I still listen to music recorded on cassettes… and I have good reasons for it

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Most of the arguments you will read on the internet about why listening to music on cassette is, despite appearances, a good idea, they are based on the subjective perceptions of the opinion-makers. People who are now between thirty-something and forty-something years old and who lived through the great era of cassette tapes as a means of disseminating music: the eighties. And whose opinions are mediated by a shapeless mixture of nostalgia, second-hand opinions and a lot of “because I’m worth it.”

In my case it is also a subjective perception, but there are certain nuances. Let’s talk about why in my particular case I like to continue listening to music on cassetteand we are going to do it from an absolutely subjective point of view, so the consequent disclaimer it is inevitable: none of what follows is an absolute truth, do what you want, I am not here to preach to anyone, long live life. These are my moves and I only intend to share them so that we can have fun and learn.

For this reason, before I start I would like to get out of the way two reasons why I listen to music on cassette: the two obvious, the two important but the two, too, more than assimilated and known. And the two, paradoxical as it may be, are opposed to each other.

The cassette resurfaces (a little) in sales, but the skeptics are clear: "It is the worst music format in history."

The first reason that we are going to leave aside, because it is obvious that it is very personal and quite non-transferable, it is nostalgia. My experience is that of so many people born in the late seventies: I discovered music thanks to tapes, and the first player that I used alone, in my room, for my things, was the typical double-deck radio. I had a walkman and exchanged hundreds of cassettes with my friends at a time when we had time to listen to everything, to make compilations dedicated to colleagues and to receive them, to record songs from the radio and to obsessively listen to records and songs.

Nostalgia makes us forget the inconveniences and inconveniences of the format: how difficult it was to listen to selected songs, the deplorable sound that came from fourth, fifth or sixth generation copies, the problems inherent in any physical format due to the corruption of the support due to passage of time and use or because hey, we were teenagers, we weren’t for delicacies. But my fanaticism for all my favorite groups, the ones that would take me to a desert island, were born from compulsive listening on cassette, and this is how it goes: from the Ramones to the Beastie Boys, going through Transvision Vamp, Siniestro Total, Devo or, ahem, the 80’s Italodisco. My obsessions were born on cassettes and that is part of my non-transferable experience. It is said but, in the end, it does not help much.

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The second reason why I listen to cassette tapes these days but it doesn’t matter too much is, as I say, just the opposite: the goal. Cassette tapes, beyond personal appreciation, do not sound better than CDs, but CDs, with their screeching highs and robotic sound, are not a panacea if they are not played on a proper equipment. The reason for the bad fame of the cassettes is, of course, the use we gave to the format: the copies of copies of copies that inevitably corrupted the sound, on poor quality tapes bought at Pryca. The truth is that there are four types of cassette tape (from worst to best: Ferro, Chrome, Ferro-Chrome and Metal), and believe me that a recording on one of the latter is noticeable.

There are videos on YouTube that explain in detail why, like the great ‘Cassettes – Better than you don’t remember‘, fascinating from a technical point of view and with which I strongly agree. But using his very sensible motives, quite a win for CD haters like me, would be dishonest.: neither the tapes that I listen to are of the highest quality nor, of course, is my team. A funky Sunstech radio cassette player (?) far from the high-fidelity cassette player of that video. So, long live the audio of the cassettes, but it’s not something that particularly influences my experience.

The cassette player

What is an entirely subjective question, but something more universal than my adventures in the Infante neighborhood in Murcia at the end of the eighties, is my way of consuming music now. After that stage that I suppose all fans go through and that forces us to try to listen to all the music in the world, because there is an illusory moment in which you think you are going to achieve it, the sub-stage arrives, inseparable from the previous one, of “Wow, it seems that Spotify really has all the music in the world”. And then there’s the “Nah, I’ll die before I hear it all” thing.

The tactile recovers renewed energy. Manipulate the support, unfold the cover, listen to how not only the music sounds, but also the object that contains the music

Then you renounce completism, because you don’t have time either, and you don’t feel like it too much, and you take refuge in your favorite genres, artists and albums. The usual ones and those you are discovering, but yours. And at that stage, Spotify (or whatever you use) is a godsend: immediate access to entire discographies, ability to retrieve and review half-forgotten people, constant discovery through friends and various algorithms. But there is no longer any need to listen to discographies in order, to search every corner of the lost collaborations of your favorite musician.. At a certain point, each album squeezes more and sounds better, like in the days when everything wasn’t just a click away.

