So, are cassettes at death’s door or enjoying a healthy renaissance? It depends on whom you ask. Cassette culture has never waned in certain circles, specifically among noise and experimental bands. But cassettes have gradually been popping up in non-underground places. Lady Gaga probably won’t be releasing music on cassette tape anytime soon, but well-known independent bands such as Animal Collective, Deerhoof and the Mountain Goats have all put out cassettes this year.
San Francisco-based rock band Deerhoof released its 10th album, “Deerhoof vs. Evil,” on Polyvinyl — a heavy-hitter in the world of independent labels — in January on three formats: digital, vinyl and cassette. They put out 500 tapes, each retailing for $8, which included a download of the album.
The Baltimore-bred band Animal Collective put out a limited-edition tape release in March (in conjunction with band-designed sneakers) that included previously unreleased solo work by each of the band’s four members.
And in February, the Mountain Goats, a band that built its initial fan base on a prolific string of early 1990s cassettes, released its first tape since 1994. The tape, “All Survivors Pack,” was a free inclusion with the first few hundred CD and LP orders of the band’s newest album, “All Eternals Deck” (the band’s first release on Merge Records).
“I think tapes have their own energy,” John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats said via e-mail. “I get pretty ’70s Californian about this stuff, but I think the means by which a person receives art — literature, film, music — contributes to the experience.”
‘A nice touch’
“John had these demo versions of all the songs on the album, and we thought that’d be a cooler way to get them out in the world as opposed to some digital bonus thing,” said Spott Philpott, label manager at Merge Records. “The early ones were hand-decorated — we thought that would be a nice touch.”
Karl Hofstetter, owner of Indianapolis-based Joyful Noise Recordings, which put out Deerhoof’s cassette, argues that the return of cassettes is a response to the digital revolution.
“I think that, in a strange way, piracy and digital becoming more prominent has allowed for a resurgence of the physical,” he said.
Hofstetter founded Joyful Noise in 2003. He put out vinyl, digital and CD releases until 2009, when he saw a demand for cassettes. He had the idea to approach labels and musicians he liked and ask to release their music on cassette for sale online and at concerts. Now, Joyful Noise is Polyvinyl’s go-to cassette producer. Hofstetter is working on cassette versions of all 10 albums by the Georgia psych-pop band Of Montreal, with artwork by the band’s mastermind, Kevin Barnes.