By Imran Marashli / AFP, MANCHESTER, England
Tucked away in a corner on the top floor of a covered market in Manchester, England is the UK’s last store dedicated to selling cassettes.
Mars Tapes bundles around 1,000 cassettes, a Coca-Cola radio, boom boxes, vintage editions of the Walkman cassette player, and other cassette-related accessories into a compact retail unit smaller than one of the streetcars. from the city.
Hits from stars like Elvis Presley, Florence and the Machine, and Lewis Capaldi line its shelves, while classic tracks provide a musical backdrop, taking customers back in time.
The store was established in 2019 by an eclectic group of people united by a love of music, said co-founder Giorgio Carbone.
Spanish sound engineer Borja Regueira, 28, and his girlfriend Moira Lorenzo, 27, initially proposed to set up a cassette-only store.
Italian Carbone, 30 and 28, journalist and musician Alex Tadros supported the idea and merged the store with the group’s label.
The store is part of a nostalgic trend of cultural consumption accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
People have turned to reading books and watching classic movies and TV series to avoid boredom and find escape during shutdowns.
Sales of vinyl – the predecessor of pocket-sized plastic cassettes in music distribution – reached their highest level since the 1990s in the UK last year.
Modern artists such as Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa and Selena Gomez have recently released cassettes, bringing UK cassette sales to around 157,000 last year – the highest figure since 2003.
Mass production of cassettes began in the 1960s, with 2.4 million cassette players produced and sold worldwide by 86 different manufacturers in 1968.
However, their heyday in the UK ended with the explosion of CD sales in the 1980s and 1990s, leaving some music fans to yearn for a bygone era.
Warehouse manager Mark Williams, 38, browsed the Mars Tapes collection with an analog camera hanging from his neck and said his interest stemmed from “nostalgia more than anything.”
“I am a child of the 80s and 90s, I grew up with cassettes. It’s tangible, something you own physically, not just downloaded data, ”he said.
However, the rise in cassette consumption is not confined to an older generation looking to relive their youth.
Younger listeners also increasingly prefer to savor music rather than mindlessly skipping online playlists and endlessly scrolling through social media.
“People like the idea of having something physical. Lately especially, with the coronavirus and the lockdown, it’s a way to enjoy music more, ”Carbone said. “There is a lot of work behind a tape. It’s something that we have lost over time, appreciating what we have and listening to something more than once and not just skipping it.
Care assistant Jane Fielding, 22, occasionally listens to tapes on her walkman.
“I like the simplicity – there are no distractions, no notifications on my phone,” she said.
Most tapes cost no more than 10 ($ 13.83), with prices reaching 50 for limited edition products.
Cassettes are cheaper and easier to produce than vinyl, and Mars Tapes is limiting its runs based on genre and group to keep costs down, Carbone said.
The store acquires inventory from websites such as eBay, individual donations, and record labels like Universal Music Group, while the record label of Carbone, Tadros and Regueira supports local independent groups by purchasing their tapes.
“In Italy, there is no such musical culture. It’s good to be here because there are a lot of people who are passionate about cassettes, ”said Carbone. “We thought cassettes were the most affordable way to make records and help bands.”
Socially conscious listeners also want independent artists to make a good living from their work instead of filling the coffers of streaming giants like Spotify and Apple Music.
Last year, streaming services accounted for 80% of UK music consumption, but came under criticism for musicians not changing.
“You own the music and support the artist, big and small,” Carbone added.
He said it seemed ‘crazy’ to occupy a larger unit after the UK’s winter 2021 lockdown and the economic damage it caused.
However, Manchester City Council grants and vacation rentals have helped Mars Tapes survive.
Carbone said he believed cassettes would remain a “niche” interest, but demand would remain stable.
“There is something about the sounds of the cassettes that is just different,” he said.
Potential customer John Yates, a 45-year-old store manager, agreed.
“It sounds better on cassettes, very different from listening on the radio – it’s another level,” he said.
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