Sunday 20 August 2017

The cassette comeback is over (for me)

Perhaps the logical conclusion of the punk idea in recording was reached in the sphere of 'do-it-yourself' cassette tapes. During 1980, the music press began to publish details of a system whereby for the price of a blank cassette, a reader would be sent a copy of a set of songs or piece of music directly from the performers themselves. Many of these recordings were themselves made at home with only the aid of a single track tape recorder. DIY tapes represented the punk ideal of 'Xerox rock' in its purest form, by utilising technology that was available to, and manipulable by, almost anyone.
Dave Laing, One Chord Wonders
Can we stop pretending that, in all cases, labels and bands are releasing cassettes for non-commercial reasons? The launch in 2013 of Cassette Store Day buried that romantic idea.

Let me be clear: I'm not begrudging any label or band releasing cassettes and making money off them. They've got production and recording costs to cover. And they probably lost a ton of money at their last gig or are sitting on 200 unsold 7" singles.

I'm done with cassettes because I never play them. I was buying them for the artefact and just playing the downloads. And, yes, I do have a tape player. I don't have any romantic attachment for cassettes as a format, unless we're talking about them being the only way to hear music by underground bands. That was the case in the 1980s. It's not now.

I get that cassettes are for some fans the cheapest way for them to have a physical release by a band they love. I'm not knocking that. I'm still buying the downloads, just not the cassettes. In most cases, the cassettes are affordable, but international postage isn't.

Postage rates are hitting all labels regardless of format. Yes, I do have a romantic idea of vinyl, but anyone running a label or in a band making music who doesn't share that romance isn't going to release vinyl. The financial risk is too high. Again, I'm cool with that.

We're seeing the original DIY tape culture explained by Dave Laing embodied in today's DIY underground. Cassettes are cheap and easy, so go and do it.

I did, though, get a little weary of buying a cassette only for it to get a vinyl release down the line. It happened with many of the really good ones. This is a relatively small complaint - I'm genuinely happy that so many bands and labels are making and releasing great music.

Like I said, I'm still buying it, just not on cassette format. I stopped buying CDs years ago - I was a late adopter and never bought many. But I'm holding on to the ones I own. There will be a CD revival in the future. Of that I'm absolutely certain.

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