By now you’re probably aware that vinyl record sales have continued to surpass expectations, growing exponentially year-after-year for more than a decade. But, what you might not have heard is how cassette tapes are making a comeback in a big way, and it has a lot of “tapeheads” reissuing some really intense music, reviving a culture once considered obsolete.
According to Nielsen Music, domestic cassette sales increased by 35 percent in 2017, selling 174,000 copies more than the year before.
Unlike the giant wax printing operations needed to process new vinyl, the cassette is an easily transferable format for analog recordings. Compact cassettes were the popular format for most audiophiles during the ‘70s and ‘80s, for their low cost and portability. But by the early-90s, sales plummeted as the industry and consumers gave way to the Compact Disc and MP3 players.
Perhaps it is the nostalgia of having to rewind with a no. 2 pencil or the click of the tape deck when you load up the next cassette, but clearly, the analog format which we thought had drifted into obsolescence is doing better than it has in years.
This recent surge in cassette sales is partially due to an uptick of mail-order labels, such as the Los Angeles-based label Leaving Records, which was created by underground beatmaker Matthewdavid and Jesselissa Moretti in 2009, as a predominately tape-only format. The label has since grown to include more digital recordings, and in 2013 signed a distribution deal with Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stones Throw Records.
Much like these mail-order labels, a number of tapers have also turned to Bandcamp as a platform to try and sell short-run releases and reissues from cult musicians that you just cannot find anywhere else.
In order to get a better grasp on the growing cassette trend, Salute Magazine‘s weekly music column, Sounding OFF, takes a look at some of our favorite DIY cassette labels:
Talya Elitzer and Nick Sylvester founded the “left-of-center” record label last year, and already they have signed two artists who are beginning to gain recognition in the independent music scene: Korean-American house DJ/Producer Yaeji, and California soul musician Aaron Childs.
Prior to establishing the label, Sylvester shared his love for the counter-culture revival of cassettes and why he feels so passionately about the analog format, in an op-ed for Pitchfork. “Cassettes are my detox,” Sylvester writes. “A way for me to sidestep everything about music that isn’t music. To get back to the very basic propositions of why I make and listen to music in the first place.”
Portland, Oregon, may be known for some pretty weird things, but Curly Cassettes isn’t really one of them. The independent label spends its time archiving local and national bands with handmade, short-run cassette tapes.
Founded in 2010, the independent record label from Chicago, Illinois, started with the release of cassette tapes from the L.A.-based sludge band Geffika and St. Louis singer-songwriter Angel Olsen.
Mirror Universe Tapes
The Brooklyn-based indie label focuses on providing quality recordings with a DIY aesthetic and unlike some of the other labels, also accept demo and album submissions. In 2015, it launched its sister label, Serenity Now, which delves more into hardcore punk, dbeat, and noise rock. All of the proceeds generated are donated to The Silent Barn, a collectively directed art space located in Bushwick.
The UK-based independent label founded by Stephen Bishop became popular dealing cassettes featuring new and abstract forms of house music, techno, and electronica. Opal Tapes was also named Resident Advisor’s “Label of the Month” in January 2013.
These are the guys you need to turn to when you’re looking for reissues and remixes of some genuine Hip-Hop classics. In addition to selling original recordings from Jazzsoon, The Koreatown Oddity, J. Rawls and DJ Platurn, they also have originals from Damu the Fudgemunk, Gangstarr, Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), Talib Kweli, and The Jungle Brothers.
The Oakland, California-based label created by Steve Rosborough in 2012 has steadily grown into its own unique entity with a loyal following. Some noteworthy artists on the label include: Beat Detectives, Tara King th., and Henry the Rabbit.
Last, but certainly not least, the self-declared “illustrated encyclopedia of audio terrorism.” The Boston, Massachusetts based pseudo-label was created by music writer Ilya Sitnikov in tandem with his blog, which he dedicates to any and all peculiar sounds. Last year, the label released Tommy Bell, the 1996 debut album from Boston’s own Turkish Delight. With a limited release of only 100 copies, the album has been sold out for months.
Apart from the labels listed, there are also a number of independent artists that have used DIY places like Eyetooth Collective to press new cassettes. In addition to the increasing popularity of tape cassettes, there has been a lot more effort put forth into the album covers and sleeves, potentially creating new avenues for artistic exploration.