There’s a reason we have a whole category dedicated to the idea of the mixtape here at Picky Bastards. For those under a certain age, when I say mixtape I am not referring to the albums people put out but refuse to label as albums these days (looking at you FKA Twigs), but instead I’m talking about the little cassettes that we used to spend hours working on, recording song after song to create the perfect soundtrack to whatever event or occasion or person we were wanting to accompany with music. Some of us Picky Bastards are old enough to remember the days of making mixtapes. Technology has changed a lot of things in my life, but there are few processes that now seem as outdated as the one we used to go through to put these tapes together.
Hours sat by the stereo, piles of CDs beside us, pressing record as the song we have chosen starts and trying to press stop just as it ends. Working out how the flow of songs will sound in our head, without the luxury of immediate playback that streaming service now allow. Today, if you come up with an idea for a collection of songs you want to put together, you can create a playlist in ten minutes and WhatsApp it to the chosen recipients in seconds. In terms of convenience, that’s great. But, personally, I miss the process of putting those tapes together – playlists are great, but they will simply never have the emotional weight that a mixtape did. They just aren’t the same labour of love.
For those who do remember mixtapes, they are now mostly remembered as the things we threw together when we were in the early throes of a new relationship or were wanting to subtly hint to someone that we might have feelings for them outside of friendship (if you’re reading, girl I talked to every day at school – yes, I made you that tape full of Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye songs because I fancied you – not because I enjoyed spending every day listening to you bang on about my best mate). They were this, for sure. For those of us who were still finding ways to display our emotions in our teenage years, mixtapes were a way that we could let Britney and Backstreet Boys do it for us instead.
But mixtapes were a lot more than just that. They were, for me at least, a primary way of forging connection – a way to tell anyone, not just the person you fancied, that they meant enough to you that they were worth blocking out a whole Sunday afternoon for, that you cared enough about them to spend some time choosing ninety minutes worth of songs that you thought they would love as much as you do. While some of the mixtapes I remember were created for girls I had a crush on, the ones that I have actually memorised parts of the tracklist from, the ones I can still hear if I listen hard enough, were not. Those were ones I made for family, for friends, for people I felt close enough to to give them this little bit of my world.
There’s the friend who took me to Glastonbury when I was around fifteen, the tape full of artists we were going to see that weekend that we replayed on repeat in her dad’s van all the way down. There are the birthday presents I made for my mum (from Robbie Williams to Van Morrison), the tapes I made for car journeys with my dad when we started working together (from Eminem to Talking Heads), the ones I made to introduce my sister to British music she was missing when she moved abroad (from The xx to Frightened Rabbit), and even the burnt CDs I made for my other sister when she started to drive, filling her car with songs and artists we loved together (Hot Chip and Hard Fi) and artists I hoped she’d get into (The National). These tapes (okay, some might have been burnt CDs by the end) meant the world to me – I put a lot of love in to each of them. They became somewhat of a specialty, requested by friends and family who enjoyed the way I melded the music they loved with the things I wanted to recommend. Who knows – maybe this is where my love of sharing music was really born, where the seeds of Picky Bastards were first planted. On those days when I shut out the world and agonised over which Bob Marley song would sound best after ‘Out of Space’ by The Prodigy.
Do I miss mixtapes? You’re damn right, I do. Streaming services have revolutionised the musical listening experience in my life time, putting a previously unimaginable amount of music at my fingertips. Playlists are a part of that. But they will never replace the feeling of passing one of those mixtapes to someone when I finished it, the song titles scrawled onto the little card insert in my terrible handwriting. Mixtapes were a shortcut to connection, they were a sign that you cared, they were a creative outlet that playlists will never be. I’d say we should bring them back, but the reality is that I doubt I’d ever have the time needed to make them anymore. But I’m glad I can remember them and I feel sorry for those who’ve never given or received them.
Words by Fran Slater