Mix tapes are like personal soundtracks for life – scored memories (cue Vangelis’ “Tears In Rain” from the “Bladerunner” soundtrack).
The emotional investment in the songs’ arrangement is so revealing and intimate that mix tapes qualify as one of few widely treasured budget gifts.
In hip-hop the mix tape became one of the industry’s most effective marketing tools a couple of years ago with Eminem’s discovery of protégé 50 Cent, further fueling paranoia around CD burning.
Thurston Moore, guitarist and vocalist of pioneering art-noise rock band Sonic Youth, last month released a book, “Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture,” exploring the mix tape movement.
I have jumped into the trend these past few weeks by joining a mix tape club, called The Mix Tape Society. The name implies an element of elitism, but really it’s a group of music geeks, deejays and record diggers who get together for a weekly show and tell of music.
I’m in way over my head.
I consume enormous amounts of music, but I never claimed I had good taste. My heavy rotation consists of a great deal of what some might call crap (Phil Collins only gets better with time).
I fall for all the dump-pop tricks – telegraphed breakdowns, feel-good catchy hooks and pay-off riff choruses laced in cheap minor-chord melodies (“Am I miserable because I listen to pop?”). Fortunately good taste isn’t one of the prerequisites for joining the group, made up largely of disciples of rare funk and jazz, tracks you couldn’t find on CD if you knew to look for it.
The only requirement is that society members are responsible for bringing one new mix tape each week – anything goes as far as content, but cool points are awarded packaging and visual presentation.
The society is a private circle of friends who meet in an apartment that feels like an alternate reality. It’s not a public group, but it’s not trademarked either, so feel free to start your own Mix Tape Society chapter.
The group exchanges music by drawing randomly from a sack of CDs and tapes (that’s right, people still make mix tapes on actual cassettes). At each week’s meeting, dubbed Whammy Wednesday, members return the mix to the sack, so the number of mixes grows with time. We mainly hang out and listen to music. The anticipated highlight is the coveted Double Whammy, that one song that is so bad (meaning good) it begs for repeat turns on the tables.
As far as broadening musical horizons, this has been the most expansive experience since college (marked by Radiohead’s “OK Computer” abutting Wu-Tang Clan’s “Wu-Tang Forever” abutting Brandford Marsalis’ “I Heard You Twice the First Time”).
The Mix Tape Society on Whammy Wednesday is a Muse for music lovers. The numbers fluctuate: sometimes there are four of us; the peak was 10. A friend from work counts as a vicarious member, as I solicit his suggestions for my Whammy mixes (Blur’s “Song 2” was a grand slam).
Last week there was, of course, a Michael Jackson theme. The mix I drew, “White Trash Summer,” started with “Billie Jean.” The Jackson’s “Blame It on the Boogie” led the mix I made (in retrospect, “Torture,” from the “Victory” album, might have been a better choice). Flaming Lips have popped up on multiple mixes as well.
“White Trash Summer” was an indie-alternative counterpunch to the ocean-deep funk vinyl on the “Makossa #2” mix I pulled next. There is rumored to be an old-school New Edition best-of mix I’m eager to get my hands on.
By the sheer nature of my job, I hear tons of rock and pop music (Tegan & Sara, Gomez, The Perishers, etc.). The Mix Tape Society gets me out of that routine.
If it weren’t for Whammy Wednesday, I might not have ever been introduced to The Poppy Family’s “There’s No Blood in Stone.”
And there is a good chance next week’s Double Whammy will be even better.