Cassette Revolution

Article by Chris Flynn

Kids today, huh? Am I right? Actually no, I’m totally wrong.

Retro Cassette PLAYtime

We act like teenagers are non-communicative monosyllabic androids, but they actually have a million different ways of communicating with each other. They just don’t want to talk to us. Man, if I had Snapchat and WhatsApp and TikTok as a 15-year-old, I would have been a total hit with the ladies, producing hilarious videos to make them laugh coyly and slaying with the pithy banter.

Instead, my main form of communication with the opposite sex occurred via cassette mixtapes. Noble, but sad. And now they’re back, so dust off those Walkmans, girls, and prepare to hit PLAY. No, not fast-forward. Don’t touch that. You’ll miss this really great track by Tears for Fears.

Everyone in the 1980s had a thousand cassette tapes, purchased in bulk from your local music store — mine was called The Pop-In — so you could record songs off the radio or directly from a friend’s LP onto a C90. For the under 40s reading this, an LP is a long play album, a vinyl record. You may have seen DJs spinning them in nightclubs. Ha-ha, remember nightclubs? For teenagers reading this, nightclubs were buildings where young horny people used to congregate in great numbers to gyrate, drink alcoholic beverages and shout at each other over the music. Ask your dad. A C90 was a 90-minute cassette tape, by the way, and radio is what they used to call podcasts.

Enough explanations. Cassettes are back, baby! In the first half of 2020, 65,000 cassette albums were sold in the U.K., roughly the same amount as in 2002. And it’s not just nostalgia records bought by Gen-Xers. Lady Gaga released her latest album, Chromatica, in May 2020, and since then it has sold 12,000 copies on cassette, both as a single tape and a triple pack. Billie Eilish and The 1975 have also shifted shedloads of albums on cassette.

Some of this can perhaps be attributed to lockdown mania and the need for distraction through novelty gadgets. I was certainly first in virtual line to buy all those miniature retro games consoles. I have a Super Nintendo Classic Mini, a Commodore 64 and a PlayStation Classic gathering dust in the cupboard, right now. But the rise of cassette tapes may also be linked to the fact we’re all sick of the digital world.

Twenty-twenty has seen us exhausting all the good options on Netflix, listening to our fave tunes so much on Spotify that we can’t bear the sound of them ever again, and closing our web pages because the news is so depressing and, let’s face it, fucking boring. Cassettes keep us in the now and force us to engage with the entire album because skipping forward to track seven simply isn’t in the cards. It takes forever. You might as well just listen to the album as the artist intended. Chill out and stop being so impatient.

As usual with revivals, lots of people are claiming it’s a passing fad, that today’s youth will soon tire of cumbersome magnetic tape, especially when it gets eaten by the player and you have to painstakingly wind it back on with a pencil. And yet lots of very cool retro cassette players and knockoff Walkmans are now on sale at big-box stores and electronics outlets the world over, so demand is definitely rising.

Lo-fi sound is making a comeback because it’s gritty and fun. Weirdly, in an age of bland digital content, listening to and recording on cassette tape feels edgy. Plus, sending a mixtape to a girl, complete with your own handwritten, hand-drawn inlay card is hot. It’s individualistic. It’s physical. Damn, it’s downright sexy. So slip your cassette into the player by the bed for 90 minutes and hit PLAY.

If you don’t believe us, even Forbes has been talking about the Cassette Tape comeback. Granted, it was a year before us, but they have much bigger budgets. Besides, 2020 doesn’t really count as a year. It sucked. … In case you missed the little blurb in the news because of the relative HELL of the rest of the news, the inventor of the cassette tape died a couple of weeks ago, which makes those of us having attained a certain age feel somewhat bad for the rest of you — y’know, when we’re not just being annoyed by you.