The future is in the past: a celebration of the cassette
THE FUTURE’S IN THE PAST
I hadn’t played or listened to an audio cassette for some time. That was until a few weeks ago. I had a few things on cassette I wanted to convert into MP3, and keep them stored on a laptop in fear of losing them all together.
But what could they be played on? The answer was a Sony WM – EX2HG. A walkman bought with the money given to me for a 15th birthday. Every time I walked down Duke. St, I was stopped by a thing of beauty – an item that wouldn’t look out of place in Tiffany & Co’s store window. This wasn’t New York, it was Cardiff, and the store was the Sony Centre.
Once I bought it, I couldn’t wait to get it home. If I was recreating the moment when I opened the box, in dramatic movie style, it would echo Gizmo’s entrance in Gremlins, or the golden glow coming from the suitcase in Pulp Fiction. The spiel in the box promised unbelievable sound. It wasn’t far wrong, the volume was a little quiet though. There was one cassette album that would live in the Sony. The album was The Stone Roses’ first album. There was a glorious moment every weekday morning. As I started on the home straight towards the school gates, (after a 3-4 mile walk) – Made Of Stone would play. Magic! A song which prepares you for anything.
It also played host to the home made compilation tape. A favourite amongst my music loving school friends was one which included all the great Oasis B-Sides. During break we would sneak into one of the computer rooms and connect the walkman to the teacher’s PC speakers – they were louder than war, and looked like they could survive one. The casual Oasis listener had only heard the first two albums – only heard Noel sing once. Talk Tonight, and The Masterplan came as a revelation. The WH – EX2HG had another use – it doubled up as a mirror. I could check if all the bum-fluff had been shaved off my chin before I scared the older sixth form girls with my – I want to be your toy boy, sultry face.
I left school and took a football apprenticeship, and the Sony followed. It was now housed in Chippie’s instead of black school trousers that constantly argued with my Timberland boat shoes. The youth development coach would shout: “Hicksy, what you listening too?”Â “The Stone Roses,”Â I would reply. I knew what was coming next: “Ah, yeah. Slash!”Â No, not fucking Slash, you fat twat! I wish I’d have had the guts to have responded with that. Then again, I’ve still got all my own teeth.
Because I was coming back from injury, the club felt that I wasn’t worthy of travel expenses. I would catch the later (cheaper) train, and turn up late. Sometimes the squad wouldn’t wait, and would be passing me on Sloper Road – beginning their early morning run. The walkman would again come in handy – R.E.M.’s Green turned up to full volume. As they (apprentices) shouted to me, I pretended I didn’t notice them, thus, avoiding a strenuous morning.
This didn’t work on one occasion. The team minibus passed me on the same side of the road. I was off to Cirencester. This was my first proper game in over three years. We were winning 2-0, and in the last ten minutes, yours truly gave away a penalty. The coach’s reaction made Alex Ferguson seem passive. Now wasn’t the time to blame the foul on the fact I had to endure the trauma of listening to Will Smith, and Coolio, (courtesy of one of the lads very own mix-tape) on the journey from Wales to England.
The next cassette that didn’t want to be ejected from the silver and gold beauty, was another self made compilation. I would walk to work with all of my favourites from, Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon. The music of Nick Drake doesn’t prepare you for a day of hard graft – that suited my work ethic down to the ground.
The Sony MiniDisc would be the next device that came with me everywhere – but that’s for another time. The Sony WM – EX2HG is a timeless beauty – it makes the iPod look ugly – like standing Marilyn Monroe next to Kerry Katona. Through this walkman, I first heard: The Byrds’ – Mr. Tambourine Man, R.E.M.’s – You Are The Everything, The Stone Roses’ – Made Of Stone, The Pogues’ – Pair Of Brown Eyes, the great music that came out of Creation Records, and a lot, lot more.
MP3’s are now being copied onto tape. Retro nights are popping up – where mix tapes are being played to London scenesters – where Peaches and Pixie Geldof will probably host a night and have a guest DJ slot. If asked whether they were using Dolby NR, the unfortunate named two would probably respond with: “No, we are staying off the gear tonight.”Â
Cassette albums never carried the beauty and physicality of vinyl. The shrunk down artwork doesn’t translate to 4“ _ 2.5“. The magic of the cassette was that it allowed a cherished LP to be recorded and mobilised. So, after years in the wilderness, it appears that the cassette is making somewhat of a comeback!