August 16, 2010 by DJ Elroy
Before there was The Cloud, before MP3s, before there was the iPod and compact discs, there were mixtapes*.
Early mixtapes were simply collections of recorded music – sometimes from vinyl or cassettes, sometimes from the radio, but often from other more creative (and hard to get) sources. But as dance music evolved, so too did the DJ mixtape.
It seems to me that the mixes today just don’t have the magic the little 4 X 3 treasure box of plastic held. But why? What was it about the Mixtape that made it so sought after? Back then it was two 30-minute episodes of continues dance music. The A Side was a bit friendlier and more upbeat featuring relatively popular tracks. The B Side had a bit more of an underground – or maybe afterhours – vibe. Sometimes even experimental. DJ mixes are pretty much the same now. So what’s different?
Back in the day, music wasn’t infinite. Sure, you could always duplicate the cassettes, but you needed to find them first. It wasn’t as simple as jumping into cyberspace with your eyes closed and arms open and scooping up any of the thousands of new mixes that go up every week. Today’s music is unlimited, and that effectively cuts their shelf-life down to almost nothing. There are very few mixes I listen to more than once or twice, and most of those getting continuous play are older mixes I picked up years ago. How often do you listen to same mix nowadays? And I can’t put my hands on an MP3. The missing tangibility takes away from the sense of ownership. But in theory it’s the same music, so why were Mixtapes more “fun”?
Maybe because they were something that used to bring us together at the multi-state parties. Something to show you were a part of the tribe. Mixtapes. Buy ’em, sell ’em, trade ’em. Copy them with your friends and pass them on. The feeling I got when I stumbled upon a great mixtape from a new DJ, one that I’d never heard of, someone that rocks the decks several states away, THAT’S what it was all about.
And getting into a collection that’s traveled across the country? Priceless!
With almost everything available everywhere, that sense of belonging is lost. The pride of a hard-earned collection is gone. There isn’t much value in the current iteration of the mixtape.
Oh, and get off my lawn!
*”Mixtape” is a generic term in contemporary culture to refer to any DJ mix or simply a collection of songs regardless of the medium or format.