Just like Brexit, the resurgence of the cassette tape shows we’re all pining for a golden age that never existed

Cassettes prove conclusively that the past was crap, and nostalgia for it is daft

James Moore
Thursday 23 November 2017 12:45
No, let's not bring back the dreaded cassette tape
No, let's not bring back the dreaded cassette tape

There’s a theory knocking around that none of this real; that we are in fact living in a gigantic computer simulation.

It has been pitched by the likes of Elon Musk, and Google’s head of machine intelligence, and is taken seriously by some scientists. They debated it at the American Museum of Natural History last year.

If they’re right, whoever’s running the thing is clearly screwing with us, and I’ve got the proof: it comes in the revival of the cassette tape.

No, this is not a joke. April Fool’s Day was months ago. The Official Charts Company this week revealed that the formerly defunct format is (ahem) whirring back into life with sales more than doubling this year.

The numbers are still small – 20,000 or so units in 2017 to date – but it is officially the fastest growing part of the industry and Cassette Store Day is officially a thing.

We’ve had plenty of indications that the person who set up the programme governing our lives put in a jack in the box that got opened a couple of years ago.

How else do you explain the political rise of Donald Trump, and then his election as President? Or the fact that a rake by the name of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is still allowed to be Foreign Secretary? And don’t even get me started on Brexit.

But those figures concerning the cassette tape? They might just beat that lot.

I get records. I’m down with the vinyl revival. I wrote about it for The Independent earlier this year. To summarise: records are awesome. The analogue sound is gorgeous with the right equipment. They look good. They live in gatefold sleeves decorated with glorious art work, and come with posters and free downloads.

However, I laughed off cassette releases as a bit of a gimmick.

It’s just that people seem to be taking it a lot more seriously than I did. Cassette Store Day is now five years old. And it’s hard to take that seriously.

Trailer: Jay Z's 4:44 album

“My therapist said I relapsed, I said perhaps I Freudian slipped in scwershlll hisssssssss.”

Sorry. You don’t get to hear the second part of Jay-Z’s rhyme because the machine just ate your recording and you’re now going to have to somehow extract the spools of tape that have come loose and gummed it up.

I mention Jay because he’s one of the artists behind the revival. His 4:44 album is one of the year’s 10 best cassette sellers. Apparently it was released as a collector’s item, something cassettes never were or should be outside of some retro-designer dream world installed in a hipster loft.

Making their debut in 1967, they were never anything other than the secondary format. The things you had for the car, or the Sony Walkman you used while you were out running.

There was, it’s true, a certain sweetness, in the way lovelorn teenagers and twentysomethings used them to construct mix tapes for their hearts’ desires, and the way that, as kids, you’d tape the songs you liked off the top 40 run down on a Sunday night.

“Home taping is killing music,” said the legend on the inner sleeve of the record your mate came round to record. Every one ignored it, until a better way of cheating came along that didn’t involve an ever present hiss.

If there’s something good to come out of all this it’s that tapes, if still more people buy them, and then start to actually play them, might just ram home a lesson we need to learn at a time when people seem obsessively focussed on the rearview mirror and the mythical golden age they see in it.

Cassettes prove conclusively that the past was crap, and nostalgia for it is daft.

The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Damage and Joy being at number 14 in the 2017 cassette chart is, I’d imagine, probably down to people of my vintage rekindling their lost youth with one of the those cheapie machines Argos sells.

Personally? I’d take the download every day and twice on Tuesday. Even trying to get some sense out of a recalcitrant Alexa (what part of play the Pixies’ “River Euphrates” do you not understand?) is preferable. Or just a CD, a format no one ever really loved.

Or the vinyl LP, especially the vinyl LP – the revival of which makes sense outside of the kitsch cool of the latest Guardians of the Galaxy film, perhaps the chief culprit behind the cassette surge reported by the charts company. Its mix-tape soundtrack is this year’s number one seller.

But enough is enough and the film franchise seems, with a sly wink, to be moving on to reviving the Microsoft Zune (see the ending to the second outing).

Perhaps they’ll bring those things back next. Weren’t they supposed to be nearly as good as the iPod?

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments