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Cassette culture

Cassette Culture was a offshoot of the Mail Art movement of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a postal-based music distribution scheme where the artist would sell or trade music on compact audio cassettes via a loose network of other artists and/or traders.

In the UK Cassette Culture was championed by marginal musicians and performers such as Instant Automatons, Stripey Zebras, Renaldo and the Loaf, The APF Brigade, Cleaners From Venus and Chumbawamba, as well as small 'tape labels' such as Deleted Records, Fuck Off Records, New Crimes Tapes and so on, who would often eschew the traditional capitalistic means of making music available (i.e., selling their work for money), instead copying their music in exchange for "a blank tape plus self addressed envelope".

Anybody who had access to copying equipment could release a tape and publicise 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. Arguably, such freedom led to a large output of a poor quality and self indulgent nature being foisted upon an unsuspecting world in the name of 'artistic creativity'. Yet on the other hand, many people saw cassette culture music as imaginative, challenging, beautiful and ground breaking, standing up more than adequately beside much output released through more 'conventional' channels.

Cassette culture received something of a mainstream boost when acknowledged for a short while by the early 1980s UK 'rock media'. Both the New Musical Express (NME) and Sounds, the main weekly music papers at the time, launched their own 'cassette culture' columns. Indeed even major players such as ex-Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren flirted with cassette culture when he released Bow Wow Wow's first LP (Your Cassette Pet) in a tape only format on the EMI label.

Cassette Culture has declined with the appearance of new technologies such as the Internet, MP3 files, file sharing and CD burners, which have led to new methods of distribution.

See also DIY punk ethic, Punk rock, Anarcho-punk, Bullshit Detector