Cassettes are old-school DIY, analog, artful, and all the rage.
Just when you thought it was safe to throw out that old cassette deck, it appears as if magnetic tape is making a comeback. Nestled in a nook in the southwest corner of M-Theory Music in Mission Hills, one will find a selection of new cassettes by local bands, including the Drunken Draculas’ Dead Sounds, Kill Your Friends by Stopping Power, and Friends Become Enemies by Hellcake.
915 W. Washington Street, San Diego
Rick Tyner, the manager at M-Theory, explains why the store now stocks used cassettes, new cassettes courtesy of tastemaking indie labels, and local cassettes sold by bands on consignment.
“We’ve been selling cassettes for a few years. It’s a very niche market, but we sell a decent amount. We participated in the first-ever Cassette Store Day last year, which was really more of a UK thing. I’m not sure what’s going on over there, but it’s still relatively a small thing here,” Tyner said. “It seems to be coming mostly from the DIY culture. There are some bigger indie labels like Drag City, Merge, and Burger making them. It’s inexpensive to manufacture cassettes and it is still analog.”
Tyner also pointed out an interesting technological relic that keeps customers on the hunt for cassettes.
“I get a lot of customers who just bought an old car that only has a tape deck in it, so they come in and stock up,” he said.
Matthew Bearrones, the 21-year-old guitarist/vocalist for Kids, happens to have one of these tape-decked vehicles. He tells the Reader that he has an older connection to cassette culture than most of his peers.
“I used to record over my parents’ mariachi cassettes on this karaoke machine when I was younger and create mixtapes featuring whatever songs were playing on the radio at the time,” he said.
It is perhaps the case then that Kids have fulfilled a life-long dream of Bearrones’s with an official cassette release of their own. He can now pop Growing Up into his car’s tape deck whenever he feels the need to get his analog on, or watch it transform into a mound of molten plasma if he forgets it on the dashboard during a summer road trip to Vegas.
“For our first run of tapes, we had about 20 made through a friend of ours who has a cassette duplicator. We printed the art ourselves,” Bearrones explained. “For the remaining 50 that we are making, we are going through National Audio Company, which is ‘devoted to true sound reproduction since 1969.’”
Bearrones continued, “The cost of 50 cassettes at National Audio Company ran us $170, and this cost covers the duplication of cassettes, cases, j-card printing, and cassette imprints. We sell them for $5 each. It’s still about the same cost of professionally made CDs, but the format is definitely more collectible at the moment.”
So, if the cost is about the same, why cassettes instead of CDs in 2014? John Christopher Harris II, who has released two cassettes under the moniker of Mystery Cave, chimed in on this one.
Kids chose cassette for several reasons but also because they “look pretty cool.”
“CDs to me are a throwaway item. They do not hold up well over time. There is very little long-term value to them. If you get a scratch or two on it, you might as well toss it in the garbage and pray you ripped it to your computer. Cassettes are like tiny works of art, in the same way books are,” Harris said.
Bearrones agrees. “We chose cassette as the format for this release simply because of the feelings of nostalgia that it may produce...not only are you purchasing a physical, collectible item, but an item that represents a time period of technological simplicity and great music. Everyone makes CDs, so we wanted to give our listeners something a little different. Plus, cassettes look pretty cool.”