The modern state of the humble mixtape

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The modern state of the humble mixtape

(Image: Bruno Guerrero)
Words by Mixdown Staff

Does the true essence of the mixtape live on?

Many of you reading this will no doubt have spent countless hours in your youth riding the “High-Speed Dubbing” buttons on your cassette decks to compile tapes with all your favourite tracks. Well, some of you might. Or perhaps it is only me.

Either way, they were good times and great memories. There were times when hours could be spent working and reworking a recording to cassette only to have it all go wrong at the 40-minute mark. And that is what made the mixtape so special; it became a work or art and a moment of tragedy all at once.

So, have we lost that thing of beauty with modern DJ techniques? Or does the true essence of the humble mixtape live on?

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A frail creation

Of course, the mixtape was always subjected to scrutiny when played back. This made it a very raw medium for a DJ to present their performance. Whereas similar inconsistencies in a mix would usually go unnoticed in a club, they stood out boldly in recorded form and so made many a DJ strive to perfect a mix that much more.

You were not likely to hand out a hundred copies of a mix if it was riddled with little errors, so even more time had to be spent perfecting each and every mix. The problem now being that the quality of the CD recording began to show up the issues you might have with your tired old vinyl and extra care was needed to ensure a good recording was achieved.

The late ’90s served as an interesting time for this as computer recording at home was just beginning and everything sounded amazing compared to what many of us were used to with cassettes. But it wasn’t long before audio quality in these recordings was to be scrutinised as much as the performance being captured.

The beginning of the end

This was where it all started to go pear-shaped for the humble mixtape. The digital era was upon us and we all seemed to be more concerned with audio quality and not charismatic track choice and mixing techniques. A mixtape ceased to be a one-off moment, captured and shared among friends, it was now a widespread commodity and it sort of lost a lot of the charm in the process.

Now, I listen to DJ mixes that are digitally recorded and think they all seem to sound a little too manufactured, although, when I think back to the hours and hours spent perfecting mixtapes in the past, that’s what they always were really. It seems though, that now that not only the tape, but the CD too, has been removed from the equation. The ‘mixtape’ is no longer a sought after trophy, but it is just another digital file in a huge collection of music that has lost its personality.

Forgive me for sounding a little negative, or coming across like I don’t appreciate the efforts of today’s DJs. That’s not the case, I simply believe the fact is that as we have allowed technology to command this style of music, it has stripped away some of the romance in the recorded form. This does not leave the modern DJ unneeded though. Far from it. I think it reinforces the need for the modern DJ to exist and to play live to a crowd, making the most of a particular moment, and in doing so being able to capture some of the energy and wonder that the mixtapes of old might have.

Another form

The modern mixtape does not exist on a USB stick or as a file download. If you really want to find it, you need to go out and listen to your favourite DJs perform a set live, for that is the result of all those hours working to get certain tracks to work with each other. Ensuring a mix comes together seamlessly and with an intelligent development of emotion from the start right through to the end.

So, if my opinion is allowed, I am going to say that the mixtape might very well be dead; at least in the form we once knew it. Let’s be honest, a great deal of today’s music fans never even got to use a cassette recorder at home and only understand the idea of sharing music digitally.

So, because of that, I can see how the spirit of the mixtape live on, but it is in the live performance that it truly exists and continues to bring joy and excitement to its listeners.

This article was originally published March 14, 2016.

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