Cassette Culture is described approximately as the time period from 1980-2000. There is some argument about this as many people had converted to CD by 1995 and the scene that had once flourished started to fade. The beginning date for this scene is also in question too. In Europe and Britain they generally list the “start” date for the Cassette Movement as about 1980 and namecheck Throbbing Gristle and other so called industrial bands as founding members of this period.
In America things were a bit different, at least for me and many of the other home tapers I made contact with early on. In 1984 I bought a copy of OP magazine in a store in Seattle when I was there visiting. Option and Sound Choice magazines came about not long after and seeing the cassette reviews and offers of “will trade” was very exciting and inspirational to me.
So, for me, Cassette Culture (we did not call it that at the time) did not begin until about 1984. Of course I had already been doing home recording for many years but had never packaged these songs into albums appropriate for trading to others. I quickly put together my songs into albums, made covers and started to write to the addresses in the mags.
And because I had an existing radio show it soon became a vehicle for presenting these newly traded home tapes. I was very happy not only to acquire all this neat new music in many styles but to create, develop and maintain friendships and associations with many people worldwide.
This was part of the revolution of this period. No agents, managers, or music business bullshit but actual one to one human interaction. I dedicated myself and my radio show to this scene and have done so ever since.
In future pieces I will describe and outline how this has all evolved because to me this is not just about the period outlined above. To me, the community never died. It certainly contracted and changed but I have tended my relationships for the most part, continued home recording myself and sharing my music with others, and offering an outlet for underground musicians to get their music out to more ears on the radio and internet. Many, many others dropped out of sight, some stopped making music and almost everyone discontinued sending out as many packages in the post. So, I heard that the scene “died”. Perhaps for some but not for me.
Others faded away (and some returned later) because it was a lot of work to be part of this. Making the music is taxing enough but to package it, mail it out, write letters, maintain relationships…well, it’s not easy and it costs money too.
So, for almost 35 years I have stayed at it, daily. Things are easier in a lot of ways now and that will part of the next chapter. There was never any grieving for me of a scene gone by because it never left my consciousness or life.
Sure, I have worked enormously hard and for a long time but I have done it out of love for the unique perspective it has given me and the relationships I have made.
Much like the punk and mail art scenes (out of which some say it arose), Cassette Culture never had a leader or a centralized manifesto. Certainly there were various accepted “rules” (like don't screw people over if they bought your tape or wanted a trade), have a little patience (because the mail moved slowly then), have respect and act as politely as possible…but there was never supposed to be any “stars”…there was no “making it”…there was no “hierarchy”…anyone could enter at any level and trade tapes with as many people as they wanted. I always liked that.
Some people were voracious traders, some didn't trade at all. Some people wrote long personal letters and others sent cryptic and confusing communiques. Sometimes people would take the next step and contact each other by phone, and then maybe in person. It is interesting to me that I have had relationships with many people I call friends and with some I have never met them or even talked to them on the phone.
There are as many stories as there are participants in this culture. On my Living Archive site my goal was to get as many of those stories out as possible and expose people to as many unusual individuals doing their music at home and sending it out without regard to the music biz.
I started The Living Archive in 2009 and spent several years hard at it daily. Then, I incorporated other things into my life (like helping to manage a community radio station and other things) and updating The Living Archive became difficult. I don’t do it much at this point. Occasionally I make new entries and articles but not much. Of course I still do my radio shows (I am on 4 separate stations currently plus podcasts and still record my own music) .
However, there is a lot of timeless material there. Check the link in the sidebar. And it was always meant to be interactive.
Cassette Culture still lives with me and that’s why I called my site, “The Living Archive Of Underground Music”. It is part of the continuum that began a long time ago now. There are still many stories to tell and history to be made.
…Don Campau, 4-16-18
My name is Don Campau and I have been involved in underground and non mainstream music and radio since 1969. I continue to be an active home taper and Cassette Culture archivist with my own site, The Living Archive.