Cassette Culture 2.0: On how the Cassette prevails in the Digital Age

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Bennett, James A
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Nowak, Raphael
Baker, David J
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From the early to mid 2000s, music cassettes appeared to be on the brink of extinction in industrialised nations. Nonetheless, in genres such as Punk, Noise and Hip Hop the format remained in use throughout this time. Growing sales over the past decade have led mass media outlets to declare a general revival of the cassette yet, the reasons for this resurgence remain to be investigated. This investigation is drawing on qualitative ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Japan, Australia and the USA entailing participant observation at various events, concerts and record shops and in-depth expert interviews with a total of 85 individuals involved in DIY cassette cultures. I argue that the cassette’s contemporary function, though in some cases enabling decelerated consumption and face-to-face interaction, is to provide an additional physical artefact of music that is primarily distributed digitally on the internet. This thesis explores how the cassette’s hybrid significance as a tool for expression and social connection perseveres in the 21st century within a locally, translocally, and virtually connected context. Here, grassroots DIY music scenes are creatively processing the challenges of the present, while major music corporations seek to capitalise on these cultural dynamics and embodiments of nostalgia. The core analysis section of the thesis begins with a comparison of the different music markets in Japan, Australia and the United States in order to analyse and relativise the massmedia notion of an overarching ‘cassette revival’. It becomes apparent here, that the cassette is not treated as a fully-fledged audio format perse, but merely as a novelty merchandise item for example, for movie soundtracks such as the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Based on this, the material qualities of the cassette that contribute to its current significance are explored. Notably, the consumption of the cassette in the digital age has been subjected to a visual turn, meaning that the format is primarily consumed for its visual and material characteristics and in numerous cases functions as a cultural currency in DIY music scenes that legitimates primarily digitally curated and distributed music projects. Several case studies of cassette labels, cassettebased podcasts and the annual international Cassette Store Day illustrate this aspect and underline the cassette’s technological and cultural hybridity that leads to its numerous appropriations throughout various cultural and social divisions. Finally, by drawing on the practices of DIY cassette recycling and decade-old mixtapes re-appearing as marine debris, environmental aspects of current cassette consumption are taken into consideration in regard to a possible sustainable existence of the format in the future.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Hum, Lang & Soc Sc
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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.
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music cassettes
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