Return of the Mixtape

I used to take serious pride in my mixtape offerings. I’m talking real C-90 cassettes, deft manipulation of the pause button (to insure no more than a one second pause between tracks), deploying my trove of 30-45 second songs and outtakes (to let no portion of those 90 minutes go to waste), and refining the all important arts of selection, segue, and level matching. In a real effort to educate the recipients on what I considered to be quality (and grossly under appreciated) music, I enriched each mix with a detailed playlist, often including informative blurbs about tracks, bands, and artists. For about three years I found an outlet for these audio time capsules in the form of a mixtape circle and the act of trading became a much anticipated social event. Hungry for new sounds and styles at a time when discovering music required more effort than a mouse click, we had no rules save one: that the content be fresh to our ears (no favorite radio tracks allowed). Thus, I was able to count on exposure to a much wider array of songs than I would have sought out on my own, and though some of it may have fallen outside the boundaries of my tastes, I felt I was becoming a more well-rounded audio aficionado with each trade.

Today, I’m quite content to let iTunes shoulder these responsibilities, allowing me to distractedly assemble collections of songs, perhaps loosely grouped into a theme, and burn the occasional CD for listening to in the car. These inevitably get a hasty Sharpie scrawl to the extent of “driving songs,” “slow,” or “fast,” and if they’re lucky, insertion into an old and scratched case which has been re-used for this purpose multiple times already. Where has the love gone? Where has the craftsmanship gone?

broken tape

There are certainly those among us who consider this once-thriving pastime a dead format, irrelevant in today’s culture. To these parade-raining types I offer that true artistic pursuits never disappear, they merely change form. Example A: Mystery Mixtape Sessions Volume Two recently hosted by local musician Yoni Reinharz at the Kitty Cat Klub.

Yoni from End Of An Era

Upon arrival I deposited the cassette mix I’d made and received a ticket good for claiming someone else’s contribution–likely on CD-R, as the number of analog submissions was understandably low, but still–here was an event created in the very same spirit of “give one to get one” I’d been missing. . The night proved to be an appropriately diverse affair. In addition to scheduled sets from Yoni, Omaur Bliss, Mayda, and big trouble, we were treated to surprise appearances from Negative One and Cecil Otter. Once nicely warmed up by classic hip hop deejay sets and the acoustic reggae of Negative One, dancers responded with equal enthusiasm to the rhymes-over-Macbook stylings of the three MC’s as to the adventurous and soulful singing from Mayda. I missed big trouble, but am willing to bet big money the clearly “up for it” crowd kept the floor packed.

Mayda @ The Kitty Cat Klub

As promised, I made my exit with a new mix CD in hand. I later learned that the curiously titled “Songs i’m almost embarrassed to admit i like” was compiled by an old friend I hadn’t seen for a few years, and, like all good mixes, ended up offering extra insight into just what makes this person tick. It’s that aspect which gives the most value to the enterprise of thoughtful mix-making; a way to define yourself by what you like so as to share that definition with others. What started as a natural byproduct of primitive DIY programming has exploded into the current array of social web sites allowing participants to reflect their interests in so many ways. That this means of expression will only continue to change and grow, we can count on…but as long as I can still find second hand technology to play outdated mixes, I’m good.

Flickr photo by Hryck

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