We’ve seen the vinyl record persist through this age of digital listening, but what about the humble cassette tape? In Issue Five of Kill Your Darlings (out next week), Mark Hewitt investigates the quiet resurgence of cassette tapes.
‘If you guys want to listen to anything, just let me know,’ says Patrick O’Brien from behind the counter of his record store, Sunshine and Grease, in Melbourne’s inner north. His solemn glance is aimed at me and another guy perusing the vinyl racks. We’re wedged between shelves full of records, CDs, books and DVDs – mostly avant-garde stuff: everything from Jandek to Blank Realm, William S. Burroughs to Dylan Martorell. In this tiny, dark room, we’re being careful not to move around too hastily for fear of knocking something with our backpacks. Next to a crush of three-inch CD-Rs on O’Brien’s desk is a selection of cassette tapes, overflowing from their display box. Over by the window, there’s also a long line of cassettes: some of their cases sport elaborate designs; others have been haphazardly labelled in black marker; and some don’t have any clear identification at all.
I have an urge to pull out one of these mysterious titles and ask O’Brien to play it for me, but it’s hard to know where to start – of the 30-odd tapes in the selection, I’ve heard of maybe two or three of the artists. And when I begin reading some of the covers, it becomes clear that these are neither relics from the 1980s (the kind found gathering dust and selling for a dollar in an op shop) nor homemade mix tapes unearthed from some bygone adolescence. Most of them have been released in the last couple of years.
Thanks to a slew of artists and labels who have embraced the cassette as a valid medium for new music, what would have occupied the tiniest portion of the front counter 18 months ago is now a more prominent feature at independent music retailers.