A mounting desire to disconnect is driving a renaissance of non-digital mediums as consumers hunger for more authentic connections not mediated through a screen. In response, a growing faction of artists is reviving analog formats that had seemed consigned to the media dustbin.
Dec 05, 2019
Creators are turning back to analog formats to cut through the digital noise.
Musicians are turning back the hands of time with printed promotional material. Coldplay promoted their most recent album launch in November 2019 with a series of small ads placed in the classified section of a selection of newspapers. In the North Wales Daily Post, the advert for Everyday Life reportedly appeared alongside sales notices for hay bales and a fridge freezer. The band also took the opportunity to revive a much-loved tradition, sending seemingly personally typed postcards to selected fans via snail mail.
In June 2019, former Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke teased the launch of his album Anima Technologies with a series of mysterious ads placed on London Underground trains, in Italian phone booths and in the classified section of the Dallas Observer.
The ads also offered a telephone number which, when dialled, played the cryptic message “Anima Technologies has been ordered by the authorities to cease and desist from undertaking its advertised business.”
Coldplay also chose to release their latest album on cassette, which is itself seeing a nascent revival as a format. Cassette Store Day, an annual event dedicated to the format, originated in the United Kingdom in 2013 but is now thriving across the world in China, Indonesia, the United States and Canada among others.
In the United Kingdom, sales of cassette tapes are at their highest since 2004; according to a November 2019 Guardian article, the number of tapes bought that year were predicted to reach 100,000. In the United States, sales were up 23% in 2018, amounting to 219,000 tapes sold. Artists such as the 1975, Madonna, and Catfish and the Bottlemen are all driving this surge with their own cassette launches.
Teen singer Billie Eilish, who was not even born when cassettes were in their heyday, released her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? on a limited-edition lime green cassette, including a UV glow-in-the-dark version.
The latter perhaps nods to collectability and Instagrammability rather than any serious dedication to the format. But nostalgia plays a role in cassette sales as many music fans hark back to the distinctive sounds of their youth.
Gennaro Castaldo of the BPI British recorded music trade association attributes the shift to the “element of nostalgia.” He adds that the “Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise, which features the cassette as part of its storyline, has also helped to reawaken interest in the format over the past few years.”
In this digital age, analog formats offer novelty with a helping of nostalgia, and even anemoia—nostalgia for a time you have never known.