Cassettes Should Stay Dead

By Kate Knibbs on at

Urban Outfitters, one of the largest vinyl sellers, began a new push last week to sell cassettes, including exclusive pressings from Run the Jewels and Halsey.

I see this sentimentality-fueled cash grab and I do not respect it.

Urban Outfitters peddles all sorts of flotsam, but cassettes are an especially obnoxious genre of junk, offering nothing but gimmicky nostalgia.

There are things that gained a cultural foothold in the 1980s that deserve continued or renewed relevance, like Prince, or The Golden Girls. But the 1980s didn’t just popularise funky Minneapolis-raised musicians and groundbreaking geriatric-centric sitcoms. There are plenty of things that caught on in the ‘80s that deserve to be dead, like scrunchies, or Thatcher.

Cassettes sound tinny, with high frequency noise. Cassettes are not durable. Every time you rewind them you risk sitting there with a pencil, cranking away at the tape. The tape hisses, warbles, and deteriorates.

Cassettes melt if you leave them in a hot car. They snap if you leave them in a cold car. Plastic, squat cassette boxes are as useless and breakable as CD jewel cases.

The only somewhat compelling argument I’ve heard in defense of cassettes is that they give independent bands a cheap, low-stakes way to sell music, since making tapes costs less than pressing vinyls or even burning CDs. One time an acquaintance’s band gave me a cassette with this explanation, and I did not throw the cassette in the bin.

I also never played it. What was I going to do, buy a cassette player specifically to hear their music? Pretty cocky gift, to be honest. The cassette is under my bed. Cassettes may be cheap, but these bands are still limiting their audiences to kitsch enthusiasts.

I understand the audiophile’s devotion to vinyl. There’s a purist’s argument to be made that vinyls have superior sound quality. Album covers are pretty. People like to collect things.

If you’re going to buy or collect music in a format that makes you feel old-timey and rewarded on a tactile level, why would you not buy vinyl, the superior analog music-listening format? Why would you choose shitty cassettes? Fetishising the obsolete is silly.

Cassettes were an inferior format at the height of their popularity, and they’re an inferior format now.

Image: Shutterstock/Giuliano Coman