photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
with the resurgence in interest over the past two decades in VINYL as a MUSIC FORMAT, it was only time before CASSETTES had an equally unlikely renaissance in the modern digital era. at its heart, the CASSETTE: A DOCUMENTARY MIXTAPE (FIREGLORY PICTURES, 2016) film seeks to uncover and elucidate on the enduring ROMANTIC appeal of CASSETTE TAPE.
this begins with the history of the FORMAT itself, as the documentary interviews LOU OTTENS (RIP) of PHILIPS, a project manager who is credited with being the inventor of the CASSETTE TAPE (as well as a key developer of its replacement, the COMPACT DISC). the CASSETTE was meant to be a FOOLPROOF alternative to the REEL-TO-REEL TAPE, which had major consumer experience issues as they were prone to untangle and rip easily. what made it a TRANSCENDENT and REVOLUTIONARY PRODUCT was that the end user had the ability to record content accordingly; whether that be through an attached microphone or as part of an extended hi-fi system or boombox. the intentionality of the personal production of a MIXTAPE is what separates the FORMAT from all others: VINYL, 8-TRACK, COMPACT DISC, MP3, STREAMING, etc. whether it be a carefully curated MIXTAPE for a prospective love interest or a copy of a radio or live DJ set, it is that personal attachment to the content of the CASSETTE that makes it such an emotionally POWERFUL FORMAT.
this point was by various NOTABLE participating interviewees including HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG / S.O.A. / ROLLINS BAND), IAN MACKAYE (MINOR THREAT / FUGAZI / DISCHORD RECORDS), DJ RED ALERT, DANIEL JOHNSTON, MIKE WATT (MINUTEMEN), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), DAMIEN JURADO, ALLYSON BAKER (DIRTY GHOSTS), SARAH BETHE NELSON and ROB SHEFFIELD (ROLLING STONE) among others. in particular, ROLLINS showcases the TAPE collection he inherited from his dear friend / roommate / former BLACK FLAG roadie JOE COLE after he was murdered in their shared VENICE BEACH home. the collection had UNIMAGINABLE value as each TAPE is a veritable artifact that his deceased friend labored over and thought about intently while making. it even has his own handwriting. the value is not rooted in its technical ability to replicate HI-FIDELITY SOUND, but in its SENTIMENTAL and EMOTIONAL attachment to time, a community, a lost friend.
the big question of this film is how much NOSTALGIA plays into the resurgence in interest in CASSETTE TAPES. as the owner of COUNTLESS CASSETTE TAPES (with particular interest in 80s HARDCORE and 90s ALTERNATIVE HIP HOP) i dont know if id call it nostalgia. i have SPOTIFY and the beyond CONVENIENT ability to access virtually anything from my cell phone 24/7 so long as my coverage or wifi connection doesnt crap out. but as a fan of music there is a need, likely a psychological one, to have something material. CASSETTE TAPES despite their lesser SOUND QUALITY, are immensely COLLECTABLE and just fun to have and display. i spent much of my youth making MIXTAPES from the COMPACT DISCS of friends while living abroad in NIGERIA. i can remember the excitement of making CASSETTES from their copies FAITH NO MORE's ANGEL DUST (REPRISE, 1992), CYPRESS HILL's BLACK SUNDAY (COLUMBIA, 1993), ALICE IN CHAINS' FACELIFT (), 311's GRASSROOTS (CAPRICORN, 1994), WHITE ZOMBIE's ASTRO-CREEP: 2000 (GEFFEN, 1995) and disc one of THE SMASHING PUMPKINS' MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS (VIRGIN, 1995) on my bedroom AIWA sound system and having access to such on the bus ride to school the next day. literally when someone came back from an overseas trip, everyone made dubbed copies of their EXPANDED COMPACT DISC collection in rapid succession. that is a COMMUNAL experience of sorts that cant be duplicated on any other FORMAT. if anything we are more SEQUESTERED by the ISOLATING process of acquiring music now then before. and i do miss that.
so i dont think its nostalgia. and its interesting that OTTENS himself was not nostalgia about the FORMAT either, feeling that the adoption of technologically superior alternatives is to our collective benefit. but he does concede that the enduring appeal of the FORMAT is an emotional attachment rooted in our connection to each other as exemplified in the personally curated MIXTAPE.
i have a hard time arguing with on that. CASSETTE: A DOCUMENTARY MIXTAPE is a PROVOCATIVE and thoughtfully constructed film, yes like a MIXTAPE, that is very much well worth checking out. it really examines powerfully how CASSETTE TAPE as a FORMAT harness the deep INTIMACY of sound and somehow personalize it in a fashion hitherto unmatched then and now by its more technically superior alternatives. it also may be one of the few untapped vehicles of analog communication not prone to government surveillance or powerful data-scraping algorithms available. go home and think about that for a second.