Retro Tech Revival


The sales of vinyl records, cassette tapes, and classic video game consoles have surged in the past several years. Is it because of technophobia, nostalgic longing, hipster aesthetics, or all of the above?

Walk into a modern music store, and you’ll likely find yourself standing amidst a culture clash between old and new; they vie for your attention, as well as your dollar. When I stepped inside a Sunrise Records mall outlet, racks of vinyl records greeted me at the storefront. Here, you can purchase a gramophone to play your vinyl records, or even a Walkman to play old cassette tapes. As I made my way further in the shop, I saw the latest Funko Pops and Blu-Ray releases. This is where classic ‘feel’ of the store dissipated, but how else can a retail chain like Sunrise Records keep up with the digital age without being forced to marry old school and new school? If record shops still want to survive to this day, it doesn't make sense for them to shed the oldies. It’s how they differentiate from digital music services.

Old school media is a growing presence in store catalogues. In recent years, the pop culture of yesteryear has been intermingling with contemporary media moreso than ever. Guardians of the Galaxy, Stranger Things, and Ready Player One have romanticized plenty of ‘80s hit songs and classic games, even for millennial and Gen Z audiences. Nostalgia marketing continues

to be the hottest strategy in pop culture production. It’s to the point where it’s not necessarily a nostalgic throwback anymore, but a cultivation of longevity in retro.

When I asked the cashier at Sunrise Records if the cassettes, specifically, were actually selling, he kindly informed me that yes, in fact, they are. And they’re selling more and more over time. According to a report by BuzzAngle, 118,200 cassette tape units were sold in the US in 2018, seeing to a 19% growth from the previous year.

In the gaming world, the cultural resurgence of classics is an even bigger phenomenon. You have Nintendo re-releasing the NES classic, Sony rolling out the classic PlayStation 1 console, and even an un-remastered game like Crash Bandicoot was resurrected in 2018 in all its pixelated glory. Retro arcades like Movieland, High Score, and Capital City are some of the popular hangouts for the gaming community in the Lower Mainland.

You’ll find true retro music-enthusiasts flock to independent stores to indulge. Neptoon Records is a record shop that has been in business since 1977; they managed to survive all these years without catering too much to modern digitally-inclined times.

Tim Clapp, a clerk for Neptoon Records, says he’s actually seen their clientele diversify over the years. “I’ve been working record shops for about ten years. I used to see a lot of old men, but now I see a lot more of younger people and women.”

If anything, the growing availability of old tech affords pop culture consumers a choice. Modern technology is ever-evolving, to the point where too much ‘newness’ can overwhelm. And engaging with old technology does not just tap into nostalgic longing for bygone times, but it could also serve as a refuge from the rapid-fire digital age.

We currently live in a world where digital reigns supreme, and there is tremendous pressure to conform, as well as connect with others. Old technology, on the other hand, affords a solitary experience. Clicking a download button on iTunes may be convenient, but it can feel too instantaneous, and hence, impersonal.
Record store browsing, on the other hand, is an experience that one can own; music lovers who lived in the pre-digital age could remember the thrill of running to a store to buy a newly-released album, then the contentment of reading through lyrics and credits in the album’s packaging as they listen for the first time. For gamers, instead of YouTube and online gaming, players flocked to a local arcade for a communal, interactive ritual.

Clapp says that Neptoon does not necessarily have the incentive to keep up with digital music trends. “We all still have Spotify and Apple Music,” he says. “But [Neptoon Records] is independent of that. It’s for people who just want to come in and listen to old records. They want to get their hands on something.”

With the resurgence of nostalgic technology, it at least gives old generations a chance to relive those times, as well as for newer generations to know what it was like. For all the moral outcry about young people’s depleting hands-on skills and their lack of affinity to face-to-face interaction, new generations are very much a part of the retro tech resistance. In an interview with Fortune, Vinyl Me, Please co-founder Matt Fielder cites newer generations’ willingness to “exchange the idea of convenience for an experience.”

That experience also includes old tech annoyances like playing games without the safety net of saving your progress, and the hair-raising ordeal of using a pencil to wind back magnetic cassette tape. Plenty now look back on these technological unpleasantries fondly, and for younger generations, these ordeals add to the engagement.

1 Porter, J. (2019, January 9). Vinyl and cassette sales saw double digit growth last year. Retrieved from
https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/6/18170624/vinyl-cassette-popularity-revival-2018-sales-growth-cd-decline

2 Entis, L. (2017, August 4). Millennials Are Blamed for a Lot of Things but They’re Reviving the Vinyl Record Industry. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2017/08/04/millennials-vinyl-industry/

 

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