Mixtape Romanceby Nathan Casey / 11.04.2011
Has technological advancement become arbitrary? When my friends show me iPhone apps that can identify their DNA and track the journey of their turd from toilet to ocean I think it’s cool ‘n all, but also pointless and sad too.
In the same vein, so many people say the more music they have on their iPod the less they listen to – just the same five albums over and over. We upload albums to show off, like your friends list on Facebook. But still just stick to the usual suspects.
So what’s the point of carrying around your entire record collection if it just sits there?
There was a time when the Walkman changed the world. Music became portable and personal – kids didn’t have to listen to their parents’ Abba tapes on family road trips anymore, they could plug the latest Pop Shop compilation into their ears. On the bus you could tune out the grannies’ gossip with equally depressing, but invariably more meaningful, The Cure tunes.
And you have to respect that while the iPod can store every album you own, the Walkman practically birthed our culture of public solitude. And the mixtape revolutionised everything. When we could personalise our albums we began building soundtracks suited to our mood swings.
There’s something about making a mixtape that an iTunes playlist can’t match. Back in the day, a ninety minute cassette compilation would take at least two hours to produce. When you gave it to your girlfriend she appreciated the effort put in – not only having to listen to every song all the way through, but also obsessing over the flow of tracks. It was an extension of your thought and feeling. It was an aural symbol of who cool you were.
You’d sometimes record six songs, then rewind back over the last four because you realised the third would be better a few tracks later. Sometimes one mix tape would take a whole day to make – you’d call it something like “OCD Hits”, and neatly write each song title and artist on the insert.
Nick Hornby understands the art of the mixtape and outlined the rules in his novel High Fidelity: “To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention… and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and… oh, there are loads of rules.”
The same way that sending an email just isn’t the same as posting a letter, a mix CD just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.
Maybe it’s because, embedded in even the smallest romantic act is an element of the personal touch. Nowadays, when we fuck up, burning a CD of love songs, from an endless ipod compilation of schmaltz, is fast and almost entirely meaningless. It’s probably better to just buy roses from the dude at the robots.