On the Goe: Cassette has life
Moments before taking the stage, the lead singer and bassist for retro surf twang trio Orca Team, carried a small leather vintage briefcase to a back table inside Tenacious Brothers Pub. Setting the briefcase down, Leif Anders popped the two clasps and pulled out the Seattle band’s merchandise.
On the beer soaked table between the ATM and vending machines, he displayed the band’s T-shirts, limited 7-inch pressings and full vinyl albums for purchase and made back for the stage to ready himself for quick 12-song set.
At quick glance, it’s all the usual gear you’d expect a touring band to have. A keener eye would have detected something far more interesting, however, and somewhat out of place considering the age we live in. A small row of plastic boxes, each no more than a half inch thick, sat on the table waiting to be sold, and, at $6 a pop, many were. Each had two small spools wound with coated tape all encased in bright red plastic, each side stamped with black letters “A” and “B:” Cassette tapes.
For the life of me I don’t understand why anyone would want to purchase a cassette tape. Of course, my girlfriend bought one simultaneously proving that 1) I don’t understand this new lo-fi trend and 2) I still don’t understand girls.
I get that her purchasing a cassette tape is not about a superior music listening experience or even convenience. Remember rewinding and fast forwarding through the deep album cuts to get to your favorite single and dealing with messy tape explosions, spooling a mangled tape back together with a pencil? You don’t have that problem with digital or vinyl music. So why cassettes?
“Do you even have the kind of technology needed to play that thing?” I asked.
“Well, that’s why it comes with the digital download,” she said. Again, why even bother with a cassette?
From what I’ve gathered, owning a new cassette tape is basically about purchasing a tangible, less disposable piece of music that you can actually watch play. An mp3 takes up roughly 10 mb of digital space, a measurement so small it is virtually meaningless. A cassette tape, however, is a space grabbing synthetic dust attracting brick and the focus of endless hatred when cleaning out a closet.
Why the cassette is making a resurgence, I don’t know, but Orca Team is hardly the first band to release music on the obsolete format. Hundreds of small music labels have popped up across the country specializing in cassette tape releases. They all talk about cassette tapes the same way. To dub a cassette is to create a piece of art, a creative vessel giving bands a portal for their music.
Cameron Spies, co-founder of cassette music label Apes Tapes and the band Radiation City (which toured through Grand Junction in March) summed up what I think is the true motive behind this new trend. “We have a special fondness for them (cassettes), having grown up making mix tapes and trading them with our friends,” Spies said in a November 2011 interview with Oregon Music News.
Spies’ generation, Anders’ generation and my generation all grew up with cassettes. Our youth took place in a post vinyl, pre-CD world. It’s nostalgic to listen to music on cassette. A little piece of me finds Orca Team’s cassette tape charming. It certainly reminds me of my youth, fumbling between tape decks on my Sony boom box that took about 100 D size batteries to power.
Whether cassettes are more than a hipster niche throwback, well, that’s a different story, one preferably told in high fidelity. For now, just be thankful you don’t have to scramble to find an 8-track player.