Sunday, 5 August 2012

Tapes, tapes, tapes


F
irst invented in it's big clunky form in 1935, the cassette tape was a staple format of recorded music from the 1970's until the mid 1990's.  Immortalised by John Cusack in High Fidelity with the painstaking art of making a mixtape, despite the infuriating possibility of having to unwind a chewed tape with a pencil, cassettes have a nostalgic charm about them.  However the onslaught of Compact Discs, the humble CD to you and me, meant the long loved cassette was reduced to charity shop trash.

However recently there's been a surge of independent artists and small record labels releasing material on cassette tape.  Folk such as Gerry Loves Records, CATH Records, Tie Dye Tapes have carved out a niche in the market with cassette releases, done in a small number so as to have the added bonus of becoming geeky collector items too.

What's behind the popularity of such releases?  Whilst they are never going to upset the status quo of mp3's and downloads, it seems that in some quarters at least, the cassette tape is a valuable commodity.  We spoke to two labels; CATH Records and Gerry Loves Records; and two artists; Lovers Turn To Monsters and Honeyblood to get their insight view on cassettes resurgence.


Lovers Turn To Monsters

Why do you think that cassette releases have seen a slight resurgence?

I think there's been a resurgence in all these awkward 'old school' formats for the same reasons.  It all comes down to pleasing the type of people who still actually buy music in a physical format, the classic 'read the liner notes' crowd.  I think these formats have just been reintroduced as a way of giving them something new, something different to catch their eyes.  So they aren't just constantly grabbing at a wee shiny disc.

Is releasing something via cassette more about standing out from the crowd, nostalgia or something else completely?

Well as I said earlier, half of it is indeed to please fans.  So I guess the 'standing out from the crowd' statement would make sense but not in a like grasp at being different manner.  Admittedly though, my tape was created in quite a selfish manner.  Like all my music ha!  I have just been obsessed with your Guided By Voices, Sebadoh's and Mountain Goats for some time and my tape deck was just staring at me from the corner of my loft.  So I just decided it was time to take my obsession to the next level.  Just to please myself basically.

As an artist is there any advantages of doing a limited run of cassette releases as opposed to say a run of vinyl or CD's? 

Don't tell anyone, but they're mind blowingly cheap!!  It also helps the fact most of my collections have twenty odd songs on them, which fit quite snuggly onto a cassette.  I don't see myself pressing a double vinyl anytime soon...  Genesis watch your back!

If you could resurrect any other lost format, what would it be and why? 

VHS most definitely.  I miss taping stuff of the TV.  At least 60% of my childhood was spent looking at TV mags and setting timers to tape stuff...  Sky Anytime and torrents just don't have that same charm.  Video shops as well!  Glory days.


Honeyblood

Why do you think that cassette releases have seen a slight resurgence?

It's more fun.  Downloading music got boring.  Having something tangible got fun again. 

Is releasing something via cassette more about standing out from the crowd, nostalgia or something else completely?

It's nice to have someone make you a tape rather than a 'playlist' just dragged up on their iTunes.  It says 'Here, I sat and dubbed these songs on this tape and it took me ages and I had to listen to all of them through because I had to make sure to turn the tape over half way; because I like you'.  There is a lot more thought that goes into a tape than burning a CD.  I like to think that's what it's about, especially the CATH Records tapes. 

As an artist is there any advantages of doing a limited run of cassette releases as opposed to say a run of vinyl or CD's?

The only thing I'd say about that is when people who buy them really do want a tape, they enjoy the fact that they got to have one.  They're cute too!  Tapes are cuter than CDs.

If you could resurrect any other lost format, what would it be and why?

Crayola Wall Art.


Gerry Loves Records

Why do you think that cassette releases have seen a slight resurgence?  Is releasing something via cassette more about standing out from the crowd, nostalgia or something else completely?

I ask myself this a lot and I'm not sure there is an easy answer.  I think it's a combination of things, as tapes appeal to different people in different ways.

