International Cassette Store Day 2016: too late to rewind?

Last weekend marked the third annual International Cassette store day, aiming to recognise the value of compact cassettes as a musical format in an increasingly digital world.

Inspired as a side project of International Record Store Day, the humble audio tape counterpart is a lot more modest in terms of scale and distribution, although there is a chance that this could change in a couple of years.

The cassette as an audio form has a distinct sound that is not suited to all types of music, and the quality may vary between different cassette players and the tapes themselves.

As several old formats of music are resurfacing alongside the ‘vinyl revival’, cassette tapes have now become a fashionable medium, with stores like Urban Outfitters selling portable cassette tape players for £35.

The main appeal of cassette tapes to those who are looking to record their music onto a physical format in a DIY manner is that they are cheap, easy to produce and distribute locally.

In more recent years, bigger labels have noticed the cassette’s growing popularity as a format and have started doing limited edition releases and re-releases of albums.

Although tapes seem to be coming back in full swing, mixtapes have not gathered the same amount of commercial attention. Despite this, there is still the occasional label compilation, or soundtracks such as Guardians of The Galaxy.

With events including tape fairs, gigs and cassette DJ slots taking place all over the world, Edinburgh celebrated this day with Underground Solush’n, an independent record store on Cockburn Street, playing tapes throughout the day and hosting “a wide range of old and new stuff from near and far on cassette” for customers to peruse.

Notable limited tape releases from this year’s International Cassette Store Day include the Pixies, Courtney Barnett and Thurston Moore.

Several of the new releases have quirky and colourful freebies in the cassette boxes such as iron on patches, stickers and pin badges. One even comes with concrete from Kettering!

In comparison to the annual influx of new vinyl on International Record Store Day, and even to the wider distribution of tapes in the United States, Edinburgh’s International Cassette Store Day might seem relatively low key.

However, in the hands of local music loving individuals at stores like Underground Solush’n or VoxBox records, it is sure to be something that is cultivated and continued.

In the face of faster, ever changing digital formats and streaming services one clear drawback of the tape format is that the tape head has always remained the same.

For the uninitiated, a tape head is “a type of transducer used in tape recorders to convert electrical signals to magnetic fluctuations and vice versa.

Cassette decks are said to have reached the peak of popularity during the mid 1980s, with tape heads being manufactured by companies that included Nakamichi, Revox, and Tandberg.

It has recently been said that these companies will soon stop making these original tape heads, in a similar way to Apple removing the headphone jacks on iPhones, the future of audio cassettes is somewhat uncertain.

Photo: Underground Solush’n

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