Thoughts on Cassette Store Day

We’ll start with the personal:
I’ve always had way too many cassettes. I’ve weeded out the horde
several times and always ended up with more shortly thereafter.
Somewhere around 2009, I was working at a record store in Kansas City and
had a friend who was always in about 3 bands and always had a new tape for
me to listen to. I had also begun recording over old tapes again, rather than
throwing them out, to have something new to listen to in the van I was driving
at the time. It was through the aforementioned friend I became aware of the
new crop of punk/psych bands who were releasing cassettes left and right.
In the great punk tradition, most of these bands were playing shows in
somebody’s basement or wherever else they could. Bands and members
would come and go quickly. These bands (and the noise they made) were
hungry…they didn’t have time to wait 3 months or more to get a
record pressed. If they wanted to make any money whatsoever beyond
the split of the suggested donation at the door of said house show,
they had to have something to sell but, more importantly, there was
legitimately a culture of trading tapes and zines. What’s more is a
lot of these bands were not just your run-of-the-mill punk bands…a
lot of them were quickly finding and exploring their own particular weirdness.
A lot of the tapes I’ve bought or have been given over the last 5 years or so
have contained some of the more compelling music I’ve heard in that time.
The cassette release Synthetic Sentiment is doing for Cassette Store Day – a
split from City Electric and Flatland – was conceived as a love letter of sorts to
the “golden age” of experimental cassette labels (i.e. the 80s) as well as out of
respect to the culture of anarchic bands currently releasing weird and
visceral music largely on cassette, and largely for very pragmatic reasons.

So then…the slightly more objective approach:
It is the 3rd year of Cassette Store Day. Just like Record Store Day, it is
quickly becoming increasingly more of a hype machine. Now “cassette
culture” is a hashtag. Urban Outfitters has gotten more heavily involved in
CSD than I realized at first…it all makes me feel a little dirty. As with vinyl, a
relatively small number of people kept the format alive for a number of
reasons while everyone else assumed it was “dead”. Then, somebody thinks
there’s money to be made and everybody jumps back on the wagon.
Cassette reissues from major labels are inevitably right around the corner.
Cassettes may be the latest retro novelty for the much-maligned “hipster”
but, unlike vinyl, people can make cassettes themselves and so I have faith
that there will continue to be a healthy underground scene that will outlive the
retro fetishism.

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