They Still Make Tapes

Posted by on Dec 23, 2008 | Comments (9)

Imagine my absolute shock when the other night, coinciding perfectly with my article this week in the Bohemian about why I still make tapes, this collection of cassettes arrived wrapped up on my front porch, like an abandoned child in swaddling clothes:

No way! Now that’s some incredibly in-depth joke, I thought, figuring that someone had spent hours making fake cassette artwork for five local bands: The New Trust, Not To Reason Why, the Velvet Teen, Polar Bears, and my own band, Santiago. But it just got even more insane when I opened the cases.

That’s right: these are actual manufactured cassettes!

My jaw dropped. Yes, these are complete albums on tape, and what’s more, the Warner Bros. style sheet for cassettes is adhered to down to the tiniest detail in the artwork: the black-bar cover, the block font on the spine, the timestamp on either side of the shell, the Dolby logo everywhere. Unbelievable. There are liner notes inside, and the catalog numbers even reference the old “-4” suffix, applicable to cassettes.

It’s like something I never thought I’d ever see. Holding something in your hand that surely couldn’t exist. Like a hallucination come true. Like the most retardedly beautiful Christmas present ever.

I called the usual suspects, Josh Drake and Josh Staples, and they proudly admitted to the feat. Those guys have done some absolutely stupid, bonkers-ass, unnecessary bullshit in their time, but this is by far my favorite thing they’ve pulled off. How did they do it? It turns out that there’s a place in Petaluma, Kaba Audio, that still takes orders for cassettes. Totally crazy.

I’ve been assured that there’s only 100 copies of these cassettes out there, which considering the demand for cassettes these days is probably about 97 copies too many. They come packaged in a $10 5-Pack, boasting “Now With Compromised Fidelity!” Those wanting in on this extremely short run can find it at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa.

I got an overwhelming response to the article on cassette tapes, incidentally, which proves that you can’t kill a medium that’s been a part of people’s lives for decades. I even got some phone calls from people who rattled their cassettes into the phone, proving that they, too, still love tapes. The sad thing is that there’s still a market for cassettes (anyone who works at a record store can attest to repeated inquiries for tapes), but it’s just not profitable for the already-fledgling record companies.

The last actual manufactured cassette I saw domestically from a major label was Common’s Be, issued with a stock font, a chintzy black-and-white spine and no j-card at all. The last actual manufactured cassette I bought, though, was Green Day’s American Idiot, with a full-color fold-out j-card and official Warner Bros. packaging. It came from a seller in Malaysia, where cassettes are still relevant and where major labels actually order legitimate pressings of tapes there. Recently, they’ve made Metallica’s Death Magnetic, Kanye West’s The College Dropout, Weezer’s Make Believe, Against Me’s New Wave, and many, many more titles on cassette in Malaysia, all in short runs of about 200 or so.

The best way to find Malaysian titles on cassette is on eBay; type “Malaysia” into a cassette search and hundreds of titles pop up. There’s a long and strange dissection of complex Malaysian copyright laws here that might shed some light on why Malaysia is the dominant producer of new cassettes. And some incredible-looking Malaysian cassette manufacturing equipment is for sale here, which hopefully does not spell the end of cassettes entirely. Here’s a sample image of how they do it in Malaysia:

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  1. lila
    December 23, 2008

    holy crap!! that may be the coolest thing i’ve seen in a long time!!

  2. Dean
    December 25, 2008

    That’s awesome, I don’t have most of those albums on CD, and the tapes are so cheap! I love those Joshes.

  3. shane rishell
    December 29, 2008

    as soon as i read this on christmas eve, i drove up to santa rosa to grab these. they weren’t there yet. dammit. gotta go back up in a bit.

    thank god you wrote this, though, or i would probably have never found out about this super dope cassette tape treasure trove.

  4. charly
    February 17, 2009

    just thought you would like to know that a couple of friends and I run a cassette tape label called ANALOG EMPIRE. we do short runs of 100. We put out spoken word, comedy, folky stuff by old punks, and punk rock bands. It is fun and amazing that folks still collect and want them. Check us out at fastgeekempire.com. we are starting to put stuff out more regularly. cassettes are the new vinyl. Really enjoyed your article.

  5. Jon Manning
    June 6, 2009

    Fun article, great tapes. I like the concept of reappropriating the Warner Bros template.

    I actually run a tape label myself called LOST SOUND TAPES. We’re starting to do vinyl releases as well, our first being a Watercolor Paintings & iji split 7″, but we mainly focus on cassette tapes. We stock some CDs but no one seems to buy them, from us at least!

  6. lb_bizz
    June 24, 2009

    Hello. I am from Malaysia and just to let you know the cassette industry here is also dead. The major label no longer issue cassette except special request. I am also selling off my cassette collection on eBay.

  7. Larry
    October 5, 2010

    My company makes 3 tapes to record on. We have 2 chromes and 1 metal tape. I think we are the only maker of metal tapes. We are about to expand into making custom tapes.


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