The slow food movement came as a response to the emptiness of fast food. Intended to be eaten quickly for no other reason than to fill your stomach, fast food is a blurry, black-and-white facsimile of the full colour of a real meal.
So what is Spotify but the fast food of music? Songs taken out of the context of their albums to be enjoyed in bite size portions, playlists of background music that are just there to fill the silence.
Cassettes are the slow food of the music industry. Where slow food nourishes the body, slow music nourishes the soul. Yes yes I know, vinyl, and other analog forms of music do fit into the slow food category, but I have far more experience with cassettes.
My cassette addiction began in 2011, when I got my first car. It came with a tape deck and a collection of 9 cassettes, a variety of good and questionable 80s albums, each proudly branded ‘HOLLIS’ in sharpie, to stop some fucker nicking them at parties. Prior to this, my only experience with tapes was Dick Whittington, A BowWow Readalong. Hollis’ collection was a fun curio, but when my parents got a turntable and pulled out their old vinyl, I got a glimpse of the spiritual nourishment they could bring. I watched my father carefully place ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres on the turntable, gently brushing the dust off and placing the needle down with surgical precision, his eyes closing as the sound of dust crackled in the speakers and the opening riffs of La Grange came through. That’s when my cassette addiction started.
As grateful as I am to Hollis for bequeathing me their collection, I wasn’t particularly keen on listening to the Village People, so I joined my parents on a trip to Real Groovy Records, and while they flipped through vinyl, I was scouring the secondhand tape bin for the inaugural members of MY collection. I filled the remaining 6 spots of Hollis’ tape organiser with ELO, Billy Idol, Sex Pistols, No Doubt, Nirvana, and Glenn Miller. My eclectic collection has since grown to over 90 cassettes, and I always make a point to drop by the music section of every secondhand store I visit.
For a long time, I enjoyed tapes for their novelty – a fun excuse to build a collection and a silly tape-choosing ritual for each car trip. But it was in December last year that I came to truly appreciate my cassettes as musical slow food. I had quit my job to freelance, and found myself in the car much more often.
One hot summer afternoon, I left the gym after a particularly tough workout, and fell into a foul mood as I sat in traffic, surrounded by exhaust fumes and abrasive Remuera locals cursing at other cars for having the audacity to be in their way. But I had left Madman Across the Water in my tape deck and as I neared the end of the drive, I heard the opening piano bars of Tiny Dancer faintly over my speakers. I put the windows down, turned the volume up high, and belted it out as I cruised along the road. I felt the wind on my face as I drummed along on the steering wheel, and just like that scene in Almost Famous, my mood turned around in the space of a chorus.
But slow music is about more than just serendipitous moments. Anyone who has played tapes knows that listening to albums in full is as much a conscious choice as it is a lack of choice, doubly so when you have to concentrate on driving. But it has led me to discovering several hidden gems. Spotify always seems to play the Live at Budokan version of Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me, which ends with “This next one is the first song from our new album, it just came out this week, and the song is called Surrender,” but Spotify never plays Surrender. It wasn’t until I picked up the Live at Budokan cassette tape that I finally heard the song – and it’s actually pretty good!
This is not always the case. Come on Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners is probably the greatest song of all time (despite my father’s protests), however there’s a reason for their one-hit wonder reputation.
My most profound discovery is the universe’s insistence that I never listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on tape. Hollis’ copy was clearly stolen, teasingly leaving me with only the tape case. I finally found another copy of this collector’s item. Following my parents’ lead, I carefully removed the tape from its case, checked it was fully rewound, flipped it over to Side Two, clicked it into my tape deck, and prepared for the sweet sweet sound of The Chain. Imagine my confusion-turned-abject-horror when instead of that opening guitar riff, I was greeted with the synth-heavy For the Girls by Jody Watley. “Is this what Fleetwood Mac sounds like…?” No. Prior to my acquisition of this tape, some utter philistine had recorded over it with Jody Watley’s forgettable first album.
Rumours. Replaced with Jody Watley. I’m not bitter. Not at all. It’s not like it’s their best album or anything. Super easy to find on cassette. It’s fine. I’m already over it…
Playing cassette tapes has given me a much greater appreciation not just for the music my parents played so much in my childhood, but for the act of slowing down. Listening to an album in full, cooking a meal from scratch, even watching a movie without looking at my phone.
Next time you open Spotify to put on some fast food music, slow down, play a full album with your headphones on, and take a moment to enjoy a real meal.
Meanwhile, thunder only happens when it’s rainin’, and Rumours tapes are only discovered while searching through second-hand stores.