It was the musical medium of choice through much of the 1980s and ‘90s.
Arif Ansari’s extensive cassette collection from Calgary bands, mostly of the garage-rock genre, is proof.
About a decade ago he started digitizing his tapes as part of the Calgary Cassette Preservation Society.
“Ten years ago that medium was completely out of vogue. It was not available,” Ansari said. “You would roll into any of the record stores in town and they would have a dusty bin of tapes they’re trying to get rid of for a dollar a pop – sometimes a dollar for the whole bin!”
“It just kind of… it grabbed me for some reason. People got really interested in the local music history aspect and the stuff that I was sharing.”
But the demand isn’t just for the music. As Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan put it, “the medium is the message.”
Cassette tapes are making a comeback.
It’s one of the fastest-growing musical formats in terms of sales and record labels have been quick to jump on board.
Cory Giordano started Inner Ocean Records about a year ago.
“We wanted to do physical releases and it was just sort of an economical and fun format at the time,” Giordano said.
In the last six months, he has also started a cassette-dubbing service for other record labels. So far he has made about 3,000 tapes.
He said most of his clients are international, as Calgary’s local cassette market is mostly tapped out.
“There’s actually lots of people in Calgary who do tape stuff,” Giordano said. “Any time there’s equipment for sale, like on eBay or whatever, it’s just gone so fast.”
He suggests the audio quality on a good cassette deck is almost as good as vinyl and the production costs are much cheaper.
“It has a bit more character and warmth to it.”
In a culture that primarily downloads its music for consumption, it seems there’s a fresh demand for the physical connection.
“The quality and the appreciation of music isn’t the same when you just have this infinite catalog on your computer, compared to having a stack of tapes, or records, or CDs, or whatever that you collect,” Giordano said. “I think that people just end up appreciating that that much more now. I’m just trying to facilitate that.”