Described by some as “Europe’s largest tech present”, the Berlin Radio Present has lengthy been well-known for exhibiting the subsequent huge factor in shopper electronics. In 1963, that was the compact audio cassette, launched on the time by its creator, the late Dutch engineer Lou Ottens, who died in early March.

Over the course of Ottens’ lifetime, cassette tapes got here to redefine listening habits, which till then had been restricted to the rather more unwieldy vinyl report. Automotive stereos and the enduring Sony Walkman all of the sudden made particular person listening experiences potential exterior of the house. The re-recordable nature of the format, in the meantime, helped music followers collate and flow into their very own mixtapes. At its peak in 1989, the cassette tape was shifting 83 million items per yr within the UK alone.

Regardless of having been outdated in performance first by the compact disc (CD) after which the digital file (MP3 and MP4), the audio cassette retains a particular place within the historical past of audio expertise, with mixtapes a precursor to playlists, and the Walkman the precursor to the iPod.

And, regardless of being thought-about aesthetically and materially inferior to the vinyl report that got here earlier than it, the audio cassette is definitely experiencing one thing of a resurgence – partly for sentimental causes, but additionally as a result of, with gigs cancelled, it’s a wise method for smaller artists to monetize their work.

Hit rewind

In opposition to a backdrop of a pandemic that has performed large injury to the music business, 2020 might justifiably be known as the yr of the cassette. In accordance with British Phonographic Business figures, 156,542 cassettes have been offered within the UK final yr, the very best determine since 2003 and a rise of 94.7% on 2019 gross sales. Seemingly out of the blue, international pop icons reminiscent of Girl Gaga, the 1975, and Dua Lipa have began dashing out their new releases on cassette – they usually’re promoting out.

For these of us who’re sufficiently old to recollect the cassette tape as a standard format of music consumption, their resurgence is considerably puzzling. In spite of everything, even of their heyday, cassettes have been at all times a bit garbage.

They lacked the aesthetic attraction and the romance of the vinyl LP and its gatefold sleeve. Subsequently, they lacked the usability, flashiness and sonic constancy of the CD. And there’s not a music fan alive over the age of 35 who doesn’t have a horror story to inform a couple of favourite album or mixtape being chewed up by a malicious automotive stereo or transportable boombox.

The boombox may now appear fashionably retro – but that won’t stop it chewing up the occasional tape.
Credit score: Dave Weatherall