How do you tell someone you like them in a post-tape world? Make a Spotify playlist? Burn them a CD? Engrave "I <3 U" onto an iPod shuffle? Pah. It's not the same as painstakingly pressing play then pause, then play then pause until you've got 90 minutes of cracking audio, along with album cover art, tracklisting, themes, complementary sides, hidden tracks...
My friend Nevs made a mean mixtape. We were about 14 when he started giving me regular installments, each inlay card inscribed impeccably with the song's details. I'd run over to where he lived in summer evenings and wait for him to drop the latest edition ("LJ 8") out of his window and into my hands. Or we'd meet up for a fag, some sweets and a tape.
DJ Shadow, Ugly Duckling, Portishead, Handsome Boy Modelling School... he educated me in hip-hop, trip-hop and ambient music outside my Kula Shaker-coloured curriculum. Soon after, the classics (Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Stevie Wonder) entered my life through a package sent by a boyfriend to where I was staying on holiday abroad. Mortified in front of my parents, I sprinted to my room to rip off the envelope and see the cover and track-listing in private, stuck it on and fell completely in love with the artists (and the sender, vicariously). In a click-happy world of immediate pleasure and discovery, there's no opportunity to feel that heady anticipation today. (We never saw each other again, BTW).
Tapes weren't perfect, nor were they bulletproof. You left them in the sun at your peril and sometimes they just... popped. But, jeez, they were romantic. And easy! Taping the Top 40 on a Sunday night to listen to for the rest of the week, recording a demo with a new band at the flick of a finger, knocking together a really cool present... Apart from the piracy thing, tapes rocked hard.
In the last few years, bands have started putting music out on cassettes again. When I was in Montreal a couple of months ago they were all over the place, perhaps inspired by Dirty Projectors' 'Bitte Orca' on limited-edition cassette in 2009 - and I've seen more boomboxes in London this year than ever. Still, the golden days of tapes, when DJ Screw "chopped and screwed", creating a whole new subgenre of hip-hop with the technology available, and Jay-Z sold tapes out of the boot of his car with Damon Dash, are over.
In fact, it's been a full 50 years since Philips made the first audio cassette. We asked NME readers to send in pictures of their favourite old tapes using the hashtag #igrewupontapes. Thanks to @thedruid65, @thephantomlight, @kaakaapo, @larrymac808 and @punkylilac for sending in the images we selected; there are more below in the Storify. Tell me what you miss about tapes in the comments below.
Watch the latest slick video from Ithaca Audio below. It's a 16-track mashup performed live on a 23-year-old reel-to-reel tape machine.