Why you should make a mixtape for Explode Into Colors

I’ve yet to visit Portland but know it by reputation. Many friends call it home, even if none of them currently claim it as residency. I’ve often taken the opportunity to razz them about their Pacific Northwestern biases, but I understand the affinity. As an Austin transplant, I’ve imagined Portland as this city’s wetter, more overcast fraternal twin. It’s the home to Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls and Bitch and boasts establishments like Powell’s Books, Food Fight!, and Voodoo Donut. Like Austin, it’s got an independent music scene nurtured by DIY enthusiasts. Pass me one of your microbrew dogs and I’ll twist open a Shiner for you. Let’s hang.

One Portland band that’s been on my radar since early last year is Explode Into Colors. I missed them during the last SXSW but am fully prepared to catch them this time.

As if their sound wasn’t enough, word circulated that they’ll be accepting mixtapes as cover for their upcoming Holocene gig. When they come to Austin for SXSW, I hope they’ll be taking other fans’ mixes as a good will gesture.

Explode Into Colors; image courtesy of holocene.org

I’m an ardent supporter and maker of mix CDs. I value them as an aural marker of someone’s history and treasure them as homemade gifts made and traded by friends. Each tracklist tells a story, as does the presence or absence of liner notes and album art. I believe my friend Kaleb of Karaoke Underground proposed the idea of a mix CD swap. I fully support this and would be happy to participate. Expect lots of cuts from Vince B.’s A Reference Of Female-Fronted Punk Rock: 1977-89 anthology, pulled directly from Kängnäve.

Tapes have been on people’s minds lately. Rob Sheffield used mixtapes to shape his autobiographical Love Is A Mix Tape. On 3o Rock, TGS star Tracy Jordan offered to make General Electric executive Jack Donaghy a Phil Collins mixtape as a token of their burgeoning friendship (Donaghy accepted because he has “two ears and a heart”). More recently, Simon Reynolds and Marc Hogan wrote some interesting essays outlining the wave of acts associated with glo-fi (or “chillwave” or “hypnagogic pop“) and the surge of upstart tape distros. With nostalgic fondness for “failed” technology and a desire to re-experience music as something less immediate and more holistic than an mp3 file, many people are returning (regressing?) to tapes. Perhaps Dennis Duffy was right. Technology is cyclical, at least for some.

I’m certainly intrigued by this deliberate move toward difficult and faulty antiquated technology. I’m also a bit of a cassette enthusiast. As a deejay, I recorded several of my shows on tape. It was around this time that I inherited my grandmother’s Mercury Grand Marquis, which I drove until it had to be traded in. As installing a CD player proved too costly, I often played my broadcasts in the car, along with holdovers from my youth, like The Pet Shop Boys’ Discography and The B-52s’ Cosmic Thing. I like that tapes forced me to listen to sequences rather than tracks. The tapes from my show are still in the glove compartment of my Mazda 626, waiting to be lodged into a tape deck.

I love most when a tape warps, changing the speed and sound of the recordings and making tracks at once familiar and foreign. Tapes may document a moment in time, but their vulnerability toward degradation makes them unreliable historians. To bend another 30 Rock character’s words, tapes (like Donaghy’s ceramic cookie jar collection) are alive. They change shape as they age. I hope Explode Into Colors keep the stacks of mixtapes they may be inheriting from their show at Holocene. Who knows what they’ll sound like or conjure up over time.

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18 comments

    • Alyx Vesey

      Just to be clear, I meant that you mentioned the idea to me and Cheech some time early last year. I think when you brought it up, it had been an idea generating in another friend group of yours. Regardless, we’re both down.

      Also, love this cover!

  1. Ben

    I wanna be up in the mix swap if that happens. I wanted to try and get some old kvrxers to do something like that, but I lack the personal charisma to be the driving force behind that kind of thing.

    • Alyx Vesey

      I feel like a KVRX mix swap was always circulating as an idea. I think some folks I wasn’t as close to had one going for a while when I was there. That’d be a fun thing to do though (if also nerve-wracking if I got certain people who I knew would hate my mixes). I’d advocate for a snail-mail only policy. I think Hengst should head it up. Do it, Hengst! :)

  2. bubi zitrone

    oh dear, thanks a lot for the link to Kängnäve – this collection is awesome (and I live in Germany so I already knew a few, but am so glad to listen to even more)!!

    and yeah, from time to time I buy cassette from bands, I actually am a little active in a scene where some dudes (yeah, “as usual” mostly males) do some small labels, some only with cassettes… but it’s also one way to get attention (yeah, from people you really focus on, cause you know they like tapes, so they must be into this or that kind of music; statistics will proof them). And I do mixtapes too, but not as often as I did years ago… now it’s only a gesture to friends I have like an unspoken declaration that cds can’t be THAT personal… to other friends I use cds and I think it can be that personal, only with another personality ;)

    Anyway, thanks for your awesome blog!!

  3. hengst

    ok. i will head up this enterprise. i’ve been trying to get myself into the mode of podcasts, but this will prolly be more fun. who’s in? ben, alyx, cheech? i guess this means i actually need to go find some audio tapes. are they still 90 minutes long?

  4. Stacy K!!!!!!!

    I just saw something about the resurgence of cassettes on CurrentTV last week. They interviewed a band on why someone would put out cassettes in this day and age, and the band pointed out that for lo-fi/garage/punk bands, the format adds something to their sound that digital formats and CDs never could. Kind of a new argument in the vein of “vinyl sounds ‘warmer’ than CD.” It totally makes sense; sad that so many people have gotten rid of their tape players, though.

    • Alyx Vesey

      Thanks for your comment, Stacy K! (!!!!!!) Do you know if the segment you saw is available to watch online? I’d love to see it. I’m sure others would too.

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