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Evan Rule

12/17/13
Life Magnetic: The Impact of the Mixtape
Prior to the rise of the mixtape, the American pop music scene was a formidable place for
musicians looking to make it big, In order for an artist to have their music heard by a sizable audience,
they needed a means of distribution and a way to score precious airplay on the radio. The high cost of
manufacturing and distributing vinyl records meant that artists needed a record contract to have any
hope of sharing their music with the world. The 1970s brought the rise of the big album and with it
an ever shrinking number of record contracts, as labels were less willing to invest in artists that might
not go Platinum. The advent of the cassette tape leveled the playing field and allowed artists to achieve
a modest circulation of their music without major label support. Many of the Djs responsible for the
development of hip hop in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Afrika
Bamaataa) relied on audio cassette recordings in order disseminate to a wider audience what was
otherwise a strictly live experience.
When cassette technology matured to the point where anyone could afford to assemble their
own mix of tracks, music fans became a crucial part of the distribution process. This idea was central
to the metal scene in the 1980s; fans would create mixtapes that featured the best songs from many
different artists and distribute them among themselves as a way to promote bands that they enjoyed and
to discover new music. This new distribution model helped music fans take back some of the tastemaking power that had been consolidated in a small number of large corporations over the course of
the 1970s. Portable tape recorders also allowed fans to make bootlegs of live performances and to
exchange them with other fans. This practice has spawned an entire bootleg culture around several
artists known for distinct live shows, such as The Grateful Dead. As the concept of the mixtape grew
in popularity, it took on a more personal dimension with fans compiling playlists of songs with special
significance or intended for a certain event or to be listened to by a significant other.
Today, the Internet has largely replaced the role of mixtapes in the development and

dissemination of music. Anyone can use Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and a host of other websites in order
to distribute their own original music. In the same vein, websites such as Grooveshark and Spotify
allow users to save playlists of tracks that can then be shared with friends. The Internet has completely
transformed the act of sharing and disseminating music to the point that a process which used to require
physical media (cassette tape, compact disc, etc), a considerable amount of time, and, most often,
money to acquire the source material into a process that is entirely digital, free, and takes only a few
clicks of the mouse.
The idea of a mixtape as it's own work of art is still alive today in several Techno and House
subgenres, with Djs releasing extended mixes that blend selected tracks through a variety of mixing and
production techniques, though today the creation and distribution of these mixes is done almost
exclusively by digital means. Despite the fact that technology has detached it from its analog roots, the
spirit of mixtape production will live on as long as music fans continue to compile and share
collections of tracks with others.
The power of the mixtape manifests itself in the idea that a person can distill their entire life
into a collection of songs. Wilkie Fahnstock's mixtape collection paints him as a man with an open
mind towards music and an appreciation for many different types of pop music (and later, avant-garde
and art music). Unafraid to be labeled as the guy with the Devo albums, Fahnstock shows that he has
more interest in the music itself than in the social connotations therein. Letting Stayin' Alive precede
Marquee Moon makes it clear that he took no sides in the Disco Wars; it's all Rock and Roll to
Wilkie.
Fahnstock's choices are generally with the times, considering that each cassette represents a
different era of his life. There are several tracks which could be considered ahead of their time, but
Fahnstock includes these songs on cassettes which predominantly feature tracks from several years
later, indicating that he himself did not become aware of them until a few years after their release. If
Fahnstock had been listening to Modern Lovers in 1972 (or rather 1976 when their first set of

recordings was officially released) or The Feelies in 1979, he would have been ahead of the times.
Unfortunately, he includes Road Runner alongside tracks from circa 1980 and The Boy with the
Perpetual Nervousness alongside tracks from the mid-1980s. One puzzling choice is the inclusion of
Captain Beefheart's Low Yo Yo alongside tracks from the late 1980s and early 1990s. The fact that
this song isn't from Trout Mask Replica or Safe as Milk, arguably Beefheart's most acclaimed and most
accessible LPs, respectively, makes this choice truly inexplicable.
Though Fahnstock's mix is single- and hit-heavy (e.g. Beat It, Smells Like Teen Spirit,
Baba O'Riley, Back in Black, etc.) much of his selection is fairly high-brow and features several
arcane tracks that were (or have become) critically acclaimed and highly influential but never enjoyed
much popularity. Fahnstock appears particularly knowledgeable about the New Wave and Punk
movements, including several tracks from seminal artists in the development of post-punk, for example
Pere Ubu's Dub Housing. It's also worth noting that Fahnstock is a fan of Brian Eno; his mixtape
collection includes two Eno solo cuts, one track from Roxy Music, and two Talking Heads' songs
produced by Eno.
Fahnstock also shows an interest in experimental, avant-garde, and non-Western music with the
inclusion of Laurie Anderson, John Cage, and U. Srinivas. Fahnstock's late trend toward
experimentation and sophistication is also reflected in his continuing adoration of Eno, including on the
final side of his mixtape one of Eno's ambient works (though curiously Fahnstock incorrectly quotes
both the title and the release year). Besides the unpredictable turn towards avant-garde and art music at
the end of the mixtape collection, Fahnstock's music taste changes much in the way that Rock and Roll
itself evolved, from Rhythm and Blues and Motown to Folk Rock to Blues Rock and Progressive Rock,
Glam Rock, Singer/Songwriters, New Wave, Punk, Metal, MTV Pop, Hip Hop, Alternative Rock, and
Grunge. Fahnstock's collection could serve as a crash course in American pop music.

