Rewind: The Cassette Makes a Comeback in Boston


Photographs by Lucas Zarebinski

We thought we’d seen the last of the cassette. Along with Betamax and the U.S. Postal Service, this hunk of plastic had long since been consigned to the dustbin of obsolete formats. But in Boston, it turns out that cassette culture is thriving, as the tapes pictured on this page attest. Independent labels like Hey WTF Records, Bufu Records, Antique Records, and Anonymous Dog Tapes and Records are all putting out new releases on cassette.

The Boston-based label Get on Down recently sold out its deluxe-cassette reissue of The Purple Tape, a legendary version of rapper Raekwon’s seminal album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. And Boston-area bands are selling homemade tapes at performances and local record stores.

“Boston is just a young, hip city all around—it makes a lot of sense that this movement is really being adopted here,” Ryan Lucht, the founder of Hey WTF, said when we talked last month. “We’re just lucky to have a number of great bands and labels and stores in Boston that advocate for it and push it forward.”

Why the renaissance? Part of what’s driving it, aficionados believe, is a movement against digital music. “Tapes have to be handed off to a human rather than just dumped on the Internet for nobody,” said Angela Sawyer, who runs Weirdo Records, in Cambridge, which does a brisk trade in cassettes.

Lucht agreed. “The Web is full of junk, and there’s 12 hours of audio uploaded to Soundcloud alone every minute,” he said. “When we release a tape, that’s a signal saying, ‘This is special.’”

For cassette nerds, the tape also serves as a physical totem, said Dylan Ewen, of Bufu Records. “Downloads are cool, but taking away a physical package from a show is just a whole different experience,” he said. “It’s something you get to hold, check out, put up in your room for your friends to see and tell them about.” Plus, it preserves the album as a musical unit: “There’s no way to skip tracks, so chances are you are going to listen to most of the album at once, which is what the artist wants.”

That’s great, but do people really prefer the hissy sound of a cassette that’s been sitting in someone’s car all summer? “It really adds warmth and character,” Lucht insisted. “There’s something about magnetic tape that digital zeros and ones can’t replicate.” —Zoe Marquedant