All photos courtesy Frankie Sebastien Filleti

Appreciating the Amazingly Tacky Aesthetics of 80s East Asian Pop Cassettes

Rediscovering the pastel-hued albums of yesterday.

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Jul 13 2018, 9:00am

All photos courtesy Frankie Sebastien Filleti

There's something undeniably appealing about the mass-market aesthetics of 80s pop culture. I don't know if its the warm, soft-focus photos, the huge hair, or the mall "glamour shots" poses, but there's something about the way things looked back in the 80s and early 90s that touches a deep vein of nostalgia for most 90s kids. And out here in Indonesia, few things capture this idea better than the cassette tapes that used to sit on our parents' shelves.

These old tapes have a shared sense of design, regardless of where they were released. It didn't matter if the tapes come from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, or Indonesia, the aesthetics remained the same. There was a heavy emphasis on gauzy photos of female singers and some kind of bold, chunky font of their names. The style was so uniform that you end up with different artists doing nearly the same exact pose over and over again.

"I really don’t have a name for it (the design style)," said Frankie Sebastien Filleti, the moderator of a Facebook page devoted to these vintage tapes. "I think it’s a very simple concept. A lot of these tapes have a huge focus on the vocals of the singer, so I suppose that’s one reason why so many covers have the image of the artist. Many different artists sing the same or similar songs, so having the image of the singer is very important. Musically, the tapes are pretty similar."

Filleti fell into his obsession with collecting these vintage cassette tapes like a lot of other fans of City Pop and classic Cantopop did, through internet genres like vaporwave and YouTube playlists. YouTube is full of vaporwave mixes, which often link-up with future funk ones, and then, if you go far enough down the rabbit hole you end up listening to "Plastic Love," by Mariya Takeuchi at least once on every City Pop playlist out there.

But back in the real world, Filleti had to rely on his feelings about an album's artwork to decide whether it was worth a purchase or not. But it was this mystery, the sense that you're buying something that you need to later spend time with to discover, that attracted him to collecting cassettes in the first place.

“Collecting old tapes is like going on a date,” Filleti said. “You feel attraction to the artist aesthetically though the album cover, then get to know them better through the music.”

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