The marvel of the mixtape

The act of selecting the tracks for the cassette was a labour of love, and the act of listening required proper dedication

 

Share

At a friend’s house a couple of weeks ago, I happened to take a 7” vinyl record out of my bag. “Hang on,” said my friend; she called her eight-year old son and presented it to him, telling him that it contained music. His nonplussed response was delightful. We were witnessing the obsolescence of technology at first hand, right there; as we explained how it worked it almost felt like we were experts on an episode of Antiques Roadshow. (Although sadly in the item in question was worth almost nothing.)

Two brothers, Benny and Rafi Fine, have seen the viral potential of this kind of thing, and have recently started a series on YouTube called Kids React To Technology. Their latest film features the baffled responses of a group of children to the Sony Walkman; the cassette format makes virtually no sense to them, and it’s not hard to see why. While vinyl has experienced a hipster resurgence in popularity – 780,000 albums were sold last year, the highest tally since 1997 – the cassette, with its stern instructions to “spool to end of tape before playing other side”, looks hilariously retro. It’s a dead format; those glorious summer days where you’d see strands of cassette tape lying in gutters or fluttering in the branches of trees are long gone.

Some people lament its passing, naturally. The geeky boys who used to take hours putting together cassette compilations in an attempt to impress girls who weren’t that bothered (as immortalised in Nick Hornby’s novel, High Fidelity), now almost fetishise the idea of the mixtape. The act of selecting the tracks, trying to get them to fit on one 45-minute side of a C90, then neatly writing out the track listing in capital letters – this was a labour of love.

But at some point in the 1990s it was rendered utterly preposterous by the CD-R, and later by Spotify et al; making a compilation was now ridiculously easy, because you didn’t have to do it in real time, and you didn’t even have to listen to it in sequence. Nor, indeed, did the recipient. The act of listening to a cassette mixtape, however – that required dedication. You couldn’t easily skip from track to track without erratically fast-forwarding or rewinding; you basically had to sit through it. You can see why that idea might still appeal to musicians; one label called Tapeworm has been celebrating the act of listening for many years with its runs of 250 cassette-only releases.

But the humble cassette, and the magnetic tape therein, may be about to experience a shift in cultural perception. A technological breakthrough from Sony means that these thin strips of tape, once so disposable, now hold the key to large-scale backups of data. Tape has been used since the 1950s to hold computer data, from early mainframe spools to the Sinclair audio cassette, but the plummeting price of hard drive storage again made tape largely obsolete. But we’re creating huge quantities of data these days, and new tricks are required to cope with it all: Sony’s new method can cram some 148Gb of data into one square inch of tape. A cassette-sized spool could hold some 185 terabytes of data – the same as 3,700 Blu-ray discs, or the equivalent of more than 500,000 CD quality albums.

The children who today regard the cassette with a certain amount of giggling contempt may, in a few years’ time, regard it with a certain awe; not just a collection of 20 lo-fi songs, but a container for ones entire life – and no spooling with an HB pencil required.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower