I just use an obtuse tweezers, a pair of scissors and a roll of scotch tape. Tweezer can be used to pry up the sticking cassette box. It can also take the place of a screwdriver, as well as a grater, because of the cross grain on its inner face.
The first steps is to remove the plastic packing of the cassette then open the cassette box, shaking off all the scraps. If it is necessary, you can file a little bit on the saw gash in order to clean up the remnant scraps that have stuck together because of the high temperature. Usually, Dakou (saw gash; cuted) cassettes were cracked by an electric saw, when sawing the rigid plastic, the temperature will rise rapidly. There are some flaws along the rectangular and strip gash, look like blooming. The package designers would never imagine that all my cassettes were all violently re-shaped therefore became an accidental, brand-new design. After this, every time I see the uncracked cassettes and CDs, I feel that they are not so good, without power and lack of something…
Sorry for the digression…
After cleaning out the scraps, you can unscrew the screws then continue cleaning the scraps inside. Some cassettes are not jointed by screws. They are glued together or even stuck together by high temperature and pressing. If so, you need to pry carefully. It requires technique and love. Then prune the broken tape. The broken part of the tape is generally blank which called the leading end of the tape. Please open up the central spindle which is close to the leading end, throwing the pruned leading end away then installing the needed part of the tape on the central spindle. There is a small clip on the central spindle. You have to push it hard and it is easy to flick away carelessly, therefore this process also requires technique and love. At the same time, you need to pay attention to the tape. It is light and winded therefore easy to get loose and become a mess. If the broken part is not blank, then you should stick a piece of scotch tape underneath the broken part and cut off the excess scotch tape. Remember not to stick the scotch tape on the surface of the tape otherwise it will damage the magnetic head.
There is a small copper sheet in the cassette. When the cassette works this part will touch the magnetic head. There is a small cotton pad that adheres to the surface of the copper sheet; there is a slightly bigger metal sheet under the copper sheet. All these can also be damaged while cracking. It is quite easy to handle. You just change all these broken components with the same components of other cassettes. Usually, Beijingers call the unwanted cassettes ‘Zao Gan (bad orange)’, which are disassembled to provide components for the best ones. The talk show of Henry Rollins is ‘Zao Gan’.
Sometimes, the retailers repair the cassettes and then sell them. Be careful, they might take out some components and leave them for their own cassettes. Some retailers even make a copy and then change the whole tape. I can identify that, the color and the thickness of domestic blank tapes are different from the legal copies. The leading ends of the two are also different.
Sorry for the digression again…
I once repaired a cassette that was badly sawed to fragments. It was Gratful Dead’s live recording. I put the fragments together then wrapped it with scotch tape. Finally, there were still some holes on it.
I use tweezers to grip the soft plastic sheet, with track list and title printed on it, which is from the Future Sound Of London cassette. I move it along with the whole tape into another transparent cassette case. After that, there is still some talcum powder on my hand.
I have a Sound Garden cassette which was repaired by others, with a piece of scotch tape stuck crookedly. I always consider tearing it out and re-sticking. But that will leave an ugly stamp.
I have never participated in any competition of repairing Dakou cassettes.
There is a Canadian cassette factory whose cassettes are glued together but easy to pry up. I like the click when they are pried up. I have a Van Morrison cassette that is made by this factory.
There are two small wheels in two corners of the cassette to support the tape revolving. The wheels are installed on small metal bars, which are stuck in little holes. The metal bars made by different manufacturers have different degree of thickness.
I am getting too far from my title… I take out a Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer World’ cassette, wipe off the dust, open it, and then put it into the cassette recorder…
If it is not for this article, the cassette will continue gathering dust, together with hundreds of other Dakou cassettes, in the corner… Did you once breathe the air of Beijing?
More collections, such as R.E.M., Naked City, Langston Hughes, are too old to listen. Like dying old men, they can only emit intermittent voice that emerges occasionally in the meaningless noise.
I still have more than two thousand Dakou CDs, much more were sold or given to friends.
