When Rock Was Banned in the Soviet Union, Teens Took to Bootlegged Recordings on X-Rays

[from the Smithsonian website]

rock_on_bones1.jpg__800x600_q85_cropForget making mixtapes or burning CDs: if you were a teenager in the Soviet Union during the 1950s and you wanted to get your hands on the latest hot tunes coming out of the West, you probably picked up a “bone record.”

As the Cold War picked up in the years after World War II, the Soviet Union clamped down on any music or art coming out of the West that officials deemed decadent or culturally corruptive. But despite the lockdown, a subculture of Soviet teens called the stilyagi were able to smuggle and share banned records by making their own out of old x-rays. Because the homemade records often still had old images of bones burned into them, they were called “music on the ribs,” or “bone records,” Eric Grundhauser writes for Atlas Obscura.

The stilyagi, or “style hunters” were basically the 1950s Soviet version of today’s hipsters: mostly in their teens and 20s, the stilyagi, stood out with their trendy, often loud clothing. And of course, like their contemporaries in Western Europe and the United States, they wanted to listen and dance to rock ‘n’ roll and jazz. But while sharing music these days is as easy as hitting share on Spotify, the stilyagi either had to brave the black markets to get their fix of Ella Fitzgerald or Elvis or press their own copies on whatever vinyl they could scrounge up, John Brownlee wrote for Fast Company.

At the time, vinyl, like many other materials, was scarce and difficult to get a hold of in stores and markets. But the stilyagi stumbled on a cheap and plentiful source of vinyl: old x-rays from hostpitals. While the vinyl sheets used to print x-rays were much flimsier than records, bootleggers trying to find ways of sharing new music realized that they could make cheap copies using standard wax disc cutters to duplicate smuggled records.

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