Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the “WTF?!” factor, maybe people just miss fondling their tunes, but it seems that growing interest in the cassette tape is a real and burgeoning phenomenon. The proof? Well, a Kickstarter-funded documentary about the anachronistic format has just pulled in more than $25,000 in funding, poised to teach the world about tapes at the end of 2012.
Photographers Zack Taylor and Seth Smoot first set out to create a documentary about the cassette tape a while back — before the recent resurgence of the format in the news. The two wanted to work on a project together — any project — and when they compared interests, music kept coming up.
“A lot of the music that we love I think happened because of cassette,” Taylor says. “When we came up with the project we thought [the cassette] was just sort of at its end, and then the further we got into it, we saw that there was this resurgence. I don’t think anyone can really explain it and I think it’s happening for a lot of different reasons. But we got really enthused about the idea because we weren’t the only two people in the world who were still passionate about the tape.”
As their Kickstarter campaign proved, they were hardly the only two tape-lovers left on earth, as more than 300 people pitched in the cash to get the documentary off the ground. Taylor attributes this wave of interest to a major case of itchy fingers.
“In this digital age where you can just download things, I think something physical is missing, which I think people miss,” he says. “I certainly miss going to a record store and having one specific album or tape or whatever in mind and then being lucky enough to find that. That’s something that’s made a little too easy for us nowadays.”
If recent vinyl sales in the U.S. are any indication, that need for physical interaction gets a little more insistent every year.
Taylor recalls the old days — sixth grade, to be exact — when he used to have a mixtape club. He was often chastised by other members for getting too experimental with his picks. Still, he always wanted to be in a band, and that was his outlet. “If you couldn’t play, having a tape deck was the next best thing, because of the record button,” he says. “The idea that you could record a song on the radio or off of an album or a CD, and then the next track could come from you. So I could have a mixtape where me singing in the shower could be right next to the Rolling Stones. That is what the cassette gave the world.”
In Taylor’s opinion, that artistry was lost with the CD — it was all too perfect, too cleancut. That limited edition, almost zine-like quality of the tape (in that it’s an at-home, cut-and-paste job) is what made it special, and is what is making its comeback today all the more intriguing.
When asked what his favorite cassette release was from this past year, Taylor waxed poetic about Dinosaur Junior’s trilogy boxset, released by Joyful Noise in November — a product that he was unable to buy, since it sold out so quickly. Still, that’s the draw for Taylor: The fact that a bunch of tapes of records from the ’80s sold out proves that the interest in the medium is still there.
As for the documentary itself, Taylor plans to start working with Smoot in earnest when he returns to New York in the coming months. He’s currently finishing his Master’s in film at the University of Wales. The film will touch on both the cultural side of the tape — via interviews with labels, bands, etc — as well as the technical, via chats with the people who actually create the product.
“We want to sort of expand beyond the hipster demographic, where we want to show all the different applications that the cassette has had or does have,” Taylor says. “For instance, it still has a lot of use in religious contexts. Like the Bible on tape or sermons for the blind.” He also plans on visiting Zimbabwe, where cassette tapes are popular for economic reasons.
In terms of comparing and contrasting the tape to other forms of throwback technology — the CD, the record, the flexi — the filmmakers plan to focus mainly on the task at hand. However, Taylor says, “It’s hard to talk about cassettes without talking about digital. The language that we speak today. What’s changed and what’s been lost in the digital age. And I’m sure that comparison deserves attention.”