detail of dials and buttons on an audio recording device

Tascam Portastudio © Simon Pollock/www.gtvone.com

Around the early 1990s ‘lo-fi’ became a common phrase applied to certain types of indie music, specifically that of US acts such as Pavement, Guided By Voices and Sebadoh, who between them released a crop of influential albums. Many of these recordings used cheap technology and home-recording to produce a sound which has been understood as immediate, direct and home-spun (see Daly and Wice, 1995:134). As Daly and Wice (ibid.) point out, the stylistic characteristics and production values of lo-fi emerged because many indie rock bands could not afford to use industry standard instrumentation and recording techniques. However, as lo-fi gained critical and popular acclaim a significant number of bands began to adopt it out of choice.

As lo-fi became an identifiable style many acts of the early 1990s made a point of referring explicitly to the influence of technological hardware on their overall sound. For instance, in an interview Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices comments that in the late 1980s:

"we started making records on our own. So we went down to Kentucky and recorded a record in a proper studio that sounded really bad, really sterile. On the next record we thought (and it kind of became our philosophy after a while) 'I don’t care how it’s recorded, I’m just going to put the songs I like on the record'. " (quoted in Dayden and Lux, 2001: 1).

The importance of home recording at this time was reflected in media coverage which highlighted the home recorded nature of certain critically acclaimed records. It also drew attention to events such as the Fast Forward Home Tapers Festival in Holland in April 1994. The festival included appearances by well known independent artists who had been releasing home recorded material since the 1980s, such as Tall Dwarves, Barbara Manning and Eugene Chadbourne, along with newer acts such as Sebadoh, Smog, and Dump (James McNew from Yo La Tengo’s home recording side project). Throughout the 1990s home-recorded albums continued to be influential. Elliot Smith’s ‘Roman Candle’ was recorded on four-track, and Low’s ‘Songs for a Dead Pilot’ andChristmas’ were recorded in an eight-track studio in the basement of their home. ‘Stereo’, the home-recorded album by Paul Westerberg (formerly of the highly influential and successful US act the Replacements) includes many of the hallmarks of a Portastudio production, and even features a track which appears to cut out prematurely due to the cassette tape running out.