The best mixtape anyone ever made me!

The extremely long drive from Cumbria to London and back to Reading on Wednesday was smoothed out massively by a really excellent mixtape that Phillipa sent to me. Rachael and I had our ears filled with rich audio goodness from the lake district to home because of the smart, exuberant selection she included. Listening several times through the whole tape I was introduced to many artists I hadn’t heard of before and refamiliarised with some old favourites. I was also left with the distinct impression that Phillipa is tres cool and has possibly one of the best music collections in the land.

I first met Phillipa through the Missability Knitted Walking Stick Cosy Competition when she submitted the memorable kites/skies cosy to the competition, and then again when she interviewed me as part of the show she made at the UK Stitch’n’Bitch day, 2007. You can still hear her radio piece about UK S’n’B 2007 here along with loads of other shows that are really worth listening to. I was impressed when I met her by her radio interviewing savvy, her tupperware box containing all the necessary geekery for making excellent recordings, and her straightforward approach to asking me about the walking stick cosy competition specifically, and Missability in general.

On the few brief occasions when I have met Phillipa I have learnt loads from her about radio, about radio making, and about crafting sound. It’s amazing in this context to get a sense of the music in her collection; it’s akin I think, to seeing the stash of a knitter you deeply admire and reminds me – sonically speaking – of those great photospreads in Yarn Forward magazine where they photograph the studio of a knitwear designer. That’s what makes a mixtape so amazing; it’s like a sort of sonic presentation of thought and reference, the things that people listen to and consider, musically… the wealth of aural inspiration that sits on their shelves at home. The way the tracks are laid out one after the other – at least with this mixtape – is sort of like a really fun, lighthearted discussion on various ideas about sound, cut’n’paste techniques, remixes, the repurposing of sounds and recordings, and analogue/digital ideas.

Side A opens with Cassette Boy whose Parker Tapes album was allegedly assembled entirely by hand using manual cut’n’splice techniques and reel-to-reel players. Cassette Boy is an old favourite of mine, but this is the first time I’ve experienced Cassette Boy on an actual cassette, which was a material distinction I especially appreciated. We then hear Osymyso whose techniques of cutting and splicing material from the television, radio, etc. are related to Cassette Boy’s and also the Grand-daddy of all of this, Christian Marclay. Christian Marclay himself doesn’t appear in the mixtape, but his remix/mash-up/cut’n’splice influence is everywhere,* notably in the work of Wax Tailor whose mesmerising organisation of vintage recordings with contemporary beats is seamless and gorgeous. After listening to Que Sera (which you can hear on the Sounds page of the Wax Tailor website) Rachael remarked that it is like a really perfectly put together piece of patchwork and that’s a very good analogy. Lining up those beats and samples and bits of voice takes a lot of time and skill and patience and I love the equivalence of this kind of digital sound arrangement with making patchwork. Like Marclay’s Video Quartet, Wax Tailor’s work is very cinematic… voices in his remixes suggest a fragmentary, filmic quality and allude to glamourous storylines that we can only glimpse between the uber-cool beats laid on top. Later on, we hear from the amazing Plus-Tech-Squeeze-Box band (another new band for me) whose exuberant ‘Dough Nuts Town’s Map’ spread a giant smile across our whole journey. It’s like a theme park as a track. Hear it here. I also really loved Chicks on Speed’s Myspace song, which is a great celebration/critique of social-networking sites and the way that Phillipa put in a lot of bits and pieces from Cassette Boy’s Digital/Analogue mixes made sort of a conversation about digital/analogue – a thing I’ve been preoccupied with recently. This theme continued with the incredible Freelance Hairdresser’s recombination of my favourite Eminem song – Marshall’s been snookered – with old ragtime music. You can find that here, while on The Freelance Hairdresser’s Myspace, you can hear another remix of Enimen called Marshall’s been done to death. Even if genius, self-referential, hilarious, post-modern, paradigm-dismantling remixes aren’t your thing, you must visit The Freelance Hairdresser’s website just to appreciate the extreme Old Skool graphics. Side A ends with Silver Sun’s Found you in a dream, which was another completely new artist I’d never heard of.

Moving onto side B, one of the most notable tracks is The Hussy’s Sister Mary Jo which you can hear here. It’s a very catchy song about a Nun who is actually a man. Bring it on. I also really enjoyed discovering Evolution Control Committee via ‘The f*cking moon’ which is a genius bit of reworking, in which the original space-transmission from The Moon is revised to include a lot more swearing and incredulity. You can read about the CD release here. There is also the appealingly lo-fi ‘Ace like space’ track by Kid Carpet with inane lyrics, crappy phat beats and unabashed keyboarding. Kid Carpet’s official site is here. I also loved the touching track at the end of the album, ‘It’s tough to have a crush when the boy doesn’t feel the same way you do’ by OK Go.

I couldn’t mention every single track on here because it would take all morning to find the sites for all the great artists that Phillipa included in ‘Sweets for Felix’ but suffice to say I have been totally enthused by this mixtape and it shortened a long drive immeasurably and made me yearn to become a DJ.

I love that this mixtape is partially about mixtapes – about the ideas of remixing, revising, re-hashing and re-ordering pre-existing material, to make new things. Again with Rob Sheffield:

All mixes have their mutations, whether it’s the mmmmm of the cassette or the krrriiissshhh of the MP3…No matter how hard you listen, you can’t get down to the pure sound, not as it gets heard by impure flesh-and-blood ears. So instead of listening to the pure sound, you listen to a mix. When you try to play a song in your memory, and you remember how it goes, you’re just making an imperfect mix of it in your mind. Human sound is mutant sound. You listen, and you mutate along with the sound…

– Rob Sheffield, Love is a Mixtape

I have been grappling with some ideas about cutting and splicing different works and ideas together for a commission I’m working on for Cut & Splice, an event organised by Sound and Music and BBC Radio 3, and this mixtape has emboldened and inspired me in the way I’ve been thinking about putting the podcast series together. That is the genius of a mixtape; it can show you new things, remind you of old things, provide new ideas about what to put next to what, and make you excited about music and sound all over again.

The first podcast in the series is going to focus on Tape as the ultimate domestic medium and the process of giving and receiving mixtapes over the coming days is very much part of that idea.

*The greatest television/music remix of all time was pulled off by Marclay when he made his uberwork – Video Quartet. If you haven’t seen Video Quartet, you must try and catch it next time it’s installed anywhere near you as it’s a brilliant instance of composing with existing/found materials and it’s a very exuberant, celebratory work as well as being just beautifully put together and perfectly arranged.

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