Just over a year ago, I visited my parent’s home, in search of attic treasure - specifically audio cassette tapes. I unearthed commercially-released hits from the 80’s and 90’s, teenage mix-tapes, and still-sealed Maxells, before finding what I was looking for - a stack of Hail Bop cassette recordings, made between 1997 and 2000.
In the late 90’s, Elliott, Brandon and I were 17-year-old high school kids in a band called Hail Bop. We played battle of the bands shows at The Big Bop and El Mocambo and opened for other, more established jam bands, such as Caution Jam at The Comfort Zone. As the band progressed, we used tapes to distribute recordings of our live gigs, as well as demo songs we put down on a Tascam portable 4-track.
Tapes were a compact, convenient format for music at that time - at home, in the car, or just out and about. For those of us who grew up with them, tapes served as the medium for our musical tastes and ideas. They were never about audio quality, even at their best, unless maybe you owned a Nakamichi Dragon and used very expensive metal tape formulations. The one thing that gave cassettes a bit of magic over other formats was the ease of making mix tapes and sharing music with friends. The cassette made it easy to capture our sound, and it survives today as a record of our past.
My memory was magnetically sent back in time when I put the tape labelled ‘Hail Bop Opera House 11/17/2K’ into my yellow Sony Sport Walkman. The clicking sound of the vintage machinery was tactile, nostalgic and satisfying. Flipping the tape over to hear side B, I tried to remember what songs we played that night - 18 years ago. I called up Elliott and told him about my find, expressing my excitement with the rediscovery of these recordings. We chatted about the new music we were working on and decided that paying homage to the humble cassette format was appropriate.
On January 31st 2018, we released our first full-length album Moving Fast 4 U, on cassette tape. Most people didn’t understand why we would sell an out-of-date format, in the age of SoundCloud. It wasn’t just for nostalgic reasons that we put out Moving Fast 4 U on tape. They’re a fraction of the price of vinyl to create, and for artists like us, cassettes are a way to stand out. For fans, it's a smaller price to pay to support Local Toronto bands.
Compared to vinyl sales, the market for tapes is tiny, but growing. According to Nielsen Canada, 5,100 new, pre-recorded cassettes have been sold so far, in 2018. This number may not seem large, but cassettes are fast-forwarding in popularity among collectors and young people. There’s a culture of people that are making sure the media doesn’t go the way of the Edison cylinder.
The 2014 flick, Guardians of The Galaxy, based on a Marvel comic book features a cassette tape as a story-telling device. This movie was, for a lot of kids, the first time they were exposed to tapes. It portrays the tape as an analog time capsule of memories past.
Popular artists have started to release limited editions and re-release their best-selling works on cassette to tap into a sub-culture who like physical formats. From Jack White coming out with never-before-heard sessions, to mainstream artists like Green Day, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber embracing the tape, it’s becoming music’s fastest growing physical format.
For hardcore cassette collectors, tapes offer choice from vinyl’s financial drawbacks. Even in a collector’s marketplace, the most expensive tape sold on Discogs ($4,087) is only a fraction of the most expensive vinyl record sold ($27,000) on the music trading and cataloging platform. Tapes like Prince’s Versace Experience and The Barenaked Ladies’ Sandwich EP demo, are highly collectable for their rarity. For more on cassette culture and collectability, I highly recommend the independent documentary movie Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape by director Zack Taylor. A lot of the experiences in the movie resonated with the UPS history and love for cassettes.
We came to find our tribe in local music lovers and collectors. Independent shop owners helped push our music out to fans who still value the format. Granted, we play funk and the most common genres on tape these days generally fall into the categories of, “trill wave” or “dark metal,” but we had found our own niche of music fans. The cassette also acts as a cool merch item that set us apart from other bands at shows. Oh ya, and we just started selling portable players on the shop section of this website. Check them out here.
10 months later we’re proud to say that Moving Fast 4 U has been chosen as an official release for Cassette Store Day 2018. As an international, annual event in October, Cassette Store Day is intended to recognize the value of compact cassette tapes as a musical format. It was first held in 2013, and was inspired by its more famous older sibling, Record Store Day, held in April. Conceived by a group of record labels in the UK, the event quickly grew to become global, with participation in the USA, Canada, Japan, Germany and France.
UPS loves all genres and physical formats of music, so to us, if people are paying for the music, it’s a big win. We don't care what format it's on. We believe in owning music and, like it or not, cassette tapes will continue to be meaningful, lasting documents of our lives.
The following is a list of Cassette Stores that carry the Moving Fast 4 U cassette. They are all run by knowledgeable music loving people, who want to share their passion. Stop by if you’re out and about this Saturday and rediscover your cassette collection. Happy Cassette Store Day!
The Dupe Shop
1185 Bloor St. West
Toronto ON M6H 1M9
215 Spadina Ave.
Toronto, ON. M5T 2C7
1167 Dundas St. W.
Toronto, ON. M6J 1X3
480 Brant St. Unit 7
Burlington, ON. L7R 2G4
180g Records & Cafe
5866 Ave de Lorimier
Montreal QC H2V 4M3
736b 17th Avenue SW
Calgary AB T2S 0B7
2nd Thoughts Buy and Sell
1412 2nd Ave
Prince George BC V2L 3B6
PO Box 243
Atlantic Beach NY 11509
Vertical House Records
2211 Seminole Drive, RR #3
Huntsville AL 35805