Alain Neffe launched his first tape label at home in Belgium in 1981. He called it Insane Music Contact and his first installment was called Insane Music for Insane People. Thus began a nearly thirty year foray into home-made, visionary and utterly unfashionable electronic music that has hardly made anyone involved a household name.
Insane Music released 55 titles in its most prolific years (1981-87). Five of these were vinyl records and the rest were cassettes tapes. Why cassettes tapes? Magnetic tape was the obvious solution to the problem facing many artists working without record contracts in those days. Cassettes could be recorded at home, produced at home, dubbed at home, and sold or traded by mail. No need for tasteless outside producers and marketing mojo—one needed only leave home to buy more tapes. Says Neffe, “I could copy the tapes on demand. Releasing an LP required that you print 500 copies and 1000 copies of the cover sleeve, and everything had to be paid up front … if the buyer didn’t like the music, he or she could wipe it out and record something else on it.”
Mr. Neffe was not the only one out there recording, selling and trading tapes by mail. On both sides of the Atlantic, home cassette technology was permitting the release of much groundbreaking and breathlessly beautiful work, as well as some noxious and otherwise self-indulgent wanking—that coat of many colors we call the DIY (do-it-yourself) Revolution. As early as 1974, Albrecht/d. self-released a cassette entitled Amsterdam Op De Dam in Germany. In 1976, Throbbing Gristle was distributing tapes of their infamous live recordings, and in 1977, the French electro-industrial unit Die Form began releasing tapes on their own Bain Total label. 1980 saw the release of two monumental self-released cassettes, The Storm Bugs’ A Safe Substitute and Colin Potter’s The Ghost Office. In Japan, 1980 saw the release of Merzbow’s first two cassettes, Remblandt Assemblage and Fuckexercise. And in the USA, 1981 saw John Bender’s Plaster: The Prototypes, a laconic and mysterious series of tone and vocal poems. Home taping was not limited to electronic music. R. Stevie Moore, one of the elder living ancestors of the lo-fi rock aesthetic, began releasing distributing home-made tapes via the R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club sometime in the 1970s. And tapes of live punk shows from the era continue to trade hands.
Soon, cassettes were coming from everywhere: mysterious PO boxes in the Midwest, to which you sent a blank tape and three dollars and received the tape back with something on it. The Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine was a Fluxus-inspired subscription audio-journal dedicated to music as well as poetry and drama and other forms of audio-art. Zines like Factsheet Five and Unsound devoted entire columns to the material they received from bands on home-made cassette, and demo tapes began leaking to radio stations prior to official record release dates. It was a grassroots movement that marched in association with the self-publication of zines, comics, chapbooks, and other media. The medium had begun to become the message.
Insane Music for Insane People (which eventually reached 25 volumes) was a series compiling all home-made electronic music made by artists from across the globe. By including in the liner notes the contact address for each artist featured, Neffe helped pioneer a snail-mail network for those interested in more of what they heard. Artists from all over Europe and the USA, from Japan, New Zealand, and beyond contributed over the years. One could send a few dollars to Insane Music Contact, receive tapes in the mail, write to artists involved and receive more cassettes.