Words by:

As users mourn the closure of MixesDB, one of the most thorough databases of electronic music on the internet, urgent questions arise about the precarity of digital cultural archives, and the hidden – and essential – histories they contain.

For almost two decades, MixesDB presented a meticulous, forensically curated trove of musical history. A mammoth collective effort, the site’s catalogue spanned more than 280,000 mixes and 15,000 charts, totalling over 4,680,000 track entries. Users were free to sign up and contribute details of radio shows, podcasts, DJ sets, and live PAs, logging everything from hip house to gqom, italo, breakcore, and all the dubs (techno, reggae, step). “It’d always be the first place I checked if I was looking for a particular song in a DJ set,” Ben Thomson, a.k.a. Ben UFO, says over email.

But over time, the site’s retro wiki-style design contributed both to its simple appeal and its downfall. It ran on a version of the same software that powers Wikipedia – but was more than 14 major updates behind. Custom code written to add new features went from whetstone to millstone. “To make it short,” reads a note from the site’s founder and architect, Martin Götz, “the code ran into a dead corner and is not update-able anymore without months of enormous coding effort.” This is the kind of effort that can’t be funded by cratered ad sales or failed donation models. So, as of 29 June, MixesDB will be no more. “My heart bleeds every day since I decided to close MixesDB,” Götz wrote, in an update posted to the site on 6 June.

The widespread sense of loss prompted by MixesDB’s closure is twofold: for many, it marks not only the end of a much-loved website but, more widely, it heralds the end of an era – the era when the web felt like a space to geek out in, a place for passion to overspill, when posting stuff online was more about sharing than shareholders. While digital dust awaits the site, searching questions about what is lost when archives like these fall offline are far from settled. They are questions that Götz doesn’t have answers for yet. “I’m just a private person who happened to have a website,” he wrote, over email, declining an interview. 

MixesDB was predominantly dedicated to electronic music in all its forms, and, in particular, to DJ mixes. There are records of a 1971 Herbie Hancock live PA in Nice, France, and of Kraftwerk perplexing a German TV audience the year before, but the earliest traditional DJ set archived on the site is of Tom Moulton spinning disco records for a Labour Day crowd on Fire Island in New York, 1974.

“There are 304 sets of mine on there at the moment, from between 2008 and 2023… It’s probably the most complete and detailed archive of my work anywhere on the internet, and I had no involvement in it whatsoever” – Ben UFO

First whirring up on 16 December in 2006, MixesDB arrived at what would come to be a turning point for the internet, shortly before the mass uptake of smartphones and the consolidation of the mobile web into a handful of apps steadily scooped up by an even smaller number of big tech companies. (The acronym used to group these internet giants – FAANG – was fittingly carnivorous.)

Today, facing a deluge of AI slop and more insidious misinformation, these principles might seem hopelessly idealistic – and more worth clinging to than ever. While billion-dollar AI assistants suggest everything from eating one rock per day as part of a healthy diet, or using glue to help stick cheese to pizza, or suggesting there is “no right or wrong answer” to whether Elon Musk posting memes on Twitter (now X) is worse than Hitler killing millions of people, the value of human curation can only trend upwards.

With an undoubtedly nerdy appeal, the site grew into one of the most thorough archives of modern electronic music. Over time, it became possible to add other data and ephemera to mix entries, with dates, venue details, and uploaded event flyers all rounding out a historical picture of scenes both smalltown and stadium-sized. The minutiae meant that users like Ramon Pang, a DJ and producer making left-field beats in Los Angeles, could find himself transported to the dank corners of London’s Plastic People as he picked, track-by-track, through the six-hour, back-to-back Four Tet and Floating Points set that closed out the venue in 2015. “I spent hours just opening, like, ten tracklists and a bunch of tabs and just digging and digging and absorbing what was going on at the time,” he says. This ability to delve back for snapshots of scenes at particular times comes up repeatedly when speaking with frequent visitors and contributors to the site. For Vancouver-based Rinse resident DJ Overland, MixesDB quickly became an immersive, indispensable tool. “It was like being able to go back in time,” she says, “digging in these little pockets of obscure music.”

While other, similar sites like 1001Tracklists prioritised speed and scale, sometimes at the expense of accuracy, MixesDB put human curation at its core. “There are 304 sets of mine on there at the moment, from between 2008 and 2023,” says Ben UFO. “Although it stopped being regularly maintained at some point in the past couple of years, it’s probably the most complete and detailed archive of my work anywhere on the internet, and I had no involvement in it whatsoever.” The bulk of the Ben UFO archiving was done by three users, geeking out and bouncing IDs between the US, UK, and Europe over long weekend hours.

