Cassette tapes enjoying a comeback, thanks to Tempe group
By Chase Kamp
While the music industry continues to suffer
from drooping annual sales figures, the
resurgence of the vinyl record format has
provided a beacon of hope.
MP3s are still king, but fans young and old are
buying LPs again for big album art, pristine audio
quality and old-fashioned nostalgia.
The lowly cassette tape would appear to have
none of these attributes.
They’re a bit dinky, don’t have the crystalline
sonic appeal of records and never really got their
due in the marketplace. Reaching their highest
prominence in the early ‘80s, cassettes were crushed
by the advent of compact discs and sent to the cutout
Yet they’re being dusted off by young fans once
again for their humble charm, and independent
record labels are issuing new music on the onceblighted
Tempe’s Rubber Brother Records, run by ASU
alum Robbie Pfeiffer and friend Gage Oleson, has
become a flagship for local bands. In just one year
of operation, they have arranged over 50 cassette
“Even if we’re putting out a band from
somewhere else, it’s part of that Phoenix sound,”
In addition to local acts, the label has released
music from Japanese band Boys Age and is slated to
release music byBaby Nelson and the Philistines from
Like most of the new cadre of cassette labels,
Rubber Brother is hardly striking out like Luddites:
the label’s entire catalogue is available for streaming
and downloading on the label’s Bandcamp.com page.
Yet there is clear disdain for the compact disc.
Professionally manufactured CDs often have a
cheap unit price only if ordered by the thousands, a
volume much too large for a local operation. While
do-it-yourself CD-Rs can be easily burned at home
and furnished with album art, they have a flimsy
throwaway quality compared to a sturdy tape inside a
carefully designed J-card.
Turnaround time is quick, too. In fact, Pfeiffer
was in the midst of prepping for that night’s
tape release show for Tempe synth-rock outfit
Wavelengths. The band had turned in the final mixes
of their album that morning. Rubber Brother would
be dubbing and labeling a cassette to be released to
the masses that very evening.
“It’s not the preferred method,” Pfeiffer laughs,
“but it’s often how it ends up happening.”
The price is also right: most young people never
leave home without a sleek smartphone or iPod
loaded with MP3s, but entry into cassette culture
runs a paltry couple of bucks. “You can get a topof-
the-line cassette deck at Goodwill any day of the
week,” Pfeiffer said.
Last year, Pfeiffer served a summer internship at
premier California garage-rock label Burger Records,
one of the most prominent and prolific cassetteonly
labels. He was inspired by Burger’s ability
to pull bands and artists under a banne r of funloving
community instead of high-priced collectible
“It was an identity, a sound, an attitude,” he
said. “I’d never seen that before.”
Will cassette tapes win a second chance in the
sun like the vinyl record? Though they wield an
overlooked power, Pfeiffer said the medium hardly
matters: fans really just want the music.
“It doesn’t have to be on tape or on a record on
in your iTunes account, it can be on anything,” he
— Chase Kamp is a graduate of Corona del Sol
High School and Arizona State University.