“Redubbing the Underground: Cassette Culture in Transition” was presented as my undergraduate honors thesis for a degree in music from Wesleyan University in Spring 2010. A nearly yearlong project, this paper combined my personal experience in “underground” and experimental musics with my academic interest in the material culture of musical production. I saw a need within this field for some serious scholarship on cassette culture, and with the recent shift in focus to a digitally-centered music culture, I felt that now was a better time than any to examine it in today’s context. It comes as no surprise that more and more cultural producers are utilizing “outdated” technologies like the cassette to engage an increasingly disconnected audience and contribute to a more diverse material culture.
This thesis is structured in two parts:
“Side A” is an historical look at cassette culture in its period of initial maturation – the late 1970s and 1980s. Through a close reading of a number of primary period texts (Robin James’ compilation Cassette Mythos requires specific mention) and more recent academic writings on the subject, I attempted to make sense of some of the practical and ideological constants that defined the culture and its participants.
“Side B” is an ethnographic examination of the more recent incarnation of cassette producers and consumers who exist in a popular music culture dominated by non-physical media. Through a number of personal interactions and interviews with some of the culture’s most important tape label founders, I made an attempt to understand these individuals’ motivations and logics, and how they negotiate their relationship to modern technologies like the internet and the MP3.
It is a great pleasure to be featured in the Living Archive, and I thank Don Campau and Charles Goff III for reaching out to me. At 100 pages, the prospect of reading this entire paper, especially on your computer screen, might be unappealing. Even If you get a chance to skim through it or read a section or two, you have my great appreciation. I would love to hear feedback from readers, and would encourage you to email me at ianstaub_at_gmail_dot_com. If you’d prefer to read a hard-copy of the paper, send me an email and I’ll try my best to get you one. Thanks for reading and enjoy!