One result of these instances of intercontinental collaboration, intended or not, was that a community began to build around the site. Speak to the site’s regular contributors and you get tales of Sundays sunk into building out tracklists and patching gaps: Shazaming, trawling through clips on sites like Juno and Discogs, emerging from one rabbit hole just to scurry down another. One user tells me they spent close to three years scouring for a missing Marvin Dash tune they needed to complete one tracklist – and then, when they finally found it, “freaking out” and immediately going to buy a copy of the record. “I realise how nerdy this all is,” they say, with the breezy tone of someone who would do it all over again in a heartbeat. The site’s most prolific updater – Raduna007 – had clocked 313,818 edits on 204,353 pages by the time of the site’s closure.

This level of labour of love is not lost on those who make their living from music. “I think it’s easy to forget that all these sites we’ve used so much from this era of the internet were the results of the dedication, hard work and real knowledge of a community of people,” says Thomson. “Truly manual work, which was far more accurate and more complete than any of the newer automated services, whose only real selling point is speed.”

MixesDB’s demise is part of a pattern; if anything, the site’s endurance has been one of its more remarkable features. A botched “server migration” in 2019 wiped out 12 years’ worth of music uploaded to MySpace. Whole eras of music have been lost to dead Mediafire links and zombified Facebook pages. FunkySouls ran as a busy forum and torrent site for 19 years before peacing out with a simple message – “At this point we’ve ceased operations. From Russia with Love” – shortly after Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine in 2022. Among the world’s largest online music databases, Discogs is currently creaking under an increase in tension between its core community of users and updaters and the site’s owners.

These instances all speak to the precariousness of modern cultural archives, reliant on the whims of investors or web code. This is even more so the case for sites like MixesDB which fulfil specific or niche interests. “The internet seems to be getting worse all the time,” says Ben Block, who produces as Simic and runs the Accessory Records label out of New York City. The American Dialect Society made ‘enshittification’ its Word of the Year in  2023.

“It’s easy to forget that all these sites were the results of the dedication, hard work and real knowledge of a community of people. Truly manual work, which was far more accurate and more complete than any of the newer automated services, whose only real selling point is speed”

“It becomes harder and harder to find independently curated information, or sources of information that a community has worked very hard on putting together,” Block continues. “The age of forums of deep technical knowledge being shared is now being done through Instagram posts or places that aren’t designed for the archiving of knowledge. And so I think to still have these dedicated web pages [like MixesDB] is hugely beneficial.” Networks like those thriving on Discord are providing new ways for fandoms to coalesce online, but, Block points out, the very nature of these closed spaces makes the barrier to entry for new, curious listeners much higher than simply learning the idiosyncrasies of a site like MixesDB. 

Efforts to revive MixesDB are already underway – not least by Block himself. Soon after the closure notice, he began scraping the site and importing it into a fresh database. “I was on vacation in Berlin with my girlfriend, and I didn’t have a laptop or anything with me,” he says. “As soon as we got back to New York, I started working on it.” With his laptop running overnight, Block was able to spin up a continuation of MixesDB – MixesDB 2 – within just a few days.

“It was really important for me to push really hard in those first three or four days,” Block says. “I wanted to make sure that the community that was out there knew that there was going to be at least this repository of all the existing data online for them to view, because I saw a lot of people who are very upset about potentially losing everything that had been there.”

Like the site’s appearance, the philosophy guiding it was brutally simple. Its manifesto reflected the idealism of the early internet, while opening itself up to the possibilities of collective, user-generated content and the social web. “The mixes are added by music lovers from all over the world,” it read. “Our slogan: We care about correctness because most do not.” By refusing to host or link to downloads, it stood, too, against the proliferation of freebies made normal by years of bootlegging, piracy, and the blogosphere. “Plenty of other sites offer downloads, but we don’t take the risk to be closed one day,” read an explainer on the site. “We only deliver information and facts. That’s the only safe way to still be around in the future; which is the main purpose of this database.” 

For Block, who works as a software developer by day, this was, in its own small way, his ‘doctor on the plane’ moment. “I felt excited because I was like, ‘I have the ability, and I have the context, musically, to do something about this.’” But he isn’t seeking plaudits for his minor heroics. He goes to lengths – both over the phone from New York, and on the new site itself – to point out that MixesDB has always been a community effort, and so its fruits should belong to that community.

Plenty of the issues that pushed the original MixesDB to its demise remain. The technical ones, Block is confident he can answer. The costs? He estimates around $60-100 (about £50-80) a month for servers. But the hours required to maintain and moderate a busy user-populated site? He’s kicking that can down the road for now.

“My first priority is just creating an accurate record of everything that was on the previous site,” he says. “The next big question after that will be how to start supporting the community to actually do what was the core feature of the old site, which is contributing mixes and editing tracklists and things like that.” He says he’s had around a dozen people get in touch already, offering their skills in developing MixesDB 2. Ultimately, he hopes to see archival efforts like these be taken on by better resourced, but no less informed, institutions. “I would like it not to be on the shoulders of just a passionate few,” he says.

He’s spoken, too, with Götz, the original MixesDB founder. Götz remains private, but over email he told Block that knowing the database – all 18 years and hundreds of thousands of entries of it – won’t be lost entirely to the ether is helping him sleep much better now.