In this new stage, the tactile recovers renewed energy. Manipulate the support, unfold the cover, review the lyrics and credits, hear how not only the music sounds, but the very object that contains the music. The ritual of opening the cassette player, inserting the tape, pressing play, a much more crude and primal gesture than a simple press on a touch screen. That becomes part of the experience again, and it’s something that only vinyl and cassettes offer. But on cassettes, moreover, you are listening, literally tape with data, it is an even more analogical system than vinyl, if possible: the transformation of the heads into music upon contact with the tape is somehow more primitive and pure than the diamond of the needle or the laser of the CD, let alone the binary code of computers.

Classics

A couple of classics: German technopop sharpshooter in a case with its disgusting lamp included, and a luxurious plastic band case.

The analog sensation that listening to a cassette provides is very difficult to explain, much more so if you are educated in digital, but it is real, not the result of nostalgia. Y It is a sensation similar to the one that is extracted from the image that a VHS spits out, that pasty image, with interferences and dull colors: These tracking errors are caused by physical defects in the tape, just as the distortions in the audio of the cassettes are derived from the cassette tape being eroded by dust, use and time. When audio glitches and glitches are perceived as evidence of authenticity rather than format inconveniences, you’re close to enjoying the physical, tactile, chunky element of tapes.

Because then that feeling of having something real in your hands, a miniaturized version of the band in your pocket, is transmitted to the sound, much more compact, coarse, of a piece, than the irritating crystalline brilliance, with overdose of treble, of the CD or the computers. The sound of the cassettes is thick, it has no nuances, it’s as if it came from the very guts of La Música. There are those who find it inconvenient, but for me it is the logical expression of that physical and tactile sensation of the cassettes. Now you can carry thousands of songs in your pocket with your mobile and your Spotify account, but nothing compares to the feeling of belonging you have when you carry your favorite album by your favorite band in the butt pocket of your jeans (be careful when sitting down). .

The cassette market, buy and see

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A couple of recent tapes from current (good) bands

You may not know it, but currently the cassette market is very interesting. There is, of course, an overpriced market for thirty euro hipster reissue cassettes, but I’m talking about a real market, of groups that are starting out or consecrated that also release their work on tape. They belong to the scenes, of course, in which the “do it yourself” and the intimate relationship with the listener are valued. For example, areas as distant from each other as experimental electronics or classic hunter punk. Apparently opposite as styles (indeed, they are), they find a singular point in common in the need to reach their public quickly and cheaply.

And when you leave a concert, yes, they can give you a piece of paper with a url so you can access a file to download an impersonal zip, but it is much more intimate and memorable to sell a cassette tape at ridiculous prices (three, four euros) with your poorly recorded songs. Buy a cassette with the best of the group random of fans that you have gone to see is part of the ritual of live performances in certain scenes, and if (like me) you go -well: I went before the world ended- to three or four concerts a month, the cassette is a essential souvenir.

mockups

Models of current groups.

There are still groups that put out their shit on cassette because it’s cheap, fast and has a personal component that doesn’t have the little label with the url. There are stores (such as The Black, in Madridspecialized in punk and hardened sounds), where the shelves with cassettes are essential, and It’s where you have to go to unproduced sounds, untamed genres and prices that don’t hurt. Of course (I already warned at the beginning), this philosophy fits more with some genres than with others: if your favorite song of recent times is ‘Despacito’ (perfectly respectable, but your concept of fun and mine are divergent), no you will find in this support your musical mana. Although perhaps a while ago you stopped reading, precisely for that very reason.

As you can see from the photos, all of them from my personal collection, my tastes are oriented towards rock in general and punk in particular, with occasional flirtations towards technopop in cicada mode, low-class popular music and the jokes of the Brothers Calatrava. That’s why the crystalline sound and the melodic nuances are not matters of first necessity, but the energy and immediacy aresomething that favors the monolithic and stubborn sound of cassette tapes, in the same way that, to recover a VHS, I recommend watching ‘Creepozoides’ before ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

Cheap, durable (some of these tapes are between three and four decades old, and there they are), but I insist, also the opposite of the immediacy and rush of the usual ways of listening to music today. Cassettes require careful choosing, patient rewinding, and not only avoid sound corruptions and distortions, but enjoy them as part of the experience. Of course, not an activity for all tastes, but I guarantee that my Clash compilations and I, bought at a damn Simago in my neighborhood, have some free time alone this afternoon. And we are going to enjoy it to the fullest.

Most of the arguments you will read on the internet about why listening to music on cassette is, despite appearances,…

Most of the arguments you will read on the internet about why listening to music on cassette is, despite appearances,…

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