Cassettes are making a comeback—but they never went away in Edmonton

Over the past few years, a number of retro concepts have seen a resurgence – Polaroids, vinyl records, flared jeans and curtain bangs.

Now it looks like the new kid on the block making a comeback is music on cassette.

“Cassettes are smaller, they have this nostalgic factor [compact discs] have not. They also have the analog appeal,” said Listen Records’ Kris Burwash of why cassette tapes are still popular in Edmonton.

Billing itself as Edmonton’s eclectic music hub, Listen Records is a one-stop shop for vinyl. But Burwash said his cassette collection is also slowly growing.

Cassette tape sales are up 39 percent in Canada so far this year, according to Luminate Data, which provides data and insights for the entertainment industry.

HEAR | Cassette comeback – Mangled Tapes:

6:38Cassette comeback – Mangled Tapes

Time to start our new summer series Cassette Comeback! Here in Edmonton artists are releasing music on cassette again and we wanted to find out why. First, the local label Mangled Tapes. Edmonton AM’s Colton Hutchinson spoke to label founder Matt Belton about his music and the spirit behind the label.

But for a select group of people in the local music industry, the medium never really went away.

Edmonton label Mangled Tapes has been around since 2016 and has always recorded on cassette tapes.

“It’s just cheap,” said founder Matt Belton. “People’s garages have a big stash sitting around… It’s the currency of music in the city.”

Edmonton’s music scene is heavily influenced by classic rock and indie, of which cassettes play a big part, Belton explained.

On a personal level, Belton finds the poor sound quality and limitations of cassette tape better than the myriad of digital possibilities.

“I’m forced to be creative when there are restrictions,” he said.

Kris Burwash stands in front of a collection of cassette tapes at Listen Records, his music store in Edmonton. (Submitted by Kris Burwash)

Cassette comeback

Edmonton student Mikayla Crook, 20, recently ordered the limited-edition cassette box set for British singer Harry Styles’ new album. Harry’s house.

“They’re kind of a new trend,” Crook said, referring to TikTok trends and the latest season of stranger things.

The Netflix sci-fi mystery series, set in the 1980s, features one of the characters, Max, walking around with a Walkman listening to Kate Bush’s music running up That Hill. The song topped the music charts last month after the season aired.

TikToks with the hashtags “cassette” and/or “tape deck” show teenagers inserting a cassette—with its case—into a tape deck or player, with a laughing parent in the background. Others show TikTokers holding cassette cases and asking the audience, “How do you open these?”

Mainstream record labels also release cassettes for artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Harry Styles and Lana Del Ray. Stores like Urban Outfitters, a lifestyle retailer for indie millennials, now sell cassette players.

HEAR | Cassette comeback – into the mainstream:

6:54Cassette comeback – into the mainstream

Time for another installment in our Cassette Comeback series! We heard about the resurgence of DIY-style cassette tapes from independent musicians. But the mainstream industry is also starting to join the trend. Colton Hutchinson spoke to Brian Fauteux, Associate Professor of Popular Music and Media Studies at the University of Alberta, about his perspective.

Crook, who bought an Urban Outfitters tape recorder, knew how to open the cassette sleeves of movies she had seen.

“I knew how to open it,” she said. “Then you have to use the pencil to rewind it.”

Brian Fauteux, assistant professor of popular music and media studies at the University of Alberta, dates the renewed interest in cassettes to 2014 after the release of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

The main protagonist, Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, opens the film by putting on headphones, pressing play on a Walkman, and jamming too loud come and get your love by Redbone. He is shown throughout the film listening to the cassette mixtape, which contains other music from the 1960s and 1970s.

“That was a moment when I heard that a lot of younger people who didn’t have a really close connection to the cassette culture [were] Purchasing [the Guardians of the Galaxy mixtape] on cassette as a fun thing,” said Fauteux.

HEAR | Cassette comeback – listening records:

6:56Cassette Comeback – Listen Records

Time for another chapter in our series dedicated to the return of the classic cassette. How popular are cassettes in the digital age and how easy is it to find a good working cassette deck? Colton Hutchinson spoke to Listen Records’ Kris Burwash about his perspective.

He believes the interest in cassettes has to do with nostalgia – many things that were once popular from the 1980s and 1990s are making a comeback – and with aesthetics. It’s also a way for mainstream artists to differentiate themselves.

“It’s like, ‘How are we going to get someone’s attention and get them to notice this release?'” he said. “This could be something of a surprise album drop – like Drake’s latest [album, Honestly, Nevermind] – or it might be released on cassette.

The jump in cassette sales recorded in Canada is in line with the popularity of all things music that Music Canada, a national industry group, has noticed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Patrick Rogers said.

“People find new or old ways to interact with music. It’s a really exciting trend for us,” Rogers said.

People buy and consume music in different ways, but things like cassettes might just be for collection purposes, he said, suggesting they can “hold and enjoy the music that’s close and dear to them.”

Crook said her friends bought cassettes just to display in their rooms.

Despite their growing popularity, many believe that cassettes probably won’t reach the heights that vinyl has reached in the mainstream, probably because of their sound quality.

“Too many people say, ‘Oh, they were the worst,'” said Burwash of Listen Records in Edmonton.

“It’s still very niche.”

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