Fast forward – and press play again: Cassettes are back

Who'd have thought it? Just as the last memories of jammed Walkmans fade away, labels are again releasing on cassette. Elisa Bray ditches her iPod

Some of us kissed goodbye to cassettes a long time ago and embraced the CD and digital download, but the humble cassette has been enjoying a resurgence, its popularity shown by indie bands including MGMT, British Sea Power and She & Him, and record labels, releasing new music on the old format.

MGMT chose the cassette format to release their new song “Alien Days” last weekend to mark Record Store Day. The limited-edition cassette made the perfect collector's piece for super-fans, while the accompanying code allowed fans to download a song that is likely to make the Brooklyn indie-pop band's upcoming new album, set for release this summer. Meanwhile, She & Him, the Sixties-pop-inspired American duo comprising actress singer Zooey Deschanel and M Ward, are releasing their new album Volume 3 on cassette as well as the usual CD and vinyl formats through their US record label Merge. Last year, Dinosaur Jr. sold a cassette trilogy of their first three albums – 1985's Dinosaur, 1987's You're Living All Over Me and 1988's Bug – limited to 500 hand-numbered copies with original artwork.

So what is the reason for bands and record labels putting out music on cassette? For a start there's the nostalgia attached to a cassette – the romantic, rose-tinted memories of creating mixtapes for friends and lovers, and of recording favourite radio shows.

“Cassettes have become a bit fashionable recently and that's understandable – they do have a kind of strong pre-internet appeal,” says Scott Wilkinson, singer of British Sea Power, who put out a limited-edition cassette of their new album Machineries of Joy, alongside the usual CD and vinyl. He adds that there was more than nostalgia to it; the two-sided format suited them: “We are suckers for a half-decent pun, so when the idea of a British C90 Power cassette came to mind we had to go with it. Our cassette is a bit different, because the two sides are first demo tracks, then followed by the finished album versions, kind of tracking the making of our new album.”

You may be wondering who still owns a cassette player these days. Like many others, I was reluctant to throw away my 1980s double cassette deck ghetto blaster so it resides, dusty, in the loft, ready for a good reason to bring it out. MGMT's new song is just that. In case of folk no longer having a player, one independent record label selling cassettes includes a link on their website directing customers to Walkmans for sale on eBay. But for many super-fans, the cassette has become a novelty collector's item for treasuring on the shelf, and it often comes with a download code. As with as the surge in vinyl sales over recent years, many music fans want more than just a digital download: they want their music to be tangible, with all its artwork intact.

For some, however, it's not just a collector's piece. There's a subculture in which cassette labels have been going for a while; tiny independent labels around the world releasing music on the underground, and much of their output is experimental. But it's not only experimental music – Burger Records in America put out full-length albums, that have already been released on major independent labels, on cassette.

The surge in labels is undeniable. The Dublin-based independent label Putting Out Records started releasing cassettes along with vinyl earlier this month. It's only now that the demand for cassette releases is coming to the fore with mainstream indie acts joining the trend. For the labels and the bands themselves, one benefit of releasing cassettes would be the cheap production cost. With cassettes costing just 30p, a run of cassettes, made at home, could cost as little as £50. And for the fans, too, that means cheaper music.

Radio 1 DJ Jen Long, who launched the cassette-releasing label Kissability in 2011 alongside the team from Transgressive, the indie label that released early albums by Foals and Pulled Apart By Horses, says: “There is an element of nostalgia to it, but there's also an element that if you want to put out a record, just to press 250 copies of vinyl you need £700, and most bands today just don't have £700. So if you want to put out a record and it's not going to be just a digital download – you want physical stock to sell on the merchandise table at shows or just to have something to validate yourselves as a group – then cassettes are a great way of doing that.

“They're cheap to produce and they're fun, and you can sell them and have them to keep and you can do artwork for them that isn't just a tiny picture on a screen.”

Most of Kissability's releases, which have included music by cutting-edge new bands including DZ Deathrays, Cut Ribbons, and Deaf Club, come with bonus material alongside a digital download code. They put out a single by the hotly-tipped band Splashh, now signed to Luv Luv Luv Records: “All I Wanna Do” was the first track of their soon-to-be-released debut album Comfort, the bittersweet song full of nostalgia befitting a cassette release.

Long says: “We started to release tapes because they're cheap and I love cassettes. I love that there's something tangible, something physical you can hold, something you can drop and it doesn't usually break. I like the feel of them and I like the way they look on the shelf.” But the surge in cassette labels' popularity isn't just novelty value, she says. “it's because they put out good acts.”

It is also the sound quality of a cassette that has musicians releasing songs on the old format – featuring hissing that can add to the atmosphere of the music.

“The idea that a ”perfect recording“ should be absent of all extraneous noise is a myth of the digital age we are living in,” says M Ward. “Vinyl has a scratch to it and cassette has a certain hiss to it that I love. Making Volume 3 available on cassette is definitely an experiment, but if we can inspire a few listeners to dig out their cassette players instead of listening to music on YouTube or whatever tiny computer speakers they are growing accustomed to then I'm happy.”

British Sea Power's 'Machineries of Joy' is out now. She & Him's 'Volume 3' is out on 13 May

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable