mixtape nostalgiaFebruary 5, 2009
Throughout my late teens, I obsessively made mix-tapes for friends and family. The range of music probably wasn’t that wide – from indie to grunge to rock – but I put a great deal of care and attention into the job. And I was good at it.
A few months ago I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen for years, and he was telling me that at university, everyone he knew would listen avidly to a mixtape I’d made (I think it was called Bus Stop and plotted a history through popular music in the form of a bus map) and that although he’d lost the tape, people had been trying to remember the tracklisting and recreate it. When CD-burning technology came along, I abandoned the trust C90 tape and moved onto the 74-minute CD, but the ethos remained the same. I remember making a mix-CD solely of songs under 3 minutes long. This was in the days before limitless free mp3s, so I only had my own CD collection to use as source material. I still have the CD somewhere.
There were no hard and fast rules to making a mixtape, although I did make it a matter of principle that no artist would feature twice. The trick to a good tape was to ensure good flow from one song to another; sometimes that would be through an obvious connection, such as two songs featuring the same sample, or two songs with lyrical similarities or complimentary guitar sounds, but more often that not, it was just a case of finding songs that sat well next to each other. It was like introducing two friends at a party and knowing that they would get along. Beyond linking songs, you also had to keep the balance right. A sombre song might work on its own, or alongside another mournful ballad, but five sad songs in a row just sends you to sleep. Similarly, a tape full of anthems, with no light and shade, was also doomed to failure. In my mind, there were ‘out’ songs, which were all about immediacy and energy, and there were ‘in’ songs, which were all about reflection and intimacy. Getting the balance right was the key. There were great songs that I left off mixtapes because they didn’t belong.
Of course, nowadays, both the mixtape and the mix CD are redundant. The art of the mixtape is lost. I have a lovely little mp3 player that holds 4gb of music, and I listen to it all pretty much at random. I haven’t listened to a full album of music in years – I don’t have the attention span anymore. This isn’t meant to sound nostalgic – I love mp3s and I love being able to skip tracks when I’m not in the mood, or compile little playlists for train journeys or the gym. But what has been lost is a sense of permanence or order – the knowledge that no matter how many times a tape is played, the songs will always follow each other in a harmonious progression. I liked the idea that you could give a friend or prospective girlfriend a mixtape and it would, over the course of weeks and months, become the indelible soundtrack to their lives.