Cassette culture

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Cassette culture refers to the trading of home-made audio cassettes, usually of rock or alternative music. The culture was in part an offshoot of the mail art movement of the 1970s and 1980s. In the both the United States and United Kingdom, it emerged from the DIY ethic of punk. In the UK cassette culture was at its peak in what is known as the post-punk period, 1978–1984; in the US, activity extended through the late '80s and into the '90s. It was largely postal-based (though there were a few retail outlets, such as Rough Trade in the UK) with the artists selling or more likely exchanging music on compact audio cassettes via a loose network of other artists and fanzine readers.

Several factors made the "cassette" boom occur. Obviously the recording format of the cassette tape was important. More significant, however, 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. One could purchase a "four track" cassette recorder and get a reasonable sound at home. Therefore, due to inexpensive (or less expensive) recording and the ease of duplicating tape there was 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 new found freedom in format. 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 UK Cassette Culture was championed by marginal musicians and performers such as Storm Bugs, the insane picnic, Instant Automatons, Stripey Zebras, What is Oil?, The APF Brigade, Blyth Power, The Peace & Freedom Band, Academy 23, Sean Terrington Wright, Cleaners From Venus, Chumbawamba, 5ive Ximes of Dust and many of the purveyors of Industrial music, e.g. Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and Clock DVA . Artists self-releasing would often copy their music in exchange for "a blank tape plus self-addressed envelope". But there also existed many small 'tape labels' such as Snatch Tapes, Falling A Records, Datenverarbeitung (in Germany), Deleted Records, Face Like a Smacked Arse, Fuck Off Records, Man's Hate (which distributed the International Sound Communication compilation series), New Crimes Tapes, Rasquap Products, Sterile Records and Third Mind Records that operated in opposition to the capitalistic aim of maximizing profit. There was great diversity amongst such labels, some were entirely 'bedroom based', utilising new home tape copying technologies (see below) whilst others were more organised, functioning in a similar way to more established record labels. Some also did vinyl releases, or later developed into vinyl labels. Many compilation albums were released, presenting samples of work from various artists. It was not uncommon for artists who had a vinyl contract to release on cassette compilations, or to continue to do cassette-only album releases (of live recordings, work-in-progress material, etc.) after they had started releasing records.

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