‘Total trash’. Recorded music and the logic of waste

Elodie A. Roy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


This article introduces three situated moments – or plateaux – in order to partially uncover the particular affinities between popular music and the ‘logic of waste’ in the Anthropocene Era, from early phonography to the present digital realm (with a focus on the UK, United States, and British India). The article starts with a ‘partial inventory’ of the Anthropocene, outlining the heuristic values of waste studies for research in popular music. The first plateau retraces the more historical links between popular music and waste, showing how waste (and the positive discourses surrounding it) became a defining element of the discourse and practices of early phonography. It aims to show how recorded sound participated in (and helped define, in an emblematic manner) a rapidly expanding ‘throwaway culture’ at the turn of the 20th century. The second plateau presents a more global panorama of the recording industry through a focus on shellac (a core, reversible substance of the early recording industry). Finally, the third plateau presents some insights into the ways in which popular music may ‘play’ and incorporate residual materialities in the contemporary ‘digital age’. I argue that the logic of waste defined both the space and pace of the early record industry, and continued to inform musical consumption across the 20th century – notably when toxic, non-recyclable synthetic materials (especially polyvinyl) were introduced.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-107
Number of pages20
JournalPopular Music
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes

Cite this