In August 1963, the inaugural compact cassette recorder was unveiled at the Funkaustellung (Radio Exhibition) in Germany. To mark its sixtieth anniversary, BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction is embarking on a month-long programming venture dedicated to exploring the history and enduring impact of the cassette, aptly named “Casseptember.”
The introduction of the cassette recorder facilitated the documentation of local and underground music scenes and genres. This innovation paved the way for lo-fi aesthetics and the do-it-yourself (DIY) music movement, leaving an indelible mark on some of the most prominent figures in pop, rock, classical, and alternative music of that era. With contributions from notable individuals such as Cosey Fanni Tutti, Vashti Bunyan, and Aki Onda, alongside archival audio and newly commissioned cassette recordings, Late Junction’s Casseptember series will delve into how the arrival of the cassette marked a pivotal moment in democratizing audio culture.
The season will explore the reasons behind the cassette tape’s resurgence, a remarkable comeback in an age of digital intangibility spurred by the rise of streaming and online listening. Many labels and independent artists have embraced cassette-only releases, making them highly coveted by music enthusiasts.
Moreover, Casseptember will shed light on how cassette tapes have served as vehicles for preserving musical heritage and cultural memory. In a conversation with the founders of the Syrian Cassette Archives, Mark Gergis and Yamen Mekdad, these two individuals will reflect on Syria’s rich musical history and how cassettes revolutionized Syrians’ ability to record and distribute their music. They will discuss with Verity Sharp their efforts to preserve, research, and share these stories during a time when much of the country’s recorded musical heritage is threatened by the ravages of war and displacement.
Casseptember will continue its captivating journey on BBC Radio 3 Late Junction from Friday, September 1st, through Friday, September 29th. BBC Radio 3 Breakfast (September 4th – September 8th) will also support the season by featuring listener requests for favorite classical cassette tracks. Additionally, both the J to Z and the New Music Show will offer special plays of cassette songs.
Here’s a glimpse of what to expect during Casseptember:
Late Junction: Introducing Casseptember!
Friday, September 1st, 11 pm – 1 am
In this inaugural program, Verity Sharp is joined by Marc Masters, a music journalist and author of “High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape” (scheduled for release in October 2023). Masters offers an insightful overview of the cassette tape’s vibrant history, arguing that it never truly faded into oblivion. Furthermore, Verity engages in a conversation with cult folk singer and songwriter Vashti Bunyan, who shares her nostalgic memories associated with cassette tapes.
Late Junction: Casseptember – Aki Onda and Cosey Fanni Tutti
Friday, September 8th, 11 pm – 1 am
Renowned Japanese composer and sound artist Aki Onda shares his specially commissioned creations for Casseptember. Onda delves into his extensive tape archive to reimagine recordings from the formative years of his cassette experimentation, weaving together sound snippets he recorded in New York’s East Village during the early 2000s. Additionally, pioneering performance artist, musician, and writer Cosey Fanni Tutti reminisces about her cherished cassette memories, spanning from her days as a striptease dancer in the late ’70s to her contributions to Throbbing Gristle.
Late Junction: Casseptember – Goldblum
Friday, September 15th, 11 pm – 1 am
Verity Sharp continues the month-long celebration of cassette culture with a unique commission from the Dutch duo Goldblum. Founded in 2020 by Marijn Verbiesen and Michiel Klein, Goldblum crafts lo-fi sound collages primarily centered around tape loops, incorporating keyboards and sounds sourced from various objects and vocals. The episode also features reflections from Ghanaian highlife artist Ata Kak, whose self-released cassette “Obaa Sima” gained worldwide recognition almost 25 years after its initial release, thanks to its discovery by Brian Shimkovitz.
Late Junction: Casseptember – Syrian Cassette Archives
Friday, September 22nd, 11 pm – 1 am
The rise of cassette culture in Syria transformed the country’s musical landscape, providing a platform for countless musicians who had previously lacked the means to record and share their work. Founders of the Syrian Cassette Archives, Mark Gergis and Yamen Mekdad, discuss how the project has expanded over the years, with an increasing number of contributions and collaborators. They also present archival footage from the archives, including live concerts, studio albums, and more, with a special emphasis on regional Dabke and Shaabi folk-pop music performed at weddings, parties, and festivities.
Late Junction: Casseptember – Shelf Life II
Friday, September 29th, 11 pm – 1 am
Jennifer Lucy Allan hosts the final episode of BBC Radio 3’s month-long celebration of cassette culture. Allan delves into her own cassette collection, uncovering electroacoustic experiments from Indonesia by artists like Minus Equals Plus, as well as blues from Bin Idris, whose 2013 tape was packaged in a guitar string sleeve with a unique guitar string inside. She also discovers lo-fi pop from Bobby Would, contained within a tape encased in a fishnet, and the haunting melodies of bagpipes by Glasgow musician and inventor Donald WG Lindsay. Mabu Li of the label Dusty Ballz discusses the ‘cut-out generation’ in 1990s China, and composer Maxwell Sterling shares his early tape experiences, including listening to Kraftwerk while bathing.