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Serendipity and the Mix Tape – Why I don’t download from the Web for my radio program

October 8, 2010

I’ve successfully mixed The Fall’s “I Am Damo Suzuki” with Can’s “Oh Yeah” for my radio show. This pleases me greatly.

The pleasure doesn’t just come from the mix itself, as it is very obvious. Both share the same drum pattern; The Fall borrowed it from “Oh Yeah” for their tribute to Can’s lead singer. Plus, in terms of narrative, Can were one of the bands which brought the early members of the Fall together. To be perfectly honest, I’m sure this mixed has been dome many times over the years.

Instead my pleasure derived from the fact I could make the mix at all. Until this week, I didn’t even know the tracks shared the same drum licks. Attempting to do a radio special on The Fall, I was looking to add tracks from bands who influenced The Fall, or who they covered. “I Am David Suzuki” was the most obvious choice to mix with some Can or the single solo Suzuki I had on a compilation.

It was on reading up on the Fall’s tribute I discovered they lifted the drum line. At that moment my heart skipped a beat. But I owned “Oh Yeah”. In fact Can’s Tago Mago album was the only Can album I actually owned. A few minutes later I had the album in my hand and tried out the mix. The transition from the Karl Burn’s noisy kit to the cleaner lines of Jaki Liebezeit worked well. Result.

Of course, if I didn’t own the track I’m sure I could have found it online iTunes or some other such site. For all I know there might even have been a free legal (or not so legal depending on your preference) download somewhere. But I wouldn’t have done it because it is against the rules… the rules making mixtapes.

When I started my radio show back in 1997, it was simply an extension of the mixtapes I’d created since High School. In those teenaged years, stuck in a small country town, my main sources of music were from the town library, taping off the radio or receiving mix tapes from generous elders. Then, every holidays found me in a larger town, where the local record store was raided if my money wasn’t already earmarked for Doctor Who books.

From these sources I created my mixtapes. The idea was passed onto me from my cousin. My piles of commercial tapes and CDs, donated mixes and tapes and tapes of rough recordings form the radio were great songs is isolation. The idea of a mix tape as presented to me was to bring them all together in one place. So money would go on 90 minute Maxell cassettes, and I’d spend several hours carefully recording and testing the tapes. I worked out when to start songs from the radio tapse to remove (if possible) the DJs voice doing intros or outros, or the starts or ends of other songs (some leakage would be inevitable unless the songs were recorded form the cleaner transmissions of the ABC). Every few months I would create a new mixtape of my latest discoveries.

After a couple of years, when my music collection grew, the game changed. Gone was the idea of merely a collection of the latest tunes; instead I worked on themed tapes. From memory, there was one on places, another on water/rain. A third was emotional – charting my emotions on finally leaving town. Here the key was to have enough tracks to create the tapes.

In fact, the themes came from noticing patterns in the tracks I already owned. There was a challenge in it: could I make up the remaining 30 minutes to add to the 60 I had of songs and instrumentals about places. Did I have five more songs about water. Asking these questions led me to scatter through my tape fox and read my cramped writings on tape boxes, or play through CD tracks to see if less familiar tracks were relevant.

That was the joy of mixtape creation for me – using what was at hand. In the same was as a mixtape created for someone else was a showcase for my musical tastes (and an introduction to new music for them), thus the themed tapes was a way to look at my own collection in a different way.

It was a tactic I took to my radio shows, though there I also had the advantage of a larger personal collection by that point, and not least of all the station library of 20 thousand items. As the Internet became available, I wasn’t interested in the pre-Napster (and then actual Napster and beyond) ways of getting music my radio shows. The challenge was to look at what I had and put it together in different ways.

My current radio station is home recorded, and the online radio station I broadcasts on hasn’t a library. Now it is back to my (admittedly far larger) music collection. But even now making what is in effect a weekly mix-tape still throws up surprises.

The simple fact was, I bought Can’s Tago Mago and The Fall’s This Nation’s Saving Grace years apart. I’d never listened to “Oh Yeah” and “I Am Damo Suzuki” at the same time. I never thought of them in the same sentence before. It is possible I haven’t listened to them in the same calendar year before. But then a simple self-set challenge, and a little research made me realise two songs I owned were linked in a way I never realised. Downloading either from the web wouldn’t have felt the same.

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