If you found yourself scratching your head at the vinyl revival, this one will have you really stumped: Cassette tapes are officially making a comeback, with sales – at least in the UK – almost doubling in the first half of 2018. In fact, almost 18,500 tapes have been sold in the UK to date this year, according to Official Charts.
While of course this is a relatively tiny number and so statistically 90% represents very little – no doubt boosted by the Stranger Things soundtrack coming out on cassette, which is undeniably clever marketing – one way of understanding this is the “physical” effect.
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If we accept a certain desire to “have and hold” music (think gatefold vinyl, lyrics on CD case inserts, and so on), then cassettes offer a low budget entrance into this world – at least for artists, who can produce a run of say 50 units, and then go to town on the packaging, while not breaking the bank.
This allows artists outside of the mainstream to brand their music how they want without paying for an expensive vinyl pressing, which encourages creativity. The fact that the audience has to do some work too (acquire a cassette player) kind of commits audience to artist, which is a nice dynamic.
Let’s not get carried away, though: Cassettes sound crap, break, are hard to search, and never gave us much pleasure at the time, always being regarded as a poor replacement for the real thing. I remember one time taping my DJ company’s vinyl collection so we could take a double booking, and DJing with two tape players hidden under the table – not big and definitely not clever. Cassettes were always fiat currency against the gold standard of vinyl.
Cassette use will at best remain niche – but this mini-revival proves one thing: Never write off a format just because something else has to all intents and purposes replaced it. Someone, somewhere, will find that actually, it fits what they want to do right now just right.
Now, I’m sure I’ve got an pristine, unopened ten-pack of TDK MA90s from 1995 here somewhere…
Do you have, use, or plan on getting involved with, cassette tapes? Is this a ridiculous, short-lived fad, or the start of something enduring? Let us know your thoughts below.