A Word From Our Founder

I’ve been trying to do a magazine-style website since around 2004, and have never had much success in doing so. Nor much encouragement: a good friend of mine, who I looked up to a great deal at the time because he was older, more world-weary, and had bands and a record label that are still far better than anything I’ve done to date, flatly discouraged the webzine approach, pointing to the impermanence of the digital sphere: my zines and cassettes could be rediscovered later in the physical world (CDRs, a sick exercise in combining planned obsolescence with the illusion of permanence, were also viewed in a more positive light at this time), whereas the entirety of my web-based output could disappear with one click of a button.

I founded FM DUST (originally FM DUST ANALOG MEDIA) in 2009 with this M.O. in mind. All material had to be released in an analog format, or it didn’t count. I’d toyed with ideas of foregoing a website, demanding that all recordings be from analog masters, etc., but unsurprisingly, this was instantly too limiting. Still, until catalog number DUST034, all FM DUST releases were on cassette.

After that, it gets more complicated… DUST034 is a digital download (a hint of things to come), 038 is a chapbook, 039-041 are postcards, 042 a t-shirt, 043 an afternoon of curated performances at TOTALLY AWESOME FEST 9 in Ypsilanti, MI. It’s going to keep going further off the rails. I’ve also uploaded several out-of-print cassette titles to a Bandcamp page (a trend which will continue henceforth).

You can infer from the last paragraph that, aside from losing interest in the cassette format for the moment, I’ve also shed much of my resistance to digital and web-based media. Why the change?

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I have changed my tune on utilizing the internet for the same reason that underground musicians used cassettes to distribute their sounds in the 1980s: pragmatism, pure and simple. While one can certainly romanticize the cassette underground and dig its oft-janky D.I.Y. aesthetic on its own terms, the fact remains that, in the pre-internet era, cassettes (or zines, or minicomics, or mail art, or whatever) and the postal service were simply the cheapest and most accessible medium to get your stuff out there, and this is why people did it. At the time, tapes made the most sense. Obviously, the same goes for cheaply photocopied, small-run print media versus “professional” publishing.

These options are rarely the most practical option in the modern circumstance, but they are popular, at least among a certain subset. People long to live in an exotic world that they never knew firsthand, whose strong surface aesthetics speak of something mysterious, something cooler than their notions of the modern milieu. This impulse is totally understandable, and periodically beneficial: if collegiate folk revivalists in the 1950s didn’t go back and explore the far corners of then-recent cultural history, Charley Patton or Mississippi John Hurt’s timeless music would’ve disappeared into the ether. This kind of discovery almost justifies the existence of people like Pete Seeger (ALMOST). To put a more recent twist on this notion: if the lo-fi revivalists hadn’t done their homework, R. Stevie Moore wouldn’t be able to enjoy acclaimed, well-attended tours in what would’ve been the twilight of his non-career.

This is great and seminal work to do, especially when the originators benefit from it. However, like the spate of lame folk revivalists in the 1950s, the current neo-lo-fi trend and its concomitant fetishization of archaic modes is an attempt to live in someone else’s past, an endeavor which accomplishes very little but waste.

As such: FM DUST rejects vessel fetishization henceforth. FM DUST will only produce releases in archaic formats when the project absolutely demands as much. FM DUST deals in communication, not commodity; the present, not the past. If FM DUST can communicate something using the most accessible means available, that is how it will be done.

Sometimes, tapes (and other outmoded formats) DO still make the most sense. One of my favorite releases on FM DUST to date, Charlie Slick’s Mellow Marsh (DUST017), utilizes the medium to its full potential: it was recorded and mastered on a 4-track cassette recorder, and can only be fully enjoyed by listening to it on same, as the B-side consists of audio commentary regarding the A-side. When you listen to the B-side on a normal cassette deck, you get a half hour of backwards talking and electric piano, which still sounds cool in its own right, but doesn’t tell the whole story. This couldn’t work in any other medium; to release it digitally would defeat the whole purpose.

Mellow Marsh is, by far, the best utilization of the cassette medium that I’ve been involved with to date (I’m not taking credit, it was 100% Charlie’s idea). The concept is hilarious… it could have only come from someone with a keen understanding of the medium, not to mention a sense of humor about its limitations. I’d go into the ingeniousness of the invention recorded on the A-side, the Ambient Music Generator™, but that’s getting off-topic.

The point I’m trying to make is this: any of the other FM DUST releases would have sounded just as good, or better, in a digital format, and would have used a lot less petroleum to deliver their message. I’m not apologizing for past, but those who don’t acknowledge history are doomed to repeat it.

In talking about waste, it’s worth noting that I’m well aware of the environmental hazards caused by the manufacture, and especially by the disposal, of computers and other digital hardware. In fact, it’s extremely distressing to me. When I think about it at length, I usually suffer an anxiety attack. However, computers and the internet aren’t going away any time soon, and the continued production of cassettes, vinyl, print media, whatever, won’t change that (nor do anything to make it better). We can only hope for, and work towards, solutions to more effectively deal with the massive amounts of waste created by these (otherwise wonderful) tools, hopefully eventually rejecting the cycle of planned obsolescence and human/environmental suffering brought on by our current system.

A conscious, creative life is a balancing act between making beautiful things and making waste. They are two sides of the same coin, a prime example of the Zen notion of non-duality manifested physically. You can’t forge art out of nothing; as such, to draw a hard line against causing waste would be to draw a hard line against making art, and certainly against reproducing it. I would be very hard-pressed to recommend this option. What I would suggest is this: reflection. Meditation. Purpose. Otherwise, why create at all?

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As you can see by the new site format, FM DUST is now less a label, more of an aggregator of information, focused on creating a steady flow of communication. While I intend to keep everything archived here, I’m no longer concerned with notions of permanence. The world may end tomorrow, the grid may collapse. If we, or our descendants, end up in a dystopia, there will probably be bigger things to worry about; if not, I’m sure Google (or whoever) is secretly saving all this stuff, anyway.

Welcome to the new FM DUST. I’m fucking excited.

Dustin Krcatovich is a cartoonist, writer, designer, founder of FM DUST, and a collector of certain curios and ephemera (with a focus on 20th century "junk culture"). His writing and illustration work appears frequently in The Quietus, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Esquire's Culture Blog. He is also a former editor and contributor to Secret Zen Garden,Saagara's illustrated mindfulness/wellness blog for young people. He currently resides in Portland, OR.