Stephen Coates

Stephen Coates is the editor of X Ray Audio (Strange Attractor Press), a music producer, and director of the arts company Antique Beat.

  • Bone Music

    Bone Music

    Soviet X-Ray Audio

    Stephen Coates

    Stories of the secret underground Cold War–era Soviet music subculture that distributed forbidden music on used hospital x-rays.

    During the Cold War era, the songs that Soviet citizens could listen to were ruthlessly controlled by the state. But a secret underground subculture of music lovers and bootleggers defied the censors, building recording machines and making their own records of forbidden jazz, rock 'n' roll, and Russian music, cut onto used hospital x-ray film. Bone Music is the follow up the acclaimed X-Ray Audio: The Strange History of Soviet Music on the Bone, delving deeper into a forgotten era when being a music fan could mean a lengthy prison sentence, or worse.

    Who made these records? Why did they do it and how was it even possible? Foregrounding interviews and oral testimonies gathered over five years, Bone Music presents the stories of the original bone bootleggers, their customers, musicians, record collectors, and commentators, evoking a spirited resistance to a repressive culture of prohibition and punishment. It reveals that although Western jazz and rock'n'roll were important to the Stilyagi youth culture, the true rebel music was that of forbidden Russian emigres, gypsy romances, and criminal tunes: the soul songs of a society brutally cut off from its culture.

    Richly illustrated with dozens of new images of Soviet x-ray discs and sound letters, Bone Music details how the bootleggers worked, outlining the technical precedents of their techniques, situating their discs in a revised history of recorded media, and bringing a wealth of compelling new detail.

    • Paperback $33.95
  • X-Ray Audio

    X-Ray Audio

    The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone

    Stephen Coates

    Telling the story of forbidden culture, bootleg technology and human endeavour, this is the secret history of Russian X-ray records and of the people who made, bought and sold them.

    Many older people in Russia remember seeing and hearing mysterious vinyl flexi-discs when they were young. They had partial images of skeletons on them, could be played like gramophone records and were called 'bones' or 'ribs'.  They contained forbidden music.

    In the cold war era, the Soviet recording industry and permissible musical repertoire were ruthlessly controlled by the State. But a secret and risky subculture of bootleg recordings arose. Incredibly, bootleggers built homemade recording machines and found an extraordinary way to copy banned gramophone records – they used X-Rays clandestinely obtained from hospitals.

    X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone tells the secret history of these ghostly records and of the people who made, bought and sold them.  Lavishly illustrated with images of discs collected in Russia, it is a unique story of forbidden culture, bootleg technology and human endeavour. Contributions from Russian musical commentators and interviews, including one with the last bootlegger standing, set the scene for the intersection of ideological, technological and historical events that created this brief Samizdat musical culture.

    In a time when songs can be copied in an instant and when streaming services provide virtually infinite choice and access, X-Ray Audio provides a poignant reminder of the immense cultural value of music and the extraordinary lengths people to which people will go to listen to what they love.

    • Paperback $35.95