World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Cassette culture

Article Id: WHEBN0000064991
Reproduction Date:

Title: Cassette culture  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine, Eerie Materials, GX Jupitter-Larsen, No Cure, Ariel Pink
Collection: 20Th Century in Music, Diy Culture, Musical Subcultures
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Cassette culture

Cassettes of varying tape quality and playing time.

Cassette culture, or the cassette underground,[1] refers to the practices surrounding amateur production and distribution of recorded music that emerged in the late 1970s via home-made audio cassettes.[2] It is characterized by the adoption of home-recording by independent artists, and involvement in ad-hoc self-distribution and promotion networks - primarily conducted through mail (though there were a few retail outlets, such as Rough Trade and Falling A in the UK) and fanzines.[3] The culture was in part an offshoot of the mail art movement of the 1970s and 1980s,[4] and participants engaged in tape trading in addition to traditional sales. The culture is related to the DIY ethic of punk, and encouraged musical eclecticism and diversity.[5]


  • Initiating factors 1
  • United Kingdom 2
  • United States 3
  • Creative packaging 4
  • 21st century 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8

Initiating factors

Several factors led to the rise of cassette culture. The development of the cassette tape recording format was important - the improvement of tape formulations and availability of sophisticated cassette decks in the late 1970s allowed participants produce high-quality copies of their music inexpensively.[6] Also significant was the fact that bands did not need to go into expensive recording studios any longer. Multi-track recording equipment was becoming affordable, portable and of fairly high quality during the early 1980s. 4-track cassette recorders developed by Tascam and Fostex allowed artists to record and get a reasonable sound at home.[7] As well, electronic instruments, such as drum machines and synthesizers, became more compact and inexpensive.[8] Therefore, it became increasingly feasible to construct home-recording studios, giving rise to an increase of recording artists. Add to this the fact that college radio was coming into its own. For many years there were non-commercial college radio stations but now they had a newfound freedom in format - giving rise to regular cassette-only radio shows that showcased and promoted the work of home recording artists.[9] With the influx of new music from sources other than the major record companies—and the quasi-major medium of college radio to lend support—the audio boom was on.

United Kingdom

In the

  • Thomas Bey William Bailey, Unofficial Release: Self-Released And Handmade Audio In Post-Industrial Society, Belsona Books Ltd., 2012
  • James, Robin, 1992. Introduction. In Robin James (Ed.) Cassette mythos. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia.
  • Jones, Steve, 1992. The Cassette Underground. In Robin James (Ed.) Cassette mythos. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia.
  • McGee 1992. Cause and Effect. In Robin James (Ed.) Cassette mythos. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia.
  • Minoy 1992. Mail Art and Mail Music. In Robin James (Ed.) Cassette mythos. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia.
  • Palmer, Robert, Pop Life: Electric Guitars, New York Times, September 25, 1985.
  • Pareles, Jon, Record-it-yourself Music On Cassette, New York Times, May 11, 1987.
  • Produce, A., A short History of the Cassette. In Robin James (Ed.) Cassette mythos. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia.
  • Staub, Ian Matthew, Redubbing the Underground: Cassette Culture in Transition (2010). Honors Theses - All. Paper 418.
  • Marvin @ Freealbums Various Artists - Tellus 1 & 2
  • Goldsmith, Kenneth, Poetry Foundation Podcast: The Tellus cassettes
  • Walls of Genius 1998. In Richie Unterberger's "Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll: Pyschedelic Unknowns, Mad Geniuses, Punk Pioneers, Lo-Fi Mavericks & More". Backbeat Books, San Francisco, also in Robin James (Ed.) Cassette Mythos. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia
  • Weidenbaum, Marc, Classic Tellus Noise


  1. ^ Jones 1992, p.6
  2. ^ Staub 2010, p.4
  3. ^ McGee 1992, p.vii-viii
  4. ^ Minoy 1992, p.61-62
  5. ^ James 1992, p.ix-x.
  6. ^ Produce 1992, p.4-5.
  7. ^ Jones, 1992, p.9.
  8. ^ Jones, 1992, p.9.
  9. ^ Pareles, 1987
  10. ^ NME 11 September 1982
  11. ^
  12. ^ NME 11 September 1982
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Internet Archive: Grateful Dead". Retrieved 2011-07-16. 
  15. ^ Epstein, Jonathon S. (1998). Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World, Blackwell Publishing. p 127. ISBN 1-55786-851-4
  16. ^ 101 Cassette Labels by CECI MOSS


See also

Though in the mid-'90s cassette culture seemed to decline with the appearance of new technologies and methods of distribution such as the Internet, MP3 files, file sharing, and CD-Rs, in recent years it has once again seen a revival, with the rise of tape labels such as Burger Records and Gnar Tapes.[16] An exhibition was held at Printed Matter in New York City devoted to current American cassette culture entitled "Leaderless: Underground Cassette Culture Now" (May 12–26, 2007).

