(AFP) – Tucked away on the top floor of a covered market in Manchester is the last store dedicated to the sale of audio cassettes in the United Kingdom, a paradise for those nostalgic for the small rectangle and its magnetic tape.
The Mars Tapes store offers a thousand cassettes, vintage Walkmans, boom boxes and other accessories related to audio cassettes in a very small retail space.
Hits from stars past and present, like Elvis Presley, Florence and the Machine and Lewis Capaldi fill its shelves, while in the background, the music takes customers back to the past.
This one-of-a-kind boutique was created in 2019 by a small group of music enthusiasts.
Borja Regueira, a 28-year-old Spanish sound engineer, and his girlfriend Moira Lorenzo, 27, had initially offered to set up a store selling only cassettes.
Italian Giorgio Carbone, 30, and journalist and musician Alex Tadros, 28, rallied around the idea and merged the store with their label, Sour Grapes, which produces local artists.
– Nostalgia –
The store is surfing on a resurgence of interest in consumer items that smack of the past during the coronavirus pandemic.
The long confinements were conducive to a return to reading, cinema classics or even old cult television series, so many heartwarming ways to overcome boredom.
In the United Kingdom, vinyl sales, which historically predated cassettes, reached a peak last year not seen since the 1990s.
Stars like Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa and Selena Gomez have recently released tapes, and total UK cassette sales reached around 157,000 in 2020 – the highest figure since 2003.
The cassettes were designed in the early 1960s by the Dutch Lou Ottens (died last March), then an engineer at Philips and then mass-produced all over the world.
But the explosion of CD sales in the 1980s and 1990s sounded the death knell for this heyday, much to the regret of their fans.
Mark Williams, a 38-year-old client, explains that it is “nostalgia more than anything” that brings him. “I am a child of the 80s and 90s, I grew up with cassettes,” he says. He likes the “tangible” side of the cassettes: “It’s something you have physically, not just downloaded data,” he told AFP.
– Process initiated –
But the rise in the consumption of cassettes is not limited to a generation of thirties or forties eager to plunge back into their adolescence.
Younger people like to savor the music rather than jumping from song to song online.
“It’s something that we have forgotten, to appreciate what we have and to listen to something more than once,” says Giorgio.
Jane Fielding, a 22-year-old caregiver, occasionally listens to tapes on her walkman, saying she appreciates the “simplicity” of this practice: “there are no distractions, no notifications on my phone”.
Most cassettes, cheaper and easier to produce than vinyl, cost no more than 10 pounds (12 euros), with prices reaching 50 pounds for some limited editions.
Mars Tapes gets its supplies from websites like eBay, record companies like Universal, or takes advantage of individual donations, while the record company supports local independent groups.
For Giorgio, cassettes are “the most affordable way to make albums and help groups”.
For customers, buying a cassette is a committed act: helping independent artists earn a living rather than enriching the streaming giants who account for 80% of UK music consumption in 2020.
Faced with these services like Spotify or Apple Music, cassettes will remain a “niche” market, recognizes Giorgio Carbone, but he believes that demand will remain stable. “The sound of cassettes is just different,” he says.
John Yates, a 45-year-old store manager who explores his shop, agrees: “It sounds better on tapes, very different from the radio.”