Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Mix Tape

Without a doubt, filesharing has been a game changer for me. No longer do I obsessively re-read reviews in metal magazines trying to figure out which obscure Scandinavian death metal band to order from a distro. In fact, I hardly bother to read reviews at all; now that every album ever pressed to disc is literally a mouseclick and cable modem connection away, heshers like me can make up our own minds about a release's merit without outside bias.

Still, the one aspect missing from this catch-as-catch-can musical landscape is making mix tapes/cds for friends. For most people, the mix tape was a way to woo a potential love interest by way of shared interests, but for fans of underground music, it was a way of establishing musical bonds and potentially one-upping your friends with a collection of awesome and obscure bands. Even after I made the switch from cassettes to cds, I still held on to the tapes friends made for me because of the emotional weight they held. The Chaos AD/Seasons in the Abyss tape my friend Ian made for me in 1994? That quickly put an end to any interest in "grunge" and in no small way shaped who I am now. The Death is Just the Beginning comp that my friend Knut taped for me a year later? My introduction to Dissection, Hypocrisy, Amorphis, and Meshuggah. The Nailbomb Point Blank/NIN Broken tape that my buddy Jon made for me around the same time? Man, I lost count of all the shitty, fucked up days that tape got me through.

There was an art to making a great mix-tape. Making an iPod playlist has spoiled me, because the amount of songs you can stick on one is virtually limitless (apparently, my "Death Metal" playlist is 7.2 days long). But with mix tapes, not only did you have to come up with a slew of killer jams, you had to make sure they worked within whatever length of tape you bought. 90 minutes was probably the best; you could fit 9-12 great songs on each side. Then it became a game to see how many short grindcore songs you could squeeze on before the tape ran out. Oh, You Suffer... how many mix tapes have you helped me top off?

I always tried to vary the listing; my philosophy was start off fast and brutal, end the same way, but leave room for some slow, brooding stuff in the middle. I'd always try to work a longer doom/black metal song into each side, to break up the flow and give the listening experience a little nuance. Plus, I listened to so many different types of music, from metal to punk to industrial, that it always amused me to throw in something left of field.

Even though I was studying illustration and design at the time I was making the majority of these mixes, I never really spent as much time on the artwork for my mix tapes as some of my friends did . I was mostly content to cut random bits out of magazines and re-purpose advertising copy into new and inappropriate purposes.

I don't think I miss the format of the mix-tape so much as I miss the level of involvement, the back-and-forth, the sense of getting something personal. (I certainly don't miss postage fees). A mix-tape told you a lot about a person who made it, besides just what kind of music he listened to. It was also a cool present, one that didn't require much money but a certain level of commitment. Which, really, is the best kind of present.

With some hope of recapturing all this, I've started making "digital mix tapes" out of iTunes playlists and my Mediafire account. Without the actual length of tape to hold me back, I limited myself to meeting the maximum file size for an upload. This is the mix I made for my metal friends for Christmas 2010:

Side 1:
Vader - Death Metal
Dark Tranquillity - I Am The Void
Laethora - A.S.K.E.
The Wretched End - With Ravenous Hunger
Brutality - Screams of Anguish
Defecation - Protective Rage
Winterfylleth - The Fields of Reckoning
October Tide - Deplorable Request
Killing Joke - European Superstate
Agalloch - Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires
Keep of Kalessin - Dragon Iconography
Kataklysm - Suicide River
Ihsahn - Heavens Black Sea

Side 2
Dewey Cox - Let Me Hold You (Little Man)
Danzig - Thirteen
Motörhead - Deaf Forever
Balance of Terror - A Better Tomorrow
Venomous Concept - Punk Rock Idol
S.O.B. - Downfall of Civilization
Mental Horror - Denying the Scars
Unleashed - Return Fire
Behemoth - Penetration
Mike Patton - Shock & Shoot-out
The Angelic Process - Crippled Healing
Fall of Because - Merciless
Necronaut - Rise of the Sentinel

This was an interesting challenge, since it was a mix tape for multiple people, some of whom are really into the underground, and some of whom just dabble. I limited myself to albums that I got in the last year, which is why the playlist is so 2010-centric (though I cheated and stuck on two covers, one of which - Vader's version of "Possessed's Death Metal" - I've been listening to for at least 12 years). And I threw on Danzig and Motorhead because, screw it, why not. I'm hoping that this will spark some kind of file/playlist sharing within my little hesher community.

The Mix.