There was an age when the audio cassette was king and the only time the term MP3 may have been bandied about was in a tabloid-fueled parliamentary sex scandal. In those days the record industry was aghast that audio cassettes might ruin them.

Major label paranoia circa 1982

Major label paranoia circa 1982

However this same humble media allowed a vibrant alternative music culture, little known by those living in the everyday world, to thrive. The citizens of this underground community dubbed themselves ‘home-tapers’. People, whose talents ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, yet who shared a common vision of D.I.Y. nous and a fierce will to do things their own way.

In my early journeys as a musician in the 90’s I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this world. I became acquainted with a number of those who were part of the machinery that made this world-wide community live and breath. I would send them tapes and then a month or so later receive a tape in return, or a lovely letter saying how much they enjoyed hearing from people in  Australia who were creating and releasing their own music. Further they promised to play a track on their radio shows – shows dedicated to a world united not so much by musical style, but by a beautifully self-indulgent creed, “art for art’s sake”.

Even though it was essentially an anarchic movement (anyone could join so long as they had a song and a tape recorder) there were a number of people who endeavoured to take the music of these home-studio hombres to the rest of the world.

People like Don Campau in California, who had the aptly titled radio programme “No Pigeonholes” and whose new project, The Living Archive, is a personal history of the home taping movement as he, and others, witnessed it through the 70s, 80s and into the 90s. It’s a fascinating archive and treasure trove of artists who were, and many who still are, making music – not to be famous or lauded for their talents – but because they love doing it.

Then there is Charles Rice Goff III in Kansas of Taped Rug Productions. Charlie 3, as I like to call him, is a prodigious and prolific creator of songs, soundscapes, dada happenings, and retina burning animated gifs. He has been part of a number of very wild and crazy musical project from Turkey Makes Me Sleepy to his current incarnation, the River Cow Orchestra. My favourite story about a Charlie 3 track involves the all night electronic jam I coordinated on Melbourne community radio station 3CR, Dreaming Electric. I was playing one of his tunes about a South American serial killer who ate his victims (eerie organ chords and Charles’ ghoulish narration) when the station phone rang and the voice at the other end said, “Why are you appearing like a pig in my dreams”. After the initial shock wore off, I got all defensive and told him if he didn’t like the music he should change the station. He however had no idea what I was talking about as he thought he was calling his friend in Queensland, who he had just dreamed about. Late night voodoo at work across the airwaves and down the phone lines.

I released a compilation of CRG III’s music on my Yippie Bean label called Bean Dip Yo Yo which you can sample here.

Other honourable mentions in my list of home-taping all stars are Berlin’s Lord Litter, a fiercely independent artist and broadcaster. Moving across the channel and one cannot forget to mention Mick Magic and his United World Underground, a tape distro project that involved Mick’s hilarious newsletter Music and Elsewhere reviewing a copious and diverse number of artists from around the world. Finally I’d like to mention Tim and Terri B of Stone Premonitions who’s prog-and-beyond releases from projects like The Rabbits Hat and Mr Quimby’s Beard I enjoyed immensely and who I, sadly, haven’t been in contact with for close to a decade.

That’s the thing with this scene though. Like true old friends, you can bet they’ll welcome you back with open arms, like you saw them just yesterday, when you were talking about the idealism of music as a form of self-expression and personal sanity. Art as the food of the soul – something that doesn’t make you materially rich, but rather, makes you more human.

I intend to write more on home taping, particularly regarding my experiences with Australian artists, in future posts.

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