• Bidisha Bhattacharya

Contemplating the Cassette



Remember the first cassette you bought yourself as a ‘90s kid? I do, it was The Sound of Music audio. 


The ‘90s encompassed a period when little shopping complexes mattered, (because malls hadn’t crept up yet) and was the only place where those who didn’t live anywhere near a large music store like Park Street’s Music Kingdom, Calcutta (now Kolkata) could find audio cassettes of Western music. It was also a time when streets were awash with pirated tapes, when albums released in the West would magically appear with poorly photocopied covers and inlays a few days later, and when anyone who owned a double cassette deck would have no problem making new friends.


It’s difficult to express the nostalgia and importance of the audio cassette to a generation surviving on iTunes, YouTube, and Spotify. How do you explain to a teenager of 2020 what it meant to not be able to jump from one track to another at will in the ‘90s? The closest you can get into defining the concept is exemplify the protagonist of the 2014 classic film, Guardians of the Galaxy, who was emotionally attached to an old tape of songs systematized by his mother. 

Well, let’s give it a try, shall we? 



Fifty-seven years ago, in the month of August, at a radio exhibition in Berlin, a three-inch-by-four-inch product was unveiled. The adjectives associated with it were cheap, portable, and easy to copy that made people from all over the world believe in magic! It was a C90 audio cassette. Since then various customizations and added features on the same found its place in the music industry. 


As you know, with great power comes great responsibility and so did seep in the launch of ‘Home Taping is Killing Music’ campaign in the 1980s, as a consequence of the concerns envisaging the potential threat to copyright infringement and musical sales that home taping posed. Unfortunately, such attempts to scare people out of taping copies of vinyl albums or radio shows were unsurprisingly ineffective due to the format’s sheer convenience. 


Then stepped in Sony with a portable cassette player in 1979 called Walkman with portable headphones that encouraged the entire generation of music lovers to carry their sounds wherever they went. By 1983, pre-recorded cassettes were beginning to outsell vinyl records. In order to encourage people buying both the vinyl and tape versions of new music, some releases would feature additional material on the cassette version, and cassette singles would often feature songs not available in other formats.



The first cassette single or as the 1980s called, Cassingle, was released in the UK by Bow Wow Wow and itself had a pro-home piracy number titled, ‘C30 C60 C90 Go!’. The most attractive feature of the Cassingle was that it had one blank side, probably intended to be filled up with the music the listener desired. Cassingles were not embraced as a format in the US until 1987 when Bryan Adams’ ‘Heat of the Night’ was the first American commercial release in the format.


By this time the popularity of the Compact Disc (CD) had declared a death knell for the cassette as the former offered both portability and a much higher audio quality. The year, 2005 began ceasing production of pre-recorded cassettes gradually and before we could even realize what was going on, Sony stopped manufacturing its iconic Walkman in 2010.

Universal Music Group, the world’s leading music company, had publicly stated that their label stopped manufacturing cassettes some nine to ten years ago owing to the lack of market for the same. When asked about sales over the past decade or so in the Indian music industry, the company states there is no data—the decline commenced over a decade ago, as demand for vinyl began to rise.


Slowly and sadly all the music stores started to dissipate, one after another, first the local store, then the city ones, and eventually The World. All music companies stopped importing or manufacturing cassettes, only cities like Lucknow and Kolkata were left with a few shops that did stock a few dusty tapes, in the name of Nostalgia.



Delhi-based Moloy Ghosh has an official page on Facebook titled Audio Restorations with 1168 followers, rare audio recordings from audio cassettes, and LPs. There are certain highly interesting posts on his page that highlights the fact that a lot of music hasn’t simply yet transcribed into the digital format. To quote examples, classical genre or the ones in the form of rare Bengali compositions by musicians like Atul Prasad Sen, Rajani Kanta Sen, and D.L. Roy, which were popular until around two decades ago, aren’t available in commercial digitized versions yet. 




How can we escape the romance associated with a mix-tape back then? Sitting before piles of cassettes, struggling to record songs on just the right amount of tape on each side of a blank one, gave an intimate peak to who one was as a person! 


With this daily humdrum affair of coping with our busy schedules, we often forget the valuable moments an audio cassette created for us. The opening of a new one, popping it into the music player and eagerly waiting for the songs to groove to.

Spotify and YouTube can do a lot of things, but the echoing exhilaration was something only an Audio Cassette did!


This article was also published on theninetieskid.scrollstack.com




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