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Hit the tape deck

Cassette Store Day founder Matt Flag tells us why this dead format is alive and kicking

For a defunct medium, the cassette is doing pretty well for itself. Originally created in 1964 in Hanover, Germany, the cassette tape went on to become the defining medium of the 70s and 80s, only to be defeated by the CD in the 90s. But while nobody loses sleep over the MiniDisc, cassette fans have made sure the format survives into the 21st century: sales in the UK alone tripled last year. Meanwhile, record labels and artists are using the artistic potential offered by the cassette as a means of making a statement about their releases – most recently, Jeremiah Jae collaborator Jonwayne released a trilogy of rap tapes riffing off corporate logos and iconography. 

Matt Flag, founder of Suplex Cassettes and bassist of afro-tropicalia band Fair Ohs, is hoping that interest translates for the world's first Cassette Store Day, which takes place this Saturday. Hoping to emulate the triumphs of Record Store Day, which saw a 60% increase in sales this year, cassette stockists from all over South America, Finland, New Zealand and the US will be participating, while Flag has partnered up with Rough Trade in London for a day of instore performances.

So, how did Cassette Store Day get started?

The initial idea came from Steve Rose (Sexbeat & Transgressive) who then contacted Jen Long (Kissability) and me to be involved as we all knew each other and knew a lot of other people who ran labels, were in bands, did stuff that could actually make this day happen. Why not? We love tapes, let's celebrate it! 

First cassette you owned?

I think the first bought cassettes I remember were Pet Shop Boys’ “Actually”, Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood 'Welcome to the Pleasuredome”. I still stand by these albums. I don't have treasured releases but I have an obvious fondness for all of my Suplex Releases, and for the first Fair Ohs tape (disclaimer: I'm in Fair Ohs) as it was the start of a label, a band and a lot of awesome experiences.

 Why do you think cassettes have outlived other music formats, like the minidisc?

It is cute, it's portable, it was the first format to travel with portable players, you can make your own mixes and record on them which in turn resulted in some of my all time favourite artists and genres. Imagine a world without tapes, and I wonder if the world would have seen Daniel Johnston, or Grandmaster Flash or Guided by Voices?  

Some people think say the tape revival’s just an exercise in pointless nostalgia. What do you say?

It is a very time consuming exercise in nostalgia if that’s what people think! Tapes have never left my life and for many genres such as punk, noise and indie it has maintained use throughout the years it died in the mainstream. But so did vinyl, and Record Store Day had its fair shares of detractors and naysayers when it first emerged. Now it singlehandedly keeps certain shops going with its yearly boost in sales!

Do you think the design of cassette cases forms part of the appeal of collecting?

I think so, yes. If you're used to having music at the click of a button with a tiny jpeg as art, seeing the effort that a label like Birdtapes go to for their releases is quite exciting. 

Favourite label of 2013?

Mississippi Records, they make amazing re-issues and new releases for anything from 1920s bluegrass to 70s punk to brand new indie rock and a ton of world music. One particular tape called '”House of Broken Hearts Part 1” is my favourite and introduced me to so much great unknown 60s soul, doo wop and R&B.

Beside interest from listeners and buyers, there's also a newfound interest from labels in putting stuff out on cassette. Why? 

It is affordable in a climate where vinyl costs so much to make. Small runs are easy to do and cost little and weird releases that may not warrant the £1000 to invest in a release can be put out for £100 or less! I have released demos, live and compilations of unreleased tracks that didn’t make the cut. I love these songs, but most labels cannot afford to get them out in normal means and an mp3 or download is a hollow format, it literally has no substance. For many, a physical format is still the way to enjoy music.

So is it time for the cassette to stand next proud to the vinyl collectable? 

I definitely think so. And as much as we don't want it to happen, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Cassette Store Day releases end up on eBay :(