At Analog Underground in Providence, RI, a small but noticeable collection of cassettes takes space above one of the many record bins. In the collection you will find the obvious — The Cult's "Electric" jumps right out at you. But you will also find releases from indie bands that are typically numbered — 173 of 200, for example — and contain elaborate artwork and liner notes. Some even come with a download code: Buy the tape, get the MP3 version for free.
It's barely a movement, but it's there. Vinyl is still king when it comes to classic format. However, local bands all over the country are discovering the unique qualities of the cassette.
"Several indie labels, such as K Records, like putting out cassettes because they're so cheap," said Jim, who writes about music and culture for a Rhode Island newspaper group.
One of the bands hawking cassette versions of their music on K Records is Baby Island. Their $7 cassette comes with this promise: "This album is good sounding on cassette. Full color insert, neat little hand stamped labels, & includes a download code." (You can check them out at http://babyisland.bandcamp.com/)
On a recent Saturday afternoon at Analog Underground, owner Dave was celebrating his store's second year anniversary. Folks milled about listening to a DJ mash up genres while they checked out some great deals on the store's large selection of vinyl. No one was breaking the doors down to buy cassettes, but that doesn't mean the format does not have its supporters.
"In general, it's people like me — [age] 28 to 40 — who grew up with tapes. There's something about tapes we really like. It's easy to put out a tape and make it yourself."
Tapes are also durable. Dave said religious groups use tapes because they can easily spread them to cultures around the world where people still use cassette players. Kitchen employees swear by their indestructibility in what is often a hostile work environment. Anyone who ever slung dishes or hash in a restaurant kitchen can picture a battered boom box in the corner, a mess of grubby tapes stacked around it. CDs just wouldn't survive those conditions. Same with construction sites. Not to mention the large portion of the world where MP3s and CD players are still considered luxuries.
"It's a real people's format," Dave said.
And the people who like the format are typically those who appreciate typewriters and things that make noise when you touch them.
"You can walk into a Goodwill store or any yard sale and find boxes of them for $1 for the whole box," said Rafael, a screenwriter from Baltimore who collects books, albums and typewriters.
"I bet there's some found object mash-ups going on. And what's cooler than something 'normal' people no longer have a use for?"
Finding old cassettes and new releases from indie bands on cassette is pretty easy. Finding a good cassette deck can be trickier these days. Chances are your car doesn't have one and you may have discarded the one that got you through the 80s and early 90s.
"It's certainly a niche market," said Reed of In Your Ear (www.iye.com), a New England record store with two locations and 30 years in business.
"It's been going on for awhile. People who bought a car with an old cassette player like the idea of playing cassettes," he said.
But as for the home cassette decks, "when we get them in most of the old cassette decks need belt replacement." And, according to Reed, no one cares enough about cassettes to spend the money on that.
What they will spend money on, however, are the many iPhone cases one can find that are designed to look like a cassette. (http://www.rocketcases.com/case/cassette-tape?gclid=CMfDjf_N2LACFYcZQgod3n7X2g) Which goes to show that everything old may not be new again, but it's almost always cool. Don't believe me? Check out this quote about the cassette iPhone case from the Rocketcases web site:
"Fits snugly and securely and makes you look rad."
Note: This was written by Victor Paul Alvarez, a Digital Crave contributor.
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