Still spin­nin’

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

COL­LEC­TORS and mu­sic fans wear­ing the T-shirts of ob­scure rock bands brave the trop­i­cal heat out­side a record store near Malaysia’s cap­i­tal, wait­ing to get their hands on new cas­sette tapes.

No, this isn’t a flash­back to the 1980s, but an event mark­ing re­cent In­ter­na­tional Cas­sette Store Day, an an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of a mu­sic for­mat once thought headed for ex­tinc­tion but now en­joy­ing a re­birth.

Vinyl’s re­nais­sance is well­doc­u­mented and now it seems cas­settes are ris­ing from the grave, with artists such as Kanye West and Justin Bieber re­leas­ing songs on tape.

In South­east Asia low pro­duc­tion costs and a retro-cool im­age have made cas­settes an un­der­ground­mu­sic fix­ture, es­pe­cially for strug­gling bands get­ting their name out.

“Cas­settes are our best sell­ers,” Mo­ham­mad Radzi Jasni, owner of the store, Teenage Head Records, said af­ter shov­ing one by Sin­ga­porean surf-punk band Force Vomit into a bulky tape player.

“They are still the best way to dis­cover new bands here. It’s very af­ford­able for the guys re­leas­ing it and the fans buy­ing them,” he added.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing costs can be as low as 4 ring­git [US$1] per tape in Malaysia, com­pared to 60 to 80 ring­git for a vinyl record.

Vinyl’s cost is a hur­dle for young bands and DIY la­bels in Malaysia, In­done­sia, Thai­land and the Philip­pines.

There are no vinyl-press­ing plants in South­east Asia, cas­sette lovers say, while cas­sette plants still dot the re­gion.

To mark In­ter­na­tional Cas­sette Store Day, Teenage Head Records re­leased 200 cas­settes fea­tur­ing Malaysian rock band Bittersweet. Al­most all were sold out by the day’s end.

Bittersweet has re­leased three CD al­bums but key­boardist Fad­hilul Iq­mal said press­ing a few more songs on cas­sette helps pump up the band’s discog­ra­phy at low cost, while the for­mat’s com­pact size makes it more mo­bile than vinyl.

Such think­ing has helped fuel a bur­geon­ing DIY cas­sette la­bel in­dus­try in the re­gion. In In­done­sia, they have a new­found nov­elty ap­peal among youths who grew up with dig­i­tal mu­sic.

As with vinyl, fans also ap­pre­ci­ate the tan­gi­ble na­ture of tapes and the art­work that comes with the in­lays.

“It’s trendy right now with a gen­er­a­tion of 20-some­things not used to buy­ing phys­i­cal mu­sic,” said Mar­cel Thee, vo­cal­ist of In­done­sian band Sa­jama Cut, which is­sued a two-song cas­sette re­cently.

“Tapes pro­vide a plat­form for re­leas­ing sin­gles. If it wasn’t on tape, it would have gar­nered less at­ten­tion,” Thee said.

No­to­ri­ous for get­ting jammed, un­spooled, and for their hiss-heavy sound, cas­settes were eclipsed world­wide by CDs in the early 1990s, though they held their ground in South­east Asia un­til the early 2000s.

For older mu­sic fans, the cas­settes bring back fond me­mories of home­made mix tapes.

Sound is an­other is­sue – the vinyl and cas­sette cognoscenti dis­miss dig­i­tal mu­sic as too com­pressed and lack­ing the warmth of ana­log sound.

“Vinyl has a warmer sound but it is more ex­pen­sive. If you have money you can buy vinyl; if you don’t have money, you can buy cas­sette,” said Mo­hamad Nor Yaa­cob, co-founder of Malaysia’s Base­ment Records, which fo­cuses on hard­core punk and metal.

For strug­gling young bands, cas­settes are a po­ten­tial en­try ticket into the in­dus­try.

“First you re­lease on cas­sette, like, 100 pieces. When peo­ple know your band, you can make vinyl if you have money,” said Nor.

Later, ex­ports of cheaply made cas­settes can help la­bels and bands reach a larger fan­base over­seas, open­ing up tour­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“The un­der­ground scene here has ac­tu­ally been press­ing cas­settes long be­fore it got hip again so I don’t see why it can­not stay,” said Radzi. –

Au­dio cas­sette tapes ap­pear to have a retro-cool im­age in South­east Asia.

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