Really, it made perfect sense why consumers dropped cassette tapes in the 1990s for the easy-to-use CD. Tapes were fragile and finicky. And as long as it stayed in its case, a CD was the most reliable form of music to date.
But these days, several Spokane artists are protesting function over form and going back to releasing new albums on that not-so-reliable cassette tape.
“Tapes are coming back,” says Dan Ocean, a local electronic artist. “They are cheap, collectible, nostalgic — there’s an entire generation that is now growing up that never used tapes. CDs are so disposable and over saturated.”
Ocean — who also produces albums under the moniker Black Ceiling — recently saw his first tape release, SHVDOW, sell out in just 10 hours online through I Had An Accident Records. It not only proved to him that tapes were worth the trouble, but also drew him the attention of tape fans worldwide. Ocean also has another tape planned with I Had An Accident for September.
Nostalgia plays a big part in why some locals are turning their eyes toward tapes. Much like the resurgence in vinyl records with music consumers, cassettes bring back memories of mix tapes and a real tactile involvement with one’s music.
“I definitely started listening to music on vinyl and cassettes. I still have all the tapes of my favorite bands that I’ve collected throughout the years,” Devin Best, of the Omak, Wash., band Skinwalker, says. Best says that Skinwalker — a black metal outfit — recorded all of its practices on tape so they could go back and check their work.
“We released our rehearsal practice cassette earlier this year in honor of old black metal tradition. We wanted to keep that spirit alive with tapes and tape trading — something the vintage metallers have done since the ’80s,” he says. “Black metal bands globally have had a tape, or tapes, in their discography at particular points in their existence.”
Other bands, like local experimental outfit Space Movies and lo-fi rock band Mirror Mirror, are attracted to the imperfect sound quality of cassettes.
“I love the texture of the sound that you can only really get from a cassette tape,” Aaron Hansen, the drummer in Space Movies, says.
Jason Campbell, from local lo-fi rock band Mirror Mirror, agrees.
“Tape just sounds right for Mirror Mirror. [It’s] almost as good as vinyl when it’s produced right,” he says. “CDs have never been the best way to capture my sound — tape is more forgiving to music, I think. There’s a nice saturation to the sound when you record to cassette at an almost distorted level.”
While Mirror Mirror has an online presence, and Space Movies does have a CD version of its album, Pilot, Hansen says collectability is a big factor in producing cassette tapes over the often disposable-feeling CDs.
“I think for some people there is a certain novelty to older technologies,” Hansen says. “Some people collect tapes without even owning a player.”
Losing Skin, a local hardcore band, produced a tape for that reason.
“Initially we wanted to do it because, really, it’s just something kind of cool and different to do,” singer Alex Boston says. “As much as I enjoy cassette releases from time to time, I think they’re absolutely a novelty.”
For a loud band like Losing Skin, a tape release doesn’t do much for their sound.
“They’re cool because they’re something a little different, but nothing can make a cassette a viable, regularly listened to form of music in 2012.”