This week I popped over to Belgrave Music Hall to watch Cassette: A Mixtape Documentary as part of Leeds Film Festival.
I’ve no particular love for the cassette as a medium – or at least I didn’t think I did – and thought it’s recent return via Cassette Day and this fad of Indie bands only releasing on cassette was a bit stupid, really.
But the documentary did some work to win me over. The ‘mixtape documentary’ approach helped. We saw the German co-inventor of the cassette and learned some history. We heard from the likes of Henry Rollins and Thurston Moore and how being able to record to a cassette meant unsigned bands could still release music. We found out how important cassettes were in the birth of Hip-Hop and it was all brought together in this whimsy of how a format changed the world. It didn’t matter its time has passed; it was celebrating the memory of what it had achieved.
I started really buying music towards the late nineties, so the cassette’s time had already passed, though I do remember playing a copy of Three Lions to death in 1996. Still, despite all the house and flat moves, I still seem to have a handful of cassesttes I just can’t bring myself to throw away. So I thought i’d dig them out and share them with you.
Chunky Berber – Carpet Sample
I picked this up at Hellraiser in Wakefield when it was in The Old Vicarage. This was around the time when i’d got my first guitar. Chunky Berber consisted of people a couple of years above me at school. I just thought it was cool that kids just older than me had not only recorded music, but released it, and you could buy it in a shop. That was the height of brilliance and I wanted part of that.
I remember too that when I formed a band we used to rehearse at Saturn Music and Chunky Berber practiced there too. We’d made it. And another time we found some of their lyrics in a drawer.
It’s not like I was a fan. I don’t think they were even around that long and I never saw them play. But it was that thing that anyone can do it. I don’t have a tape player to check this out now but I can still remember the bleak social commentary of “Too Much Deodorant” and respect to a band having the balls to open their album with a punk version of “Lord Of The Dance”.
Jar – Demo
I was walking through a mall in San Francisco whilst on holiday with my parents and my really cool Korn t-shirt caught the eye of a guy. “Hey man, you like Korn? You’ll love my band” and he gave me a copy. I remember he looked really disappointed when I thanked him. I reckon he thought, “shit, this kids a tourist and I just wasted a tape on him.”
I wasn’t massive into bands like Korn but you know, it was cool so I had the t-shirt. I do remember the tape got a fair bit of play but I can’t remember it now. Why have I kept it? What happened to Jar? I could call INFO 818 563 2966 to find out I suppose. But recorded in those pre internet days of Jan / Feb 1998 I fear the mighty Jar may largely have been lost in the depths of time. I still remember man.
So I have a few mixtapes that were made for me at least 15 years ago. I can’t play them but it was the point in the film that resonated most with me. Making a mixtape for someone’s birthday was a great thing to do. It’s unreal to imagine that my friend might own a CD that I didn’t have and the only way to hear it would be to borrow it. And that to buy a record by a band you’d not heard was a genuine £15 risk.
I’m pretty sure Nel sent me this tape whilst I was at uni, or maybe just before we left for uni. Again, it was a cool lifeline that your friends in other cities could discover music and make you a mixtape of what they’d found. And in those early days of driving back from Uni, or visiting someone, with just a tape deck in the car… you had to get those mixtapes just right. But then mix cds are just as good I suppose.
Sonic Youth – Dirty
I think I also bought this in America, along with The Beavis & Butthead album which I mainly hated but it was the only place to get a version of “I Hate Myself And Want To Die” by Nirvana so naturally I did and used it to be cool and then the tape snapped and I couldn’t play it, but I still kept the tape for some reason.
I think my Walkman long outlasted me purchasing any tapes. During long holidays these were essential. This was the first Sonic Youth record I bought. I was into Nirvana so had to try them out, right? It was a struggle to start with. I can picture being in the back seat of a hire car, my parents up front driving and me trying to get into this, and hearing “Drunken Butterfly” and thinking, what is this shitty noise? “Theresa’s Soundworld” and “Wish Fulfilment” were my way in though, and by the end of the holiday I had it. I can’t imagine many people, including myself, having that patience now.
There’s A Monster In The Shower – Various Artists
And here we are, with a “modern” release for Cassette Store day by The Low Road. It’s a compilation, so like a mini mix-tape featuring tracks from different local bands and labels. Has Spotify killed compilations?
It’s a lovely thing and after looking through my older cassettes, I do get it. It is also the only cassette I have a song of my own on, which is unlikely to ever happen again, and in a way perhaps fulfills those early dreams inspired by my fellow pupils.