Part of it for me is the fact that tapes make you pay attention to the music.  In the same was as vinyl, you have to actively put on a tape, rewind it to the beginning, turn it over half way through, and you can't easily skip songs.  I have hundreds of CDs but I almost never play them because they get ripped to my computer and put on a shelf, music played on my iPod or from the computer through speakers.  My mp3 collection is great and really handy but I could hit play on iTunes and it will play non-stop for 90 days (so it tells me) without repeating a track, and I could just ignore it all.  It just becomes background a lot of the time.  Which is fine for a lot of people, but I want a more tactile, physical, immersive relationship with the music I like.

I grew up with tapes, making mixtapes for people, or for the car. I used to tape stuff of the radio, or mess about adding stupid intro bits from films I recorded from the TV onto a tape recorder.  I was in a band when I was 17/18 and we used to record stuff to tape all the time.  Our only studio recording was to tape.  So I think nostalgia has something to do with it too.   Certainly for people over 25. 

Tapes are a better medium than CD-Rs too.  A CD-R will get scratched really easily or corrode, and then it is unplayable.  Modern tapes rarely get chewed up, and the actual magnetic tape itself will outlast CD-Rs by many years.  So if you want to release something and don't have much money, tapes are a medium that will last longer, look better, be more fun and more satisfying to release.

I think it's definitely got a bit to do with our love of exclusive things and old things.   Somehow tapes seem more exclusive than CDs in some way.  Maybe it's because less people have tape decks these days.  I hate the word 'retro' but I think tapes definitely speak to our love of old things and our natural response to nostalgia. 

As a DIY label is there any advantages of doing a limited run of cassette releases as opposed to say a run of vinyl or CDs?

It's much cheaper to tapes than it is to do vinyl, which is partly why we have done it a couple of times for releases that we know won't sell enough to make vinyl viable.

If you could resurrect any other lost format, what would it be and why?

I'm not sure there are any other formats worth resurrecting are there?  I love old technology because it fascinates me and it's fun to play with and laugh about how people could ever use it, but that doesn't really mean it should be brought back.  I was lucky enough to be taken to a gramophone shop recently and given a demo of some equipment and told about some of the history from an expert.  It was amazing, but the players were the size of a washing machine and the records sounded horrible by today's standards.


CATH Records

Why do you think that cassette releases have seen a slight resurgence?

Don't know - a hazarded guess would be that the availability of music by small bands and new artists online has made almost all other formats redundant for that market.  But, people like to have something physical you can hold and buy at gigs, and tapes are an attractive product - they're cheap, hardy, small, can be made to look pretty professional relatively easily.

Is releasing something via cassette more about standing out from the crowd, nostalgia or something else completely?

Its a few things: it's sort of wilfully anachronistic - with any physical format being of questionable value these days, when people can just go home and stream music on their laptop, why release anything physical?  Of the redundant formats, cassettes are, as I said, the most attractive -  cheap, hardy, small, can be made to look pretty professional relatively easily.  

As a choice of format it's nostalgic in the sense that cassette was how we first interacted with music growing up - taping songs of the radio, making mix-tapes, Phil has always been releasing on cassette, and Sean's been recording on tape since he first started.  But that perhaps speaks more to the great versatility and accessibility of cassettes than any attempt to be nostalgic or 'retro' on our part.

As a DIY label is there any advantages of doing a limited run of cassette releases as opposed to say a run of vinyl or CD's?

Not really.  CD's would be a lot easier to be honest; dubbing tapes is a ridiculously repetitive and mind numbing activity.  But, with our limited skills, tapes are the only format from which we can produce to a reasonable quality run on our own - easy to produce nice looking packaging - CD's always look crappy with just a felt tip title scrawled across.
Most importantly from Cath's perspective however, is that we don't have particular hardons for cassette - we like it for all the reasons listed, and people seem to like buying tapes, bands seem to like releasing on tape.  But if a band wanted to release on another format we'd be excited to do that too.

If you could resurrect any other lost format, what would it be and why? 

Releasing a mystical prog Odyssey over 23 floppy discs would be pretty good.  3 inch vinyl would look pretty cute too.

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