Early Bootleg Records Sold In Russia Were Made Of?
Answer: X-Ray Film
The Iron Curtain might have been thick and long-hanging, but there’s one thing that it couldn’t keep out: culture. Specifically, the kind of infectious culture that was carried far and wide by American Rock ‘n Roll. Despite heavy Soviet restrictions on the import of any sort of subversive cultural items from the West, like books and music, Rock ‘n Roll found a way.
Soviet youth, known then as “stilyagi”, obsessed with Western/American culture would go to great lengths to import and bootleg Western music. Getting actual records into the country was nearly impossible and running a commercial-grade duplication facility to bootleg the few that were smuggled in was well beyond the financial reach of the stilyagi (let alone a very dangerous undertaking to so blatantly flaunt the law).
The solution was a rather clever one. Using crude but effective copying tools, the Soviet youth found a way to spread Rock ‘n Roll across Russia. They would collect discarded radiographs (old x-ray film) and use simple copying machines to etch the audio tracks off Western records onto the film. The audio quality was low, the discs were typically only one-sided, and the whole affair was rather crude compared to the production process of an actual vinyl LP, but a combination of the subversiveness of it all and the desire for foreign music led to the runaway popularity of what was known as “bone music”.
For a more in-depth look at the history of bone music, check out the X-Ray Audio Project.