Toronto Programs

Are cassette tapes making a comeback?

They've been considered obsolete for decades, but now high-profile Canadian artists are putting out cassettes and there's a entire Toronto exhibit devoted to them.

Mainstream acts are re-embracing decades-old format, says co-curator of new exhibit

Ariel Sharratt, co-curator of an exhibit celebrating the cassette tape, says the decades-old format has survived despite the rise of CDs and digital downloads. (CBC)

They're old, big and clunky. The right equipment is hard to find. And rewinding them — unless you do that trick with a pen — is a quick way to drain your batteries. 

The cassette tape never really went away.— Ariel Sharratt

But even though they've been considered obsolete for decades, cassette tapes appear to be making a comeback with some music fans. 

Discogs, an online music database, recently reported a 37 per cent rise in tape sales in 2015. Meanwhile, a number of high-profile Canadian artists have recently released music on cassette, including Nelly Furtado and Arcade Fire.

"We see, more and more now, young bands who don't want to digitize their music, who don't want put it online, who are resisting that impulse to put everything on SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Pandora, Spotify, what have you," said Ariel Sharratt, co-curator of Musicworks: The Cassette Years, an exhibit that celebrates the cassette tape.

Sharratt says cassettes, which are cheap to produce, have remained popular with punk, experimental and other underground music communities since their heyday of the 1980s — despite the rise of digital music. 

The online music database Discogs recently reported a 37 per cent rise in tape sales in 2015. (PhotoGraphyca/Shutterstock)

"The cassette tape never really went away," she told Metro Morning.

Lately, the format has been rediscovered by more mainstream bands. 

Cassettes offer artists a chance to put out their music in a physical format, without the expense of recording on vinyl. For fans, they offer a way to connect with artists that's harder to get with a digital download. 

A lot of people, Sharratt says, want a token to take home from a concert, even if they don't have a tape deck at home. 

And who does, these days? Even the well-equipped Metro Morning studio lacks a tape deck. And Sharratt concedes that finding and maintaining the necessary equipment is one of the biggest hurdles for cassette fans. 

"It's a challenge to find a cassette deck these days. Unless you have a really old car." 

Musicworks: The Cassette Years runs at OCAD's Open Gallery at 49 McCaul St., through March 18.