6 Jan 2024

Marc Masters: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape

From Music 101, 3:15 pm on 6 January 2024

Photo: Supplied

The cassette tape’s short-lived place in popular culture and ultimate decline are covered in music journalist Marc Masters' new book High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape.

Forward-thinking artists were early adopters of the tape, he tells RNZ’s Elliot Childs.

“Musicians pretty quickly picked up on it ... They weren't bothered about how good it sounds as long as it was cheap, fast and easy to do – as opposed to gatekeepers who were never going to let them in."

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In High Bias, Masters turns his focus on the people and places integral to the story of the cassette.

Those stories are presented neatly as he describes local music communities, including the funk subgenre Go-Go (which originated in Washington DC) and the burgeoning US hip-hop scene.   

In the time before portable CD players and MP3 players, the highly portable cassette married music taste with personal image – a new phenomenon at the time, Masters says.

 “For the first time, you could take music with you outside the house.

“[Cassettes] became an aesthetic.”

Marc Masters hosts The Music Book Podcast where fellow authors discuss their music books. 

He has contributed to NPR, Pitchfork, the Washington Post and Rolling Stone

High Bias is published by The University of North Carolina Press