21st century

The packaging of cassette releases, whilst sometimes amateurish, was also an aspect of the format in which a high degree of creativity and originality could be found. For the most part packaging relied on traditional plastic shells with a photocopied "J-card" insert, but some labels made more of an effort. The Chocolate Monk-released album "Anusol" by the A Band, for instance, came packaged with a "suppository" unique to each copy - one of which was a used condom wrapped in tissue. BWCD released a cassette by Japanese noise artist Aube that came tied to a blue plastic ashtray shaped like a fish. EEtapes of Belgium release of This Window's (UK) "Extraction 2" was packaged with an X-ray of a broken limb in 1995. The Barry Douglas Lamb album "Ludi Funebres" had the cassette box buried in some earth contained in a larger outer tin and covered in leaves. Walls Of Genius went to great lengths, spray-painting abstract art cassette labels, affixing hand-made "authentic" labels, painting cassette boxes (the "white" cassette, 1984), creating one-of-a-kind pinup covers ("The Mysterious Case of Pussy Lust", 1985) and issuing Certificates of Genius to anybody who purchased a title.

Creative packaging

The Grateful Dead allowed their fans to record their shows. For many years the tapers set up their microphones wherever they could. The eventual forest of microphones became a problem for the official sound crew. Eventually this was solved by having a dedicated taping section located behind the soundboard, which required a special "tapers" ticket. The band allowed sharing of tapes of their shows, as long as no profits were made on the sale of their show tapes.[14] Sometimes the sound crew would allow the tapers to connect directly to the soundboard, which created exceptional concert recordings. Taping and trading became a Grateful Dead sub-culture.[15]

A notable pioneer of cassette culture and 'outsider' music in the United States is R. Stevie Moore, who, through the 'R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club', has been releasing DIY, home-recorded music steadily since the 1970s. Moore lives in Nashville and continues to make many releases in the cassette-only format.

In the United States, Cassette Culture was associated with DIY sound collage, riot grrrl, and punk music and blossomed across the country on cassette labels like Ladd-Frith, Psyclones, Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine, Swinging Axe, Pass the Buck, E.F. Tapes, Mindkill, Happiest Tapes on Earth, Apraxia Music Research, and Sound of Pig (which released over 300 titles), Portland's label From the Wheelchair to the Pulpit, Walls of Genius (which released over 30 titles, including their own, Architects Office and The Miracle)[13] and in Olympia, Washington on labels like K Records and brown interiour music. Artists such as PBK, Big City Orchestra, Alien Planetscapes, Don Campau, Walls Of Genius, Ken Clinger, Dino DiMuro, Tom Furgas, The Haters, Zan Hoffman, If, Bwana, Hal McGee, Minóy, Dave Prescott, Dan Fioretti, dk, Jim Shelley, Suburban Campers, The Silly Pillows, and hundreds of others recorded numerous albums available only on cassette throughout the late '80s and well into the '90s.

In the US, cassette culture activity extended through the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Although larger operators made use of commercial copying services, anybody who had access to copying equipment (such as the portable tape to tape cassette players that first became common around the early 1980s) could release a tape, and publicize it in the network of fanzines and newsletters that existed around this scene. Therefore cassette culture was an ideal and very democratic method for making available music that was never likely to have mainstream appeal. Many found in cassette-culture music that was more imaginative, challenging, beautiful, and groundbreaking than output released on vinyl.

United States

The October 2011 edition of Record Collector magazine published an article about the significance of cassette culture in the UK and listing 21 rare but sought after cassette releases.

Cassette culture received something of a mainstream boost when acknowledged by the major music press. Both the New Musical Express (NME) and Sounds, the main weekly music papers of the time in the UK, launched their own 'cassette culture' features, in which new releases would be briefly reviewed and ordering information given. In the U.S. magazines such as Op Magazine, Factsheet Five and Unsound rose to fill the void.


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.