The cassette revival seems to be well under way, albeit underground, judging by two cassette-themed events this week: "Leaderless: Underground Cassette Culture Now" -- the ongoing Thurston Moore curated exhibition overviewing contemporary American cassette culture that opened a week ago and runs until May 28th at Printed Matter at 195 Tenth Ave. in New York City, and the "2007 Cassette Jockey Championship" -- scheduled for this weekend (May 19/20) in the Bay Area at the fun DIY-themed Maker Faire at the San Mateo Fairgrounds, in which CJs (as distinct from DJs) will battle it out on their own personally rigged cassette set-ups.
But don't call this the cassette comeback. As those deep into the beloved analog format (mainly noise, experimental, and psych music purveyors) will point out, the popular tape format of the 70's and 80's never really went away. It just got pushed further under the radar to become more of a speciality and collectable item, just like vinyl and (more recently) even CDs. But interestingly, it is not so much hip-hop, whose whole foundation was built on the "mix-tape," that is keeping the flame burning for the cassette with a flow of new releases. (Note, these days it costs a lot more to dub cassettes than to burn CDRs.) Non hip-hop labels that rigorously issue cassettes these days include Hanson, Drone Disco, Tone Filth, and Hospital Productions, while those who specialize exclusively in cassette-only releases include Heavy Tapes, Fag Tapes, and FuckItTapes.
Hundreds of cassettes dating back over the last few decades were on display in glass-cabinets at the "Leaderless: Cassette Culture Now" exhibit opening last Saturday. Plus, a ton of recent cassette-only releases were for sale (average price $6) and were being snapped up by eager cassette fans of all ages. I casually questioned two of these folks (both males) what they would play their new prized purchases on? "On my cassette deck, of course!" came the indignant reply each time. Meanwhile, throughout the well-attended event, a cassette jockey (CJ) mixed music off two old old-school basic cassette decks, mixer, and effects pedals (see pic).
CJs will be out in force this weekend to battle at the "2007 Cassette Jockey Championship" or "cassette wars," where solo contestants will be judged on skill, technique, and knowledge, with each CJ given three minutes to show his or her stuff. This includes creating or hot-rodding their own cassette decks to do battle on. Competing CJs can work up to six cassette devices but must use cassettes only. No mini-cassettes or 8-tracks allowed. Feedback is allowed, however, according to the competition organizers, who first launched the idea four years ago in Chicago and are reviving it for this weekend's Maker Faire at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds (Sat 11AM-5PM, Sun 11AM-4PM).
A separate but equally cool-sounding part of the big Maker Faire this weekend is the "Swap-O-Rama Rama," which will include a giant clothing swap (so bring stuff to trade), on-site silk-screening and sewing stations, plus lots of DIY how-to workshops. For more info click here.