Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Joy Of Cassettes - available now on Kindle

Available now for your Kindle - The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes

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Have you ever wondered what would happen if you only listened to cassettes for six months? I thought not. But I can tell you what happened when I did.

On day 1 I discovered that not all DJs go to heaven.

On day 9 I visited the very soon to be defunct HMV store in Durham and resisted the temptation to buy a CD.

I laid a 29 year old grudge to rest on day 18.

On day 23 I decided on the colour for my (proposed) music room.

Following the choice of a new Pope I made a musical confession on day 29.

By day 37 I was pondering life as a bit of a hellraiser.

On day 47 I mulled over the similarity of Bryan Ferry's moustache and the one sported by Private Walker in Dad's Army.

Day 56 saw me nailing my colours to the mast of the greatest hip-hop album ever made (and by day 81 I'd changed my mind).

Day 64 found me thinking of Edie Brickell's bra.

On a trip to South Bank, Cleveland (UK not USA) on day 74 I was pleasantly surprised by an album I'd been dreading.

On day 88 I spent some quality time with David Bowie's second best album and on day 93 I spent some less than quality time with one of his poorest.

Day 95 introduced the concept of the game-changing album in the company of a group of very talented Germans.

My favourite album of all time showed up on day 100.

My cherished 1985 Mini Mayfair returned to the road on day 105 and ushered in a short spell of 1980s classics by way of celebration, including the opportunity to ponder some very clunky lyrics indeed on day 107.

Al Gore's wife (the wonderfully named Tipper) popped up on day 122 and on day 125 I considered the potential perils of handing over creative control of your album to two of the world's most respected producers only to see the whole shooting match go totally tits up.

Finally on day 130 the entire experiment shuddered to its final destination just like it started, with a brilliant six track electronic classic from the late 1970s.

Oh, and did I mention that I spent a very enjoyable day in the company of a lesbian Tupperware seller?

The music room - Vinyl vs Cassette vs CD vs MP3

Recently I bought a new album. That’s not really unusual, but the next bit is. I bought it on vinyl. For the first time in almost 30 years I bought a new vinyl LP. It was Love your Dum and Mad by Whitburn’s finest, Nadine Shah, if you’re wondering.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve bought loads of ‘mint-unplayed’ LPs since CDs threatened to take over the world (I wonder how that plan’s going), but they’re not really new. An LP is only really new if you’re the first person to own it. Newness isn’t a question of condition, it’s a question of ownership.

Most ‘advances’ in musical formats have been almost entirely about miniaturisation, to the extent that mp3s are completely invisible to the naked eye and the collection that used to fill your spare room now fills a device that’s not much bigger than a postage stamp. Unfortunately as collections have become physically smaller they’ve also become less significant. No longer do you have to choose in advance the music that you think you’ll need to get you through your day, because you’re carrying your whole collection with you.

I’ve also been experimenting recently with listening to lots of music on cassette. It’s a part of my collection that had been neglected for years. Cassettes are under-rated (even sneered at by some) as a musical format, but they were the first truly successful attempt to bring portable music to the masses and therefore the first step on a journey that led to mp3 players. Cassettes now seem like they were made for simpler, slower times and in many ways they were. There was no automatic jumping to a specific track, if you wanted to listen to ‘Neuk├Âln’ on David Bowie’s Heroes then you’d have to go on a journey, because it’s tucked away at track four on side two and on a cassette that takes some finding.

Call me old-fashioned but I don’t think mp3 is a real music format. Real music formats can be bought and sold at car boot sales, they can be carried under your arm, they can be damaged by exposing them to dust or moisture or sunlight. Real music formats take up room, they need to be cared for and sorted. They can be stacked in piles and put on shelves. They can be sniffed. Mp3s have no smell.

I find CDs a little bit difficult to love too, even though I’ve got thousands of them. They never really came through on their promise of indestructibility for one thing, and when they’re badly scratched they don’t crackle warmly like vinyl does – they skip in a way that threatens to raise blood pressure when crackling old vinyl has absolutely the opposite effect. CDs are too clinical. They have no warmth. They don’t ‘sigh’ when you press the play button. They’re too convenient. In 100 years they’ll be remembered only as the 25-year halfway house between analogue music and music that doesn't really physically exist. That’s not much of a legacy.

So although it’s the music rather than the method of transportation that’s ultimately important it’s vinyl’s trumpet that gets my ‘toot’. If you’re still unconvinced I’ll leave you with one final parting shot. The 7” vinyl single is popular music in its purest form.

Originally published in the very wonderful NE:MM magazine

And available now for your Kindle - The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy Of Cassettes

Just head to