The vinyl revival has been well documented in recent years, but another less-fancied format is also making a return to prominence; the exceptionally humble cassette tape.
In the same year the Sony Walkman celebrated its 40th anniversary, cassette tape sales are at their highest in 15 years. In the first half of 2019, 36,000 cassette takes were sold, which is the best return since 2004 and an increase of 115% on the same period last year.
However, while there’s a certain method behind the madness when it comes to vinyl – it sounds great in a world of compressed digital audio, looks cool as hell and retains value if looked after – the allure of the cassette is less obvious.
They sound awful, the tape itself is fragile and can be chewed up by the tape deck through no fault of the owner. Bloomberg partially attributes it to the Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix specials releases featuring the movies’ soundtracks, but other elements must be in play.
Is it the fact that many music fans are heading back to the music they grew up on? Reviving old Walkman players from their parents’ attics?
In a 2011 essay, audio producer Craig Eley considered whether the revival might be a counter culture statement. He wrote: “Today’s cassette culture, by eschewing contemporary media forms for more esoteric ones, is building on the older cassette culture tradition of rejecting dominant industry formats.”
Meanwhile, a Medium post actually speculates that the poor, imperfect audio quality is actually beneficial to artists in an era of massively overproduced music.
Aubrey Norwood speculates: “The sound tape gives is warm. Saturated. It promotes a degree of imperfection, and creates an underflow of infamous tape hiss that leaves the format feeling nakedly honest, which is gold dust for the sincere-inclined musician.”
Among those sales was the 4,000 racked up by Billie Eilish’s debut album this year. That probably tells you all you need to know about the type of people flocking to cassette releases, right?