There’s never been a better time to be a music lover. Way back, you sat around a fire and hummed along with the tribe. Sometime later you could listen on your gramophone, if you were lucky. Eventually vinyl records hit the mainstream, with 8 tracks and cassette tapes rising and falling along the way. Most recently we had CDs, and the industry is toying with blu-ray audio now.
But above and beyond it all, we live in the digital era. No more broken records, no more scratched discs. Plug your headphones into your mobile, and voila! Pretty much all of the music you’d ever want or need is a tap away, all at the expense of a tenner a month. Never has music been so easily accessible, of such a high quality and beyond convenient.
But what if…it’s too convenient? Well, my dear reader, never has it been easier to be a hipster! I started getting into vinyl two years ago, and at the time people scoffed and laughed. But hell, you can wander into HMV now and flick through new (and overpriced!) records. The vinyl comeback is all but assured at this point. I’ve listened to records with friends at University, friends in California – it’s back. Let’s say you’ve already bought a turntable and a bunch of vinyls, so your home listening experience is already as expensive and impractical as possible. So that’s too mainstream.
Now, how about tapes? Cassettes have it all – inferior sound quality? Check. Cheap, easily broken casing? Check. Sometimes breaking themselves for literally no problem, no matter how well you maintain them and your player? Bingo! You’re going to love them.
So first of all you’re going to want, you know, a player. If you’re one of these millionaires who owns a ‘car’ then it might have a player built in still, and these ones tend to have pretty decent sound systems overall, as well as solid playback mechanisms. But, if not, you’re going to want to jump on eBay. There’s only one real option in this regard. You know it, I know it – Walkman.
There are literally hundreds of models and makes of these guys so I’m not going to pretend to give you a definitive ‘good’ choice. Generally a decent layer without too many battle scars won’t run you more than fifteen pounds. I got my Walkman, complete with auto-reverse, an FM radio and even a radical ‘MEGA BASS’ button for that much, and the little guy serves me well. You don’t need anything incredible as (for me at least) a big part of the appeal of tapes is how low-fi and, frankly, rubbish they are.
eBay will also be your friend for the tapes themselves – for some reason hip-hop tapes (think 2Pac, Eminem, Public Enemy) are insanely overpriced, but most stuff is easy to track down and cheaper than you’d expect. A tenner for an album is about the ceiling of what I’m willing to pay, and over the months I’ve amassed a healthy collection of old tapes from the nineties at very little expense (especially when compared to how insanely overpriced vinyl is). Discogs is great for more rare and collectible tapes – it’s where I got my copy of Metallica’s demo tape reprint, for example.
So you’ve got your player, your tapes, but you want to delve more into the underground world of CURRENT cassette culture? There’s a bunch of awesome small labels dotted across the UK and US who are putting out exciting and interesting new stuff on cassette right now. An ideal starting point is /r/cassetteculture over on Reddit, but for my money the best label right now is Post/Pop Records, based in London. You’re looking at seven quid for a new tape (and shipping) with the digital copy thrown in for free. Also worth checking out is Respect the Classics for hip-hop reruns. There’s a treasure trove of bands and labels putting stuff out right now for cheap, and more and more I run into local record stores selling tapes, as well as bands happily selling them after gigs.
The rest is up to you. Stay radical, and happy listening!