A Love Letter to… Mixtapes
I remember a lot of things that make me feel properly old.
I remember watching my mum sprawled on the stairs, gossiping with people on the house phone, twisting the cord around her fingers. I remember knocking on friends’ front doors to see if they were home and wanted to hang out (and leaving a note if they weren’t). I remember Limewire. My Walkman. The Frosties advert. The Tracy Beaker theme tune. MSN.
Oh, and I remember mixtapes. I especially remember mixtapes. Probably because they never went away – not really. Not for me, at least.
The process of making a mixtape for someone isn’t really to introduce them to new music. When I was a teenager, I would burn tracks onto disc for friends who I thought might enjoy Courtney Love or Bikini Kill – or at least might want to listen to them in the car. These days though, you’d just send someone a link if you felt like sharing some songs. I have a friend who always WhatsApps me Spotify links, and that’s our only online interaction. There’s a warmth to that, too, but mixtapes are something else entirely.
“Mixtapes are time capsules. They are emblems, and they are tokens”
Making a mixtape for someone is to show a person you like them so much that you want to make them an object. You want to put your time and energy into curating something. Mixtapes are time capsules. They are emblems, and they are tokens. When you give someone a mixtape, what you’re really saying is: “here, have a bit of me to keep.” People come and go in our lives all the time, but if you give them a mixtape, they might find it in 15 years, gathering dust in one of their drawers, barely held together. Then they’ll see your handwriting. They’ll remember the songs you both liked in 2019, or 2005 or 1982, and they’ll remember the times you spent together – a private moment of intimacy.
The last mixtape I made was at Christmas. Have you heard that David Bowie song Modern Love? At the beginning he says, “I know when to go out/ I know when to stay in”. So I decided to make two tapes for someone – one for going out, one for staying in. The ‘going out’ one was red and glittery, full of party tunes, each of them scrawled on the inner sleeve in biro. The ‘staying in’ one was blue and bleak. I filled it with Neil Young and Lana Del Rey, maybe some Yazoo. Both of them took a whole evening to make. I didn’t mind.
“Making a mixtape for someone is to show a person you like them so much that you want to make them an object”
I’ve never received a mixtape myself. This either says something about me, or the company I keep. Maybe I’m more romantic than other people. Maybe someone out there has made me a mixtape, but they’re too shy to hand it over. Or maybe it’s just too much effort these days. We’re used to life moving very quickly, and to make a mixtape you need a CD player with an in-built cassette. You need blank tapes, which require trawling the streets or Amazon (who has the time?). You need a whole evening to yourself. You need staying power. But this is also what makes mixtapes so special, that make them an entity unto themselves, or as something that expresses love, affection and confidentiality.
So if anyone’s reading this – and you’re not a creepy stalker who I do not want to hear from – please feel free to make me a mixtape. I like mid-90s grunge. I like 80s film soundtracks. I like German electronic music. I like Shania Twain. And I love mixtapes. I love what they are, what they’ve come to represent, and I love why we keep returning to them, after all these years.