From Aug. 26-30, KEXP celebrates our first ever Mixtape Week. All week we'll be featuring on-air mixes created by our listeners and celebrating the art of the mix – whether it be cassette, CD, or digital playlist. We'll also be sharing stories on our website from writers, KEXP staffers, and more – like this piece below from writer Martin Douglas.
I made Que Linda a mix in the summer of 2009, a little over two years since we first met in the shoes department of the particular Macy’s where I worked for a small handful of miserable months. We all have that small handful of friends we can always talk to about music, and even back then I had more than a small handful. Que Linda was number one on my list on a number of matters, but especially obsessive talk about music.
On occasion, she would lay around my room in her underwear — or the occasional pair she swiped from my dresser drawer and wore like they were hers — and I would sometimes catch a welt peeking out from underneath, like they were drawn from a belt. We never had any discussion about it. There were lots of ways she was intensely private (part of why I don’t have any pictures of her), and I knew better than to broach this privacy. One afternoon, while wearing my t-shirt and a pair of underwear she definitely stole from me, she looked over my shoulder while I made a mix for someone who sent me a care package.
At this point in time, I spent hours upon hours on Tumblr and started a thing called the Martin Douglas Snail Mail Exchange Program. I stayed in a few temporary living situations the summer before I turned 21 and opened my own P.O. Box. Even as my living arrangements became more permanent, ending it never crossed my mind. During my years on Tumblr (early 2009 to December 2014, with lots of social media hiatuses and a huge dropoff over the last year), I thought it would be cool to interact with people through receiving mail. It was kind of depressing only getting letters from the Unemployment Security Department, so I asked people to send me stuff. It was a treasure trove for a good portion of time; cross stitch, old books, homemade scarves, stuff from antique stores, a few love letters. And lots of mixes. So I would stuff parcel boxes full of ephemera, pictures I took, long letters, all sorts of stuff. My favorite thing to add to these packages were mixes.
As the story goes, Que Linda and I bonded over being music nerds. Like many of our ilk, we spent entire days making jokes that would now probably make good headlines for The Hard Times. We went on separate missions to find as much of the greatest music ever made into our knapsacks, sharing what we found, splaying it all on a table with a lamp hanging over it. Like we were bandits. We made out to shoegaze, she’s watched me rap along to Wu-Tang Clan deep cuts, we’ve harmonized along with songs from Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, we’ve made out to Grouper.
I’ve mentioned this before, but we used our individual and collective obsession with music as an escape, a wild oscillation between a quiet and loud safe space away from past traumas, past heartbreaks, past experiences that showed us the world isn’t as kind as the souls we shared with each other. We sang the chorus to The Fresh & Onlys’ “Dude’s Got a Tender Heart” to each other. Before she moved away, we listened to a lot of that great crop of late-2000’s San Francisco garage-rock bands. We had a series of very intimate conversations about being abused when we were children, coming from financially struggling neighborhoods, and being the only brown-skinned kids at the punk rock show. The next year, I made her a CD mix whose centerpiece was “Imaginary Person,” from Ty Segall’s enduring classic Melted, as an inside joke when someone anonymously accused me of making her up. A character constructed in the vast expanse of my imagination.
I was a lot pettier back then.
She wasn’t very big on making mixtapes — aside from an era of cassette mixes in the 90’s for boyfriends, she was a very romantic teenager. By the time I met her in her late-twenties, she was hardened by the world, developing a steely resolve from the hailstorm of distressing times she suffered when she was younger. It’s not my place to divulge the things she told me in the small spaces of late night between sips of tasty domestic beer, nor was it my place to ask about the things she didn’t. We talked about the notion of an album as a complete artistic statement. “It would be like not watching a movie all the way through,” she would often say.
So yeah, as it goes, I made mixes for her. There have been quite a few occasions where we would together listen to those mixes — or ones I made for those people on Tumblr who sent me letters and care packages — play quietly (as to not disturb anyone who I shared a place with) as we watched the sun rise together.
Over those songs — “Stadiums and Shrines II” by Sunset Rubdown and “You Build Me Up Just to Bust Me Back Down” by the Reatards and “Coleman” by Deep Time — we talked about the difference between being raised by a hard hand and being abused, being terrorized. She’d put the needle down on a Love record and would come over and watch me put the needle down on Woods’ At Echo Lake. And we’d drink excessively and talk all night, until the sun came up again.
I thought about all the mixes I gave her over the years, the all-hip-hop and instrumental psych mixes I sent her when she moved back to New York. I thought about listening to music and talking to your best friend and watching the sun rise in each other’s arms, deep blue and strong orange and sometimes a light touch of pink and even lighter touch of purple. She believed we are indeed renewed in death. While I picture the CD jewel cases being crushed in a landfill somewhere, I thought about a 45 she played for me once, a song I don’t remember anything about except its beautiful themes of death and renewal. I would’ve put that on a mix for someone.
You’ve gotta give the things you do a little structure; here are a few things I’ve learned about the art of making mixes of the years.
It goes without saying that I’ve made quite a few mixtapes for people I didn’t know very well at all, even from a music taste perspective. Sometimes I did a little Tumblr research to see what type of music the recipients of these mixes liked, sometimes I wasn’t able to find anything. But for Que Linda, I was very intimately familiar with the type of music she liked. I would regularly throw a song or two on that I really liked that was nothing like anything she listened to, just for the potential thrill of discovery. Ultimately, the mix is for your intended recipient and not for you, so keep in mind what they like (again, if you know) when crafting your mix.
As a music lover, I’m very much obsessed with sequencing, the narrative of the music being placed on a mix. It’s fun to connect the threads through the tone of the music, the lyrics, the instrumentation itself. There are a big handful of ways to tell this story, and ultimately the story you’re trying to tell is up to you. And chances are if you intend to make a mix for someone, you’re probably not going to just throw whatever tracks onto it at random.
However, I often (very often) use closing songs as the opening track on a mix. I like the cognitive dissonance of listening to a track I’m used to listening to last as the song to kick things off. I’m of the mentality that mixtapes should be a thrill on the first listen, and obviousness dulls that thrill just a tad.
The whole fast-slow-fast-flow thing doesn’t work as well as building an aesthetic feel, speeding it up or slowing it down, dragging it into the ground and pulling it back up. The canvas is blank, so create a story!
In the spring of 2012, I received the final email I would ever get from Que Linda; it was in equal turns angry, sad, and a little relieved. For obvious reasons I don’t really want to get into it, but the avarice of her everyday life was getting to her and she was deeply unhappy. As the title suggests, this is a mix for her, a mix of music made after her death. Seven years and a lot of change after her death, this represents the last mix I’ll make for her, which was a very emotional process for me.
Chastity Belt - “Time to Go Home”
Thee Oh Sees - “I Won’t Hurt You” (West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band cover)
Tacocat - “Bridge to Hawaii”
Angel Olsen - “Shut Up Kiss Me”
Tweens - “Be Mean”
Wimps - “Mope Around”
Knxwledge - “mylife”
Broken Water - “Love and Poverty”
Sheer Mag - “Suffer Me”
Freddie Gibbs - “20 Karat Jesus”
Parquet Courts - “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”
Protomartyr - “Male Plague”
La Luz - “I’ll Be True”
G.L.O.S.S. - “G.L.O.S.S. (We’re from the Future)”
Nots - “Cosmetic”
AJ Suede - “Gas Light”
Grouper - “The Races”
Shogun and the Sheets - “Pissing Blood”
Gazebos - “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” (Grease Soundtrack cover)
Jonwayne - “Hills”