Thinking Back to ’97: DJ’s and the Art of the Mixtape

An assortment of mixtapes soon to be uploaded!

Another long hiatus away from this blog can only be blamed on school. The continuous grind of reading, analyzing, and writing about of literature were instrumental to my hiatus but I have finally found a subject that I felt was worthy of an update.

Since a huge part of my life at the moment happens to be DJing I have been thinking a lot about the mixtapes that got me into playing records in the first place. The tapes my brothers and I amassed in the late 90’s inspired me to learn how to mix records which is something I never thought I would have had an interest in prior to getting into mixtapes and everything that followed. Now looking back I can say my perception of DJing was to conflate the use of turntables with two things: (1) strictly with hip hop and (2) the DJ who rocked all the middle and high school dances I’d attended.

Highly influential Desert Breaks CD's released by John Kelley of Moontribe circa '96-'97

However, it all changed in ’97 when the mixtapes I was introduced to altered my feelings about dance music culture and a phase of my life began where searching out parties in the shadiest of locations for the sake of seeing a DJ play a set would become as important as seeing my favorite band play. Stylistically it was the allure of desert breaks and jungle’s (aka Drum and Bass) low frequency basslines that sucked me, but later it was finding the parties and watching the DJ create the vibe of a mixtape in a live setting. DJ’s like Daniel, John Kelley, Brian, and Trevor from the MOONTRIBE Collective; UFO!, Abstract and Sage from the PHUNCKATECK Crew; and DJ Graeme of FUNKY TEKNO TRIBE; and DJ JUN from LA made up the creative force behind my favorite tapes of the period.

I figure that some people may find that mixtapes of the ‘rave’ music variety are difficult to listen to since their length (usually 45 minutes per side), lack of  recognizable “hits”, and mostly instrumental tracks demand a listener to pay attention to the interaction of sounds (either the analog or digital instruments that comprise the track) being generated as opposed to how the emotional content of lyrics can convey a sense of mood. With that in mind, I tend to think of a mix like a movie that is broken down into separate acts with introductions, reversals, action, moments of elation, and climaxes that, in a musical sense, is more akin to a symphony with the DJ acting as both the composer (by the act of selecting tracks) and the conductor (by the weaving of the selection into a mix).  At the end of it all (usually 90 minutes in tape format), the mix itself is a unique act of creation and not just a collection of songs compiled and called a mix…at least a good one should be more than that.

Today’s offering (the first of many) is Spacebass II by Daniel. It was in 1997 when I first heard it and rave culture was starting to come into my radar. Amongst the multitude of sub genres of rave music I was heavily into Jungle/Drum & Bass because of the  combination of hip hop, dub, punk, funk, and electronic (probably missing a few others) styles with the cinematic influence of Sci-Fi movies that combine to emit a dark and moody vibe. Daniel’s mix exhibits all of the aforementioned traits while creating a soundscape similar to a movie but solely through the use of sounds. Check it out in the mixtape archive and try and spot each transition from track to track.