Cassettes, in case you haven't noticed, are once again becoming viable. The number of tape-only imprints that seem to keep cropping up have not only made for decent blogger bait (see our recent Deathbomb Arc item or the recent NPR blog post focusing on Ft. Collins Patient Sounds), but it's served as a somewhat polarizing conversational topic.
Some of us see the rebirth of cassettes as a detestable, quantum leap backward on par with, say, suddenly embracing pager technology in the era of smartphones. Others among us, meanwhile, contend that it's just as viable a prospect today as it was during the Reagan administration. This exact discussion inspired our latest feature, Split Decision. One subject. Two people. Two differing opinions.
In this inaugural installment, Bree Davies, who helps run the cassette-centric Teen Pass Out imprint, offers up a convincing defense of tapes, while Matt Miner, well, begs to differ. Oddly, both reference Nevermind while making their case.
In Defense of Cassette Tapes
Every time I hear "Polly," by Nirvana, I wait for the click at the end of the song -- the click that means the tape is over. It's a built-in response, one that signals the manual flip to side B to reveal "Territorial Pissings" and the darker, less poppy side of Nevermind. Born in 1980, I was raised on cassette tapes. Vinyl, too, was a big part of my early life, but it wasn't mine. It was my parents'.
Cassette tapes were my own. My first tape was the Footloose soundtrack, a Christmas gift from my grandma in 1984, and stands as one of my favorite collections of music for a movie I still have yet to see*.
My teenage years were spent collecting compact discs, but cassette tapes weren't gone -- they just took on a new purpose: the mixtape. I put Mustard Plug up against Ol' Dirty Bastard for epic high-school drives to nowhere. I tried to win my first love over with a mixtape titled "By Starlight," containing the calculated ending song of the same name by the Smashing Pumpkins.
Fitting the perfect amount of tracks on themed sides of a cassette tape wasa craft I had mastered. But tapes couldn't live forever. I moved on to mix CDs and created MP3 playlists that allowed for mass-produced song sharing. My relationship to the format went dormant in my twenties, and I all but lost touch with the cassette tape.
This was until last year, when my interest was revived and I started the cassette label Teen Pass Out with my bandmate, Valerie Franz. It began with a simple desire to put out our own music and music by other artists in our community.
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From an economic standpoint, cassette tapes were accessible to us: We could record ourselves, dub the tapes, create the album art and produce 100 cassettes for under $150. On tour last spring, we sold out of our first release and found that most of the bands we met along the way made tapes, too. We realized that tapes had never ceased being relevant.
So beyond the nostalgic and economic reasons I prefer cassette tapes, there is the unexplainable, irrational and emotional reason: I just like them. The connection I have to two pieces of plastic with thirty to sixty minutes of tape between is something I will never feel for a digital file. The warble of the well-worn opening track "Money Changes Everything," on Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual, cannot be reproduced in a downloadable form. Likewise, the cranky, soothing spin of the reels between a homemade pairing of Teenage Fanclub's "Mad Dog 20/20" and Hole's "Jennifer's Body" can't exist on an iPod.
But most important, the sheer joy of recording over someone's mixtape who has left you heartbroken feels more gratifying than tossing that boring, pretentious collection of shitty synth songs out the car window. A cassette tape can live forever. Well, unless you leave it on your dashboard on a 100-degree day or rewind and play the Specials' "Little Bitch" until the tape snaps. But all that means is you really fucking love the Specials. -- Bree Davies
[*Ed. note: See it now before the inevitable remake renders it even more irrelevant -- if for no other reason than for the Men at Work/Police gags.]
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Why Cassette Tapes Suck
It's been nearly fifty years since the compact cassette made its debut at the 1963 Berlin Radio Show. With that tidbit in mind, the recent trend of indie-rock bands and dance-music acts taking it back to the old school via new releases on cassette tapes is a little befuddling. I'm an old fan of cassette culture and the art of the mixtape -- and even a sometime-practitioner of the not-forgotten craft -- but this is 2010, not 1991, and my "mixtapes" aren't dubbed on cassettes anymore; they're burned on CDs.
Growing up, I first heard albums I wasn't supposed to be listening to -- records like Metallica's Master of Puppets and Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destructon -- on dubbed cassette tapes passed along by a friend's older brother. Later, I first heard Nevermind on a tape dubbed by an older neighbor. That experience -- and my subsequent exposure to other alternative, indie and punk rock -- was life-changing for me and for many others from my generation, as many of us heard music that, for the first time, spoke to us, that we could all relate to.
And so I clearly have many fond memories of listening to tapes. But we're also talking about the late '80s and early '90s here. The experience of listening to music and sharing it with others lives on in 2010 -- but surely cassette tapes were rendered obsolete by the advent of the CD-R, not to mention file sharing. -- Matt Miner