Perhaps it has been a decade now since you last handled an audio cassette, unless of course you’re a fan of the numerous genres still thriving on the format. The grainy texture unique to analogue recordings is the perfect vessel for several DIY styles, from noise and power-electronics, to ambience and kosmische. Merch stalls at such gigs are brimming with boxes of different albums, live sets, rarities and improvisations by various artists, all on tape, sometimes completely anonymous and maybe even unique; far removed from the regimented iTunes libraries of the digital age.
Locally, there is a fair bit of this going on. Local Noise/Assorted nastiness label At War with False Noise is still pedalling various delights on cassette including prolific, shrouded-in-mystery noise outfit Culver (providing “instructions on entering the void”) and Glasgow’s own Cheer (filling up tapes with heartbreaking waves of messy ambience). Similarly, Sick Head Tapes have released various singles by local one-man “kosmische metal space ritual project” Nackt Insecten and Kylie Minoise.
If the rumours are true though, all this hands-on fun will be hard to come by in as little as a year. Commercial production of the format has ceased and we’ve been living off the overstock ever since. Rumour or not, stocks will one day run out. Our favourite tunes have long since vacated these awkward relics and fled onto hard drives and servers in lonely bedrooms and basements all over the world. Disseminated by the likes of Myspace, Spotify and of course, for some lucky ducks, the joy of the Murano Street mass Shared iTunes Library, an inadvertent masterstroke by Sanctuary Housing.
Physically then, our music has disappeared. Are we losing anything else? If you sit down and listen to an album on tape, what you’re listening to is the album as an entity. Even if you do skip certain tracks, the process of traversing and fine-tuning that reel acknowledges this. Today, with the ability to instantly jump between any track from any outfit comes an impatient urge to simultaneously satisfy every musical craving. This attitude has consequences; any DJs starting out at house parties will be familiar with that moment when halfway through your delicately mixed and perfectly arranged minimal techno set, some fool comes stumbling over your decks insisting you stick some Kasabian on. A more serious point might argue that decent artists will exploit this attitude and start releasing albums of equally gratifying singles, rather then a sixty-minute experience, a feeling I certainly get from Radiohead’s In Rainbows for example.
Not that I’d want to be a victim of nostalgia; I needn’t mention the benefits of the modern age, and looking back I’m not sure I could take the trauma of having my Peter and the Wolf audio cassette munched up by my parents’s car tape-deck. Still, I think I’ll be stocking up on c60s these next few months.