We think we can all agree that millennials know what a walkman is — even Gen Zers are aware of it. But just in case this is really the first time you’re hearing of it, you’re about to discover the device that plays a music format that has been silently rising in popularity (again) in the music scene. So, best you put it on your Christmas wishlist now.
The music format we’re talking about is the cassette tape — plastic rectangles that encase audio-magnetic film tapes you occasionally have to rewind with a pen or pencil. You probably owned albums of your favorite music artists in this format back in grade school, or maybe you’re still trying to make sense of what we’re talking about. The point is, cassette tapes have been making a steady comeback that not even the music industry saw coming.
Before we talk more about why you should get a walkman, let’s rewind back (pun totally intended) to late October this year when a worldwide event that commemorates cassettes, called Cassette Store Day, held its second annual gathering in Limbo, Makati.
Cassette Store Day is a yearly event that celebrates the cassette culture (usually underground) in countries like the UK, the US, and Japan. The event, which began in the UK in 2013, was first brought to the Philippines in 2018 by organizer Kurvine Chua, where he started it as a do-it-yourself event. This year, the event was held at Limbo, an old refurbished bar in Makati that gave off underground vibes.
“I remember, I had just my speaker from my house and then I carried it. It was just a stereo Hi-Fi speaker, and now we’ve upgraded from that for a full set so, it’s like a miracle,” Chua told Canto.
“And now we have an even bigger line-up. Last year, it was [less than] eight, and now it’s 15,” Chua added, describing how the event has matured since its first gathering.
“What’s more [is] people [attending are] not just from within the immediate area of the Philippines, but from beyond like Cebu, Naga, and Lucena, so it’s amazing.“
Cassettes were practically deemed obsolete after we entered the 2000’s, but Chua says the music format never really “died.” According to Chua, cassettes have “always existed in underground communities,” including the noise and punk scenes.
In addition, while most people’s growing appreciation for cassette tapes and other retro music formats like vinyl is due to nostalgic value, Chua believes that cassette culture is more than that. And when asked what his message is to those only finding out about the existing cassette culture in the Philippines, Chua says to look beyond the past.
“What would be something that people could open themselves up to is that cassette culture is not just for nostalgia, it’s the “now,” it’s the future. There’s a lot of things happening today.”
“I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the past, because there’s a lot of good music [back then]. But then people have to understand that cassette culture today is not about mainstream releases anymore, it’s more the underground.”
Chua further explained that cassette culture is about discovery “where music fans can form a community, get together, and share what they love.”
Meanwhile, cassette sales in other parts of the world are steadily skyrocketing due to artists like Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, and more, who are releasing their music in the once-thought-to-be outdated music format. Due to the sudden high demand, a recent shortage in Gamma Ferric Oxide, a material used in making the magnetic strips in cassettes, is hindering manufacturers from producing more cassette tapes.
So, whether it’s for nostalgia or not, we think it’s safe to say that cassette tapes are now “cool” again. That’s why including a walkman on your Christmas wishlist just might be a smart choice.
Further, since Cassette Store Day is now in the Philippines and something we can look forward to every year, you’d never run out of cassette tapes to listen to or explore.
When we asked Chua about what he hopes to happen in the future for Cassette Store Day Philippines, he said that he hopes to make it even bigger and not just have the event run for one day.
“In the future, what I hope to do with Cassette Store Day, is to do what people in the UK and the US do, [where] they have kind of like pocket stages, like different people organize their own Cassette Store Days in their country.”
“That’s something that I want to do hopefully in the future in the Philippines — [and] not just make it one Cassette Store Day Philippines event, but several Cassette Store Day Philippines events.”
Chua says this is so they can also showcase other genres, as well as the DIY people who all deserved to be heard.
“I’m just trying my best with what little capacity I have to at least create a spark. But then I hope this blazes a trail for the future.”
Chua says that Cassette Store Day will be back again next year, although he didn’t say when yet. Until then, Chua recommends newbies to explore four tape labels.
“We have this thing called cassette labels. They’re independent labels that focus on putting out cassette tapes. So, one of my favorites is [the shirt I’m wearing] Z Tapes, they’re based in Slovakia run by my friend Filip. [And] mostly bedroom pop, dream pop, shoegaze, indie — rock stuff.”
“But then there’s also other stuff like Doom Trip Records from the US, releasing eclectic electronic music. We also have local stuff like, Still Ill. They’re doing amazing stuff putting out [their] own stuff on cassettes. And then [over there is my friend] Struggle Records based in Naga, [a] DIY label putting out a lot of cassettes, which is also amazing.”
Kurvine Chua works with United Cassettes to bring in cassette releases from the Philippines, as well as from around the world. He also has a DIY label called the Genjitsu Stargazing Society, where he releases music from different artists, in hopes of spreading cassette culture more around the country. You may follow him on Facebook and Instagram.