here to do - they warp really quite easily, you can't be sure of their condition til you play them, their sound quality is pretty fucking awful, you've got a lot of rewinding to do if you want to listen to them practically, and you'll spend most your time with a pencil reeling the tape back in to place when it comes lose. And, bar a few good guys out there, you can't get the damn things anywhere. But, y'know, they're a great, great way to listen to music, rightfully dearly beloved by increasing numbers of teens that weren't alive to experience them first time they were a big deal.

In the least cliché way possible, cassette tapes are among the most enjoyable ways you can listen to music. For a start, the sound. It's far from perfect. Cassette tapes' sound quality is really far from studio quality or what you're used to with any kinda digital format. It's defective, I guess. But the sound defects in tape aren't horrific, or ugly like they are on a scratched CD - it just kind of fades from near perfect studio quality, to a sort of warped, fuzzy, vague, homogenous noise. Which, when it's not totally fucked, is kinda endearing.

As well as that, what makes tapes the most fun and involving medium is the fact you can record over them, and you can record WHATEVER YOU WANT on blank ones. Make mixtapes. Actual mixtapes. And it is more impractical than making an iTunes playlist, then burning it to a disc, but the fact you've got to listen to each song one by one whilst pressing buttons every 3 minutes makes the process so much more rewarding. Then listening to it back is always really quite rewarding too. There really isn't actually anything as nice as making yourself a really nice tape.

Also - rectangular cover art. Blocky cuboid cases. These two things just make owning the physical artefact a bit more FUN. They're not as compact as CDs, no, but you can hold them in one hand with the cover art still being big enough for you to enjoy (I realise at this point I'm rambling on about really lame things). What's not to love about the general aesthetic of a cassette tape?

Finally, they're growing in popularity again, amongst lame music geeks like me, so more and more new albums are available in the format of the cassette tape. Cassette Store Day is becoming increasingly popular, and even though it will probably never have anywhere near the following of RSD, it's still a unique event that gives you an increasingly choice of new music on cassette.

It's not the most practical format, or the best sounding, or the most readily available, but the cassette tape is so iconic of DIY culture, and is so rewarding to collect, listen to and there's nothing quite like treating yourself to a handmade compilation. I love the cassette tape, for its pros and its cons, and I couldn't be any more hopeful about a cassette tape revival.

(written by calum cashin)