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French firm opens factory making first cassettes since 1990s after artists like Taylor Swift go retro

A French company has opened up a new factory making cassettes after a surge in demand for the retro music form from artists including Ariane Grande and Justin Bieber.

French firm opens factory making first cassettes since 1990s after artists like Taylor Swift go retro
Mulann has opened a factory near Mont St Michel making cassettes. Photo: AFP

Familiar to anyone who grew up in the 1980s and 90s, the cassette tape is enjoying a comeback with many big name artists releasing albums on tape. 

Taylor Swift's album Reputation, Jay-Z's 4:44, Lana Del Ray's Lust For Life and Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks have all been offered on cassette as well as in download and CD format, and are selling well at retailers like Urban Outfitters, which also offers cassette players and recorders with USB adaptability.

And French company Mulann – based near Mont St Michel – has seized the opportunity and rebooted production, the country's first manufacturing of music-grade tape in two decades.

 

(Taylor Swift is one of several high profile artists releasing her music on cassette. Photo: AFP)

 

Already selling magnetic tape for metro tickets or military recording studios, the Mulann group acquired a plant in November to produce analog audio tapes under the trademark Recording The Masters.

For Jean-Luc Renou, Mulann's CEO, there's still a place for analog sound in today's ephemeral music world.

“Take the example of heating: you have radiators at home. It's comfortable, it's digital – but next to you, you can make a good fire.”

“Pleasure” is the goal, he said: “That's the cassette or vinyl.”

The company sells tapes for €3.49 each, producing them by the thousands each month and exporting 95 percent worldwide, according to commercial director Theo Gardin, who at just 27 is too young to have experienced in his youth the joys — and pains — of the Walkman personal tape player, or the delicate strip of tape that  tangles up and must be rewound with, say, a pen. Or a finger.

Joining Mulann in the cassette business is the National Audio Company in Springfield, Missouri, USA, which has also begun manufacturing cassette tape again.

“It's a good place to be — there's plenty of business for both of us,” said Steve Stepp, who founded the National Audio Company in Springfield, Missouri with his father 50 years ago.

“I think it's got a bright future,” Stepp told AFP of the cassette market. 

“It died in 2000, as far as conventional wisdom was concerned, and it has made a strong comeback since.

“Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.”

Cassette tape album sales in the US grew by 23 percent in 2018, according to tracker Nielsen Music, jumping from 178,000 copies the year prior to 219,000.

It's nothing compared to 1994 sales of 246 million cassette albums, but significant considering the format was all but dead by the mid 2000s.

“As an old fogey I don't want to imagine a world with no analog,” Stepp said.

“The world around is analog; our ears are analog.

“Digital recordings are very clean and sharp but there are no harmonics. These are digital pictures of audio recordings, if you will.”

 

 

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INDUSTRY & TRADE

After promising to create 1,000 jobs in France… GE set to cut 1,044

US industrial conglomerate General Electric said on Tuesday that it would cut more than 1,000 jobs, mainly at its gas turbine operations in eastern France, part of a wave of European layoffs as it tries to stem losses in its power generation business.

After promising to create 1,000 jobs in France... GE set to cut 1,044
Photo: AFP
The 1,044 job cuts, long feared by unions, could become a political challenge for President Emmanuel Macron, who assured local officials this month that the government was following the matter with “the utmost vigilance”.
   
The cuts will be made mainly in Belfort, eastern France, the European headquarters for GE Energy, and in the Paris region, the company said in a statement.
   
“More than half the number of employees in the gas activities… are going to lose their jobs,” the mayor of Belfort, Damien Meslot, and other local officials said in a statement.
   
They warned of “a new hardship” for the region, which has been hit hard by the decline of mining and heavy industry over the past decades.
 
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US giant GE to pay France €50 million after creating just 25 jobs out of 1,000Photo: AFP

Overall, GE employs nearly 4,000 people in Belfort, including 1,900 in its gas turbine operations.   

The company has struggled for years with slumping demand for its gas turbines because of low oil and gas prices, and the power operations were a key factor in its massive annual loss of $22.8 billion last year.
   
In 2015 GE announced 6,500 job cuts across Europe, and two years later it revealed a further 12,000 cuts.
 
That prompted France to fine the company €50 million earlier this year, since GE had promised to create at least 1,000 new jobs when it announced the purchase of the power businesses from France's Alstom in 2014.
 
Shortly after closing that deal, GE unveiled a series of job cuts across Europe as slumping oil and gas prices crimped demand for its heavy-duty turbines and other equipment.
 
The company had already warned last year that it wouldn't meet the target, though the new CEO Larry Culp confirmed in October that GE would “fulfil its commitments.”
 
It had promised to pay €50,000 for every job not created over the three-year period.
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