Led Zeppelin Heartbreaker Blues-Based British Rock 1969 4:14


The Rolling Stones Ruby Tuesday British Blues 1967 3:18
Metallica Seek and Destroy Thrash Metal 1983 6:55
The Shins Pink Bullets Indie Mainstream 2003 3:53
Buddy Holly You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care) Rockabilly 1958 1:37
Creedence Clearwater Revival Lookin' Out My Back Door Country Rock 1970 2:35
Bob Dylan I Want You Folk Rock 1966 3:08
The Beach Boys Girl Don't Tell Me Surf 1965 2:21
Animal Collective Flesh Canoe Neo-psychedelia 2005 3:44
Lapalux Swallowing Smoke Future Garage 2013 4:29
Chance the Rapper Good Ass Intro (So Good) Hip Hop 2013 3:59
Talking Heads This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) New Wave 1983 4:56
The Velvet Underground All Tomorrow's Parties Proto-Punk 1966 6:00
Television Guiding Light Post-Punk 1977 5:37
The Feelies Fa Ce-La Post-Punk 1980 2:04
Can Moonshake Krautrock 1973 3:06
XTC Season Cycle Psych Pop 1986 3:18
Total playtime 1:05:14
My mixtape is organized to reflect the evolution of my own musical taste. In contrast to
Fahnstock's collection, my mixtape is far from historically chronological. As a child, my primary
exposure to music was through the local classic rock FM radio station that my dad would play in the
car anytime we went anywhere. It was the kind of station that plays the same hundred or so hits from
the mid-1960s to the early 1990s without much variety or emphasis on deep tracks. I became familiar
with the big names in classic rock (Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc.) but never
made much effort to explore any albums and I certainly didn't understand the album as a cohesive work
of art.
When I was in middle school, I started to get into metal, mostly of the heavy and thrash
varieties: Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden. I became obsessed with the virtuosic guitar playing,
which led me to progressive metal and speed metal. This is when I began to explore full albums, some
of which were concept albums, though they never made much impact on me conceptually, most likely
because the concepts weren't particularly well developed. Eventually I grew tired of putting all of the
emphasis on virtuosity and my interest in music as a whole stagnated.
Then I heard the Shins for the first time. I was familiar with Indie Rock, it being an essential

part of late 2000s' pop culture, but the Shins seemed to be more authentic and more skilled songwriters
than most of the corporate rock acts that had co-opted the term indie post new-millennium. In
contrast to the overblown technicality of speed metal and progressive rock, the stripped down and
simple music of the Shins very much appealed to me and led me to further music that placed
songwriting above virtuosity (Buddy Holly, CCR, and The Beach Boys), and eventually to music of
increasing lyrical complexity, such as Bob Dylan. My first exposure to psychedelic and experimental
music came when I heard Animal Collective for the first time. Although it took me many listens to
fully understand and appreciate, their album Feels completely changed how I viewed music and was
the first album that I connected with conceptually. This led me to seek out music of increasing
experimentation.
This past year, when I heard Lapalux's Nostalchic, my mind was opened to an entire world of
electronic music, and this album is largely the reason why my weekly radio show on WJHU is focused
on electronic music. Like many my age, my limited exposure to electronic music had come in the form
of poorly produced EDM and mainstream Dubstep, but now I was slowly becoming aware of the many
producers who are taking these musical styles in a far more artistic and nuanced direction. I was awed
by the power of a single album to change my opinion of an entire genre. This phenomena happened
again when I heard Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap. The soul and psychedelic influence on this mixtape
completely shattered my prejudices about songwriting and production in hip hop.
Soon again my taste began to come full circle and I became enthralled with music that mixed
electronic and rock music, New Wave. I devoured albums by Talking Heads and anything related to
Brian Eno or David Byrne. My interest in New Wave music inevitably led me to punk music, which
did much to restore my passion for stripped down Rock and Roll (The Velvet Underground) and also
for intricate guitar playing (Television) and fascinating poly-rhythms (The Feelies). I also became
interested in the genre of Krautrock, which combines many of my favorite musical elements:
electronics, rock rhythms, and psychedelic jamming. I chose to close my mixtape with a song from the

XTC album Skylarking as a reminder to myself that whenever I think I'm in a musical rut, an album
will always come along that will absolutely thrill me, just as Skylarking has for the past few weeks.