Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Wind Up

Last weekend saw the inaugural Cassette Store Day. A shameless reappropriation of Record Store Day, it is, in the founders' words, a celebration of "the most romantic of music formats".

Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade but, really?

How can anyone still love cassettes?

I’m slowly beginning to understand the reverence in which vinyl is held. The record as an item itself is beautiful and iconic, plus you’ve got the accompanying large artwork and the physical delights of the ritual involved in actually playing the thing – delicately mantling the record, moving the arm over, dropping the needle, etc. The only thing I’m not sold on is the quality of the sound and the eye-watering cost.

But cassettes? It’s only right and proper that they’ve been phased out. They were tacky, disposable and sounded awful (unless you like your music to be entwined with the squeaking of turning wheels). Yes, they gave us the ability to record off radio and to create our own compilations, but as soon as rewritable CDs and then MP3s came along, the game was over.

Perhaps I’m slightly too young to be properly nostalgic about cassettes. They were at their height when I first got into music (I bought my first album, ‘Bad’, on cassette) but by the time I had money of my own to spend on music, it was CDs all the way.

I do have fond memories of passing home-made compilations around between friends, but I always preferred the quasi-professionalism of burning your own CD (including controlling the precise amount of time between each track and printing off a sleeve). And having had a Walkman from a young age, I always took portability for granted, unlike the generation before me who would have revelled in finally being able to listen to music on the go.

I wish the cassette geeks well, but it's not a club I'll be joining any time soon.


  1. My main problem with it is that there's NO SUCH THING as a cassette store!!! Nor has there EVER been. I doubt anyone had even spoken the PHRASE 'cassette store' till last week.

    I'm all for celebrating formats, and promoting actual physical music shops where you can talk to staff who get to listen to records all day, pick up flyers for local gigs, buy a fanzine, or find a band to join from a card on a pinboard. And by the looks of things, I have far more affection for cassettes than does the writer of this article! But I'm damned if I'm going to go along with this lazy and inappropriate template appropriation, which seems to demand I feel nostalgic for something which never actually existed. It literally makes no sense. Keep Calm And Cassette Store Day On.

    Besides, for me, and I'd wager for most other fans, the joy of cassettes never resided in the idea of going out to buy your favourite band's new tape, or taking a chance on a cassingle cos you liked the cover, but in their controllability. No one ever felt nostalgic about the cassette albums they BOUGHT. They feel nostalgia for the mixtapes they made, for the cassettes they were able to fill with songs taped off the radio, in the days before they had the cash to spend on actual albums and singles, of whatever format. I'm suffused with a warm glow of recollection when I think of the hours with finger hovering over the PAUSE button, trying to record favourite bands' radio sessions, without having to listen to jarring jingles each time I played them back. I'll forever think of certain disparate (or not so different) albums in tandem with others, because they happened to fit nicely together on the two sides of a C90; Bowie's Hunky Dory and Lou Reed's Transformer were on either side of the same spooled magnetic tape in the parental cars of childhood, and so will be each other's flipsides for all eternity in my own concept of each album.

    For would be songwriters/musicians/singists/DJs, cassettes are/were democratising, allowing us to record and hear our own voices played back to us with just a blank tape and a basic cassette player/recorder equipped with internal mic. No need for umpteen bits of leads, mics, amps, computer with compliant software, CD-Rs, or the knowledge of how to connect all that stuff to get a hard copy out of it. One touch of the REC button required to get tunes from transferred from head to a tape with which you can tout yr wares. Lo-fi, maybe, as far as demos go, but there's still something a bit magic about that instant satisfaction.

  2. Whoops, I thought that would post under my Google profile, not one connecting to a long forgotten one-shot Blogspot! Ah well. Ceri Jackson, btw, if you hadn't already gathered!

  3. Thanks for your comment Ceri. I meant to mention the thrill of recording stuff off the radio actually but forgot. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh on the old cassette.