It is not necessary to repair Dakou CD, only need to clean the scraps. However, before buying, it is important to incline it under the light and see how many tracks are sawed. If there is only a small gash, the whole album is available. If the gash is too deep, the last one or two or three tracks, or even half of the album, will not be available. If so, you can ask for a cheaper price or just give up to buy.
There is another kind called drilled (Zha Yan) CD, which is drilled by a thin electric drill. It probably emerged after 1996 at the time when we were already used to Dakou CDs. Drilled CD has an ugly hole, whose edges bulged, which seems to make you uncomfortable intentionally. We need to use a very hard drill, one time, two times, three times, making it smooth manually. The hole does no harm to play.
There is another kind called rolled CD. It is said to be rolled by a road roller, the cartridge is smashed, the sleeve is soaked, and the surface of the disk is scratched. What a nasty behavior! I never buy this kind of things.
After 2000, ‘original disc’ emerged. This kind of CD has no difference with legal copies, even the cartridge is undamaged. The price of Tortoise’s ‘TNT’ is only 30 RMB. Afterwards some businessmen went abroad to stock. It is said that they bribed some people, asking them not to use the saw and sell the original CDs in the way of selling plastic materials.
I know a guy, a businessman, a dreamer. In the middle of 1990s, he was a wholesaler of Dakou cassettes and CDs. He once said: I want to make a documentary, inviting you to go to America to have interviews with Metallic, Axel Rose and Aerosmith, and ask them to sign their names on Dakou cassettes.
It is said that the larger wholesalers had involvement with gangsterdom. They bought more than a dozen containers of goods, leaving the smashed and delivering the unsmashed to their own storages.
The smashed and more in unsold containers were sold to regenerated plastics businessmen; it is the true cause of Dakou cassettes came into China: they will be disassembled according to the categories of screw, paper, metal sheet, rigid plastic and tape and then sent to the raw material factories to get reprocessed.
Someone asked me: Did you know the White Album of the Beatles? I didn’t know at that time. I had a carload of those albums. All were disassembled by workers and sold as raw materials. Thus I almost lost a house.
I know all the Dakou retailers in Lanzhou. Every time after stocking, they would firstly inform frequent buyers like me to select the goods. We all took very large empty bags, squatting silently, selecting rapidly with fingers, with the smell of noodles wafting from the next door.
A retailer from Henan province was considered to be a profiteer. He would raise the price stealthily when the customer looked satisfied. Everyone disliked him. One day, several people went to his residence to select the goods. After getting home, they called the police. I knew from the newspaper that he was arrested on the next day: The Cultural Inspection Team of Our City Destroyed an Illegal Underground Video Store.
That will never happen in Beijing. After Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the price of Nirvana’s Dakou cassette rose to 80 RMB, no one protested.
In Beijing, I always explain ‘Dakou’ to foreigners. I say that the American large distributors need to damage their redundant goods in order to clear up their storages. In around 1991, Chinese started to purchase these damaged cassettes and then CDs. Someone selected a part from them, perhaps 1%, in order to sell them to the underground youth across the country. Because at that time, there were only several companies had the right to publish foreign music records or import foreign records. But they were only selling James Last and Michael Bolton and of course Beethoven as well.
I say: We are ‘Dakou Generation’. We are chewing the rubbish, swallowing the fragments of the world, growing vigorously.
In 2002, Internet became normal, everyone downloaded. There’re also pirate DVDs: Complete Works of Jean-Luc Godard, 10-disc Collection of Russian Avant Garde Movies, 100 Best Japanese Movies in 20th Century… Nothing difficult. Slavoj Zizek said that he bought more than 100 discs in China.
At first, I felt I was venting my grievances: our life was agonizing in the whole 1990s; rock and roll was a kind of secret knowledge.
Then, I began to show off: in this land, there are still full of deficient, anxiety and conflict. Dakou is as beautiful as a scar, our youth is fragmentary.
Now, what shall I say?
More and more people do not know how to say.
A friend went to another friend’s home, copied 1.5 TB mp3 and took it away.
There’s no place in Beijing to park the car, also, there’s almost no place to drive the car. Everyone wants a car.
translated by Dai Zhanglun