Cassettes Are A Whimsical Fad—And That’s Okay
Posted on August 20, 2014
August 20, 2014
by John Gentile
Right now, cassettes are both more popular than they’ve been in 20 years and also more hated than they’ve been in 20 years.
Why? People will give you plenty of reasons why cassettes are cool, but it’s all fluff. I know it, you know it, everybody knows it. The current cassette craze is just a whimsical fad. But, here’s the kicker—there ain’t nothin’ wrong with whimsical fads.
In fact, this whimsy has led to some really, really awesome releases. Right now labels like Burger Records, Baldy Longhair, Gnar Tapes, and Lauren Records are putting out some of the most daring, adventurous, and down right ripping albums—on cassette!
Yet, any time an article is posted on a site or blog about cassettes or Cassette Store Day, the same exact tired joke gets posted as if it wasn’t already typed up 3,483,793 times before: “When’s 8-track day?!!!!” Also, its cousin frequently appears: “When’s wax cylinder day?!!!!” (Because the post is on the Internet, what you don’t get to see is the typer sobbing himself to sleep while Stargate SG-1 reruns flicker on his monitor.)
But you know what, man? Despite the hate, I like cassettes. People need to stop getting so hung up on cassettes. really, they are not that big of a deal and certainly not worth getting worked up over.
Now, before you go off on “John’s a hipster! What an ass!” let me tell you, John is not a hipster (as if that term even means anything anymore). John has no tattoos. John non-ironically owns 27 Judas Priest CDs. John has never worn a scarf.
John likes cassettes not because John wants to be contrary, but rather, because John likes the jams. John also likes to write in third person.
You see, cassettes do have some virtues. Sure, they sound muddy, they stretch and break and actually melt pretty easily, but you know what? Cassettes are cheap! With a suggested price hovering around five or six dollars, cassettes don’t require a whole lot of forethought before purchase. A band seems kind of cool at a show? Snatch up that cassette! A single track sounds cool on a soundcloud stream? Snatch up that cassette! Rare tunes are on the B-side due to the 120 minute running time? YOU BEST BE SNATCHIN’ UP THAT CASSETTE.
I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve bought cassettes and been pleasantly surprised, or even blown away by my impulse purchase: Crazy and the Brains, Thee Hound of Love, Twink, The Summer Twins, Funeral Cone, The Disconnects, Thee Rain Cats—all of them are awesome bands I got into because it’s much easier to part with five bucks for a cassette than $12 for a CD or even $17 for an LP. For five bucks, why not take the risk? If the band is a stinker, the five bucks is as forgotten as that last Wendy’s combo meal. If the band is good, the rare cassette in your hands suddenly transforms into the rarest of jewels… and it’s yours… ALL YOURS! MUHAHAHAHA!
Also, apparently cassettes are great for bands just starting out. As you likely know, pressing a record is extremely expensive: bands and labels usually have to order at least 300 records, and are prone to long pressing plant delays. Meanwhile, those same bands and labels can order 100 cassettes and have them on-hand in a week. For a band just looking to get their stuff out there, it’s a pretty good option.
Now, someone once got really upset with me on the Internet (side note: this phrase is one of the more unfortunate things to come out of the 21st century) because apparently, CDs are just as easy and cheap to press as cassettes. Well, fine, I’m not going to argue with you. In fact, CDs are probably my favorite medium. They sound great, last forever, and look cool stacked on a shelf. But, you know what I care more about than medium? THE MUSIC.
If a band wants to put something out on cassette, that’s fine, I’m not going to argue with them. I’m easy. Hit me with the five-dollar cassette. That’s cool. The actual medium that the music is delivered on is so infinitesimally inconsequential. The most beat up, stretched, Stooges cassette sounds better on a whacked out boombox than a Blu-ray of Paramore on a $10,000 stereo. That is precisely how important the medium of music delivery is. It is almost entirely trimming.
I know there’s gonna be the guy who says, “But I can’t listen to it. My car doesn’t have a tape deck. Waaaaah.” Buy a Walkman, you pansy. They are ten dollars. I saw you last night drinking that expensive Belgian beer. You could have had a Walkman and years and years of musical enjoyment, but instead you decided to strike out with a blonde paralegal. Don’t take your misplaced hatred of women out on my cherished cassettes. It’s not my fault you never learned small talk.
And really, if we want to get trippy, we can. In punk rock and indie and what have you, we put the artist on a pedestal. That is to say, we give full credit to the artist that creates art as they see it, without consideration for the audience at all. If Picasso wants to paint in oils, we say, “Nice choice, Pablo!” If Sigourney Weaver wants to reject gender stereotypes in a role, we say, “You go, girl!” Why can’t the cassette tape be considered, not a medium, but a piece of the art itself? Surely, if cassettes are as hated as people claim, then those artists putting out cassettes are doing it for their own personal enjoyment, and thusly, are creating the purest form of art!
But you know what? That’s all hoodoo juju. Bands and labels just put out cassettes because they are quick and cheap. Who cares about the format? Care about the music. A good song is a good song on vinyl, CD, tape, wax cylinder, or imprinted taco shell. Welcome to the world of music fandom. Right now, five bucks is the cheapest entry fee. I’m down.