Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Ten years ago I went to Miami Winter Dance with the rest of the Spin crew. Spurning the daytime panels(just like absolutely everybody else attending the festival did), one day we drove out to the Haitian quarter of town. It actually was a little bit like slipping out of the First World for a while; the roads there were noticeably worse, not exactly dirt track, but there was a slight sense of Nature encroaching. There wasn't actually much to see or do, but there was a record store. I can't remember exactly what was on display, but the vinyl was intriguing enough for me to approach the counter with a view to buying an LP. The guy looked at me like I was nuts. The records weren't for sale. Gradually it became apparent that this wasn't a record store in the conventional sense at all, that it made its money in a totally different way. You brought in a blank cassette and then for a payment the guy would tape whatever record you chose from those on display on the walls and you'd go off and play it in your car or boombox or whatever. (Essentially I would have been depriving the store owner of a piece of revenue-generating hardware, if I'd managed to buy the record off him). The store did however have a few pre-recorded cassettes on sale, and the above is what I picked up. Sadly it wasn't much cop, a lo-fi hand-held-mike field recording type affair of percussion and chants, not nearly as bloodcurdling as "Bludclot Artattack" or other voodoo-magic-referencing darkcore.
Cassettes: anybody jonesing for a megadose of Woebot since his departure from the scene would do well to pick up this month's issue of FACT (#25, the April/May issue, free), where Matt has a large feature on his latest obsession: the obsolete audio playback technology of tape decks and portable cassette-players. With typical never-do-anything-by-half obsessiveness he has become a total expert on vintage top-of-the-range decks and deluxe versions of the Walkman (or rivals to it), and a skilled hunter-hoarder of high-quality cassettes that are no longer manufactured but can be found in caches across the webscape (certain highly-rated chrome and metal brands going for as high as 30 pounds for a single C90, wouldyabelieveit!). He's a firm believer in the sonic superiority--warmer, fuller, stronger--of this analog medium to MP3 players.
What I'm wondering is, it's all very well cannily investing yer subcultural capital in outmoded analog media, but is there any cool to be had from, erm, never having given up using your Walkman in the first place? I was never that big a fan of the walking-through-the-city-encased-in-your-own-soundtrack experience. But on long trips I do still bring the Walkman along sometimes (the same one I do interviews on, so the sound really does wipe the floor with the iPod), dragging out the bulky contraption and clattering the cassette cases on the fold-down airplane or Amtrak table, half-expecting younger fellow passengers to give me bemused looks. (Well Kieran had a student babysitter who had never seen a record player before, she was like, "what's that?" pointing at my turntable). I rather like the privation of only having four or six or whatever options in terms of listening, as opposed to the iPod's array of options (like one of those old fashioned diners with over-large menus, page after page of flapping plastic, i can never decide what to order). And I prefer being obliged to stick with the album (or mix) as a unitary experience (if only because it's too much of pain in the arse to fast-forward). I must say also that (as much I'm grateful to friends or near-strangers who've sent me CD-Rs in recent years) for some reason I'm much more bonded to the mixtapes and whole-album cassettes from earlier; it's not so much that more effort went into their making, they just seem more attractive and solid for some reason. But perhaps this is just the romance of the outmoded, the bygone. Still, I might dig out and scan up some favourite customised tapes of yore, like this one I posted recently that was decorated by my art student friend Amanda.