Industry Opinion: Cassette Tapes Are Back

artist: misc date: 01/09/2013 category: industry news
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Industry Opinion: Cassette Tapes Are Back
Cassette tapes are clunky, unwieldy and lo-fi by today's standards. Most labels began to abandon the format by the early 2000s, but an underground trend of releasing new music on cassette is prompting a resurgence of the format. The sales figures are nothing significant; 604 official units were sold in 2012 in the UK in 2012, thanks to cult band Feeder offering their single "Borders" on tape, bringing the national figure up from 218 cassettes sold, according to NME. However, the real figure could be higher, as indie labels who are spearheading the new trend are unlikely to be reporting their sales to the Official Charts Company. So why are young labels taking the old and technically noisy format to heart? We asked Jamie Milton who runs the cassette-only label Heart Throb, heavily inspired by the Art is Hard label. He says cassettes are well-suited to so-called lo-fi genres, which don't suffer from the noisy artefacts heard on cheap tape. "It might not appeal to audiophiles, but for those of us who believe in music having its own individual character, cassettes can be great templates to display your own ideals," he told me. "They're part of a backlash against digital culture and the fact that nothing can be held, felt or kept beyond filling a space in your hard drive. Labels are taken more seriously when they release something physical, and all of Heart Throb's most successful releases have been with tapes." Jamie also notes the age of people who are embracing cassettes, around 21 or younger, who didn't see cassettes in stores when they were a common format. If you ask me - and I'm only 26 - cassettes used to sound so obviously inferior to CDs that no-one seemed to miss their hiss and sizzle, nor the pencil you needed to wind a loose tape reel back inside. But to a younger generation who only know of non-tactile digital formats, there's a certain romance to the warmth of yesteryear. I sometimes buy vinyl records for the same reason - would an older generation see vinyl as a format that once served its needs but is now redundant next to modern technology? Ultimately, the cassette revival is uniting young creatives in producing and releasing something as a contribution to culture, which remains the most noble deed in music. The lore of independent record labels will be far less interesting if it were about clicking 'send' on a digital distribution sites, rather than of how people spent hours folding and gluing album sleeves. Whether you agree with the cassette trend or not, here's one stat that might surprise you: 270 albums were sold on MiniDisc in the UK last year. Now that's a nostalgia trip that really can't be explained. Tom Davenport
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