Several factors led to the rise of cassette culture. The development of the cassette tape recording format was important – the improvement of tape formulations and availability of sophisticated cassette decks in the late 1970s allowed participants produce high-quality copies of their music inexpensively. Also significant 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. 4-track cassette recorders developed by Tascam and Fostex allowed artists to record and get a reasonable sound at home. As well, electronic instruments, such as drum machines and synthesizers, became more compact and inexpensive. Therefore, it became increasingly feasible to construct home-recording studios, giving rise to 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 newfound freedom in format – giving rise to regular cassette-only radio shows that showcased and promoted the work of home recording artists. 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.
The packaging of cassette releases, whilst sometimes amateurish, was also an aspect of the format in which a high degree of creativity and originality could be found. For the most part packaging relied on traditional plastic shells with a photocopied “J-card” insert, but some labels made more of an effort. The Chocolate Monk-released album “Anusol” by the A Band, for instance, came packaged with a “suppository” unique to each copy – one of which was a used condom wrapped in tissue. BWCD released a cassette by Japanese noise artist Aube that came tied to a blue plastic ashtray shaped like a fish. EEtapes of Belgium release of This Window’s (UK) “Extraction 2” was packaged with an X-ray of a broken limb in 1995. The Barry Douglas Lamb album “Ludi Funebres” had the cassette box buried in some earth contained in a larger outer tin and covered in leaves. Walls Of Genius went to great lengths, spray-painting abstract art cassette labels, affixing hand-made “authentic” labels, painting cassette boxes (the “white” cassette, 1984), creating one-of-a-kind pinup covers (“The Mysterious Case of Pussy Lust”, 1985) and issuing Certificates of Genius to anybody who purchased a title.
Though in the mid-’90s cassette culture seemed to decline with the appearance of new technologies and methods of distribution such as the Internet, MP3 files, file sharing, and CD-Rs, in recent years it has once again seen a revival, with the rise of tape labels such as Burger Records, Memorials of Distinction and Gnar Tapes. An exhibition was held at Printed Matter in New York City devoted to current American cassette culture entitled “Leaderless: Underground Cassette Culture Now” .