The cassette tape is a species so endangered that the term was removed from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in 2011. But this Saturday, September 7, it creeps back from the brink of extinction with Cassette Store Day. In observance of this new holiday, bands release albums on limited-edition cassette tapes—and the carrier of poor audio quality is celebrated in a wave of nostalgia, with music store events around the world.
Big names like The Flaming Lips, Xiu Xiu, Fucked Up, and At The Drive In are taking part, alongside up-and-coming acts like Waxahatchee, Los Campesinos!, and Potty Mouth. The 24-hour international cassette fete was invented by London-based tape-label owners Jen Long of Kissability, Matt Flag of Suplex Cassettes, and Steve Rose of SEXBEAT.
It’s a spin-off of the wildly successful Record Store Day—the same thing, except with vinyl discs. The difference worth noting, however, is that vinyl actually sounds good. For records, diehard devotion to the pre-digital medium makes sense. But cassettes tend to sound diluted and gloopy. Plus, they constantly get eaten by tape decks.
So why is this phased-out design and technology making a comeback? Is it a swan song for the youth of Millennials? A waster of Brooklyn man-child time? Should there be an iWalkman in the works? Why reconnect with the cassette?
Jen Long, founder of tomorrow's event and the label Kissability, tells Co.Design, "I think people are a little bored with the throwaway nature of digital music. Real fans want something they can hold, keep, and interact with. I actually really like the sound, I think it's warm. Musicians will pay a lot to record to tape over digital, so why not listen back on it too? They're also cheap to produce."
Mike Haliechuk, lead guitarist of Toronto-based hardcore punk band Fucked Up, says, "I think people just like to get retro. Recorded music isn’t really about fidelity or hi-fi sound as some people would like to believe. It’s about remembering things, places, and scenarios. I’d never listen to a cassette because of the way it sounds, but Fucked Up has done lots of cassette releases because they’re a cool format, and most of the first albums I ever bought were on cassette before I owned a record player or CD player. Cassettes are this generation’s LPs. That said, I don’t think tapes are on their way to a comeback like vinyl’s done, but it’s a cool format nonetheless."
Eli Wald, founder of San Francisco-based label Melters, says, "I will acknowledge that tapes are impractical as fuck. But there are a few actual good reasons people are into cassettes. Most reasons I can relate to personally have to do with my car. It often feels more practical to just leave a cassette in my old car's tape deck, which leads to certain tapes getting played over and over and digging their way into my heart. I've played a cassette of 1999 by Prince so many times that the title track is starting to sound awful and warped. Kind of sad to see that finally happen to a tape that's 30 years old, but it’s also cool to take it out and show someone the physical and audible way I've worn it out. Nostalgia definitely has something to do with it. Not just nostalgia for the object, but for that way of listening to things over and over again."
So for a "nostalgic," "cool," and "cheap" good time, check out the music world’s newest holiday. For a full list of participating bands and stores, click here.