Public consciousness of the mixed tape (or mix-tape) hit its apex in the popular film High Fidelity, released to theatres in 2000.
Based on Nick Hornby’s book of the same title, High Fidelity is the story of record shop owner Rob Fleming who is going through a romantic and existential crisis after his lawyer girlfriend leaves him.
Throughout the majority of the story, Fleming and his employees spend their time discussing, amongst other things, “mix-tape” aesthetics.
Hornby understood that the mix-tape was part of the then youth culture and something every music aficionado from the 1970s and 1980s could relate to.
There were two distinct kinds of mix-tapes: one private and the other public.
Private mix-tapes were often intended for a specific listener, to share your favourite music with a friend, woo a potential romantic partner, or to bring to a house party.
Public mix-tapes were usually made up of a performance by a DJ who were mixing songs live on turntables. Public mix-tapes were popularized by artists like Afrika Bambaataa or Grandmaster Flash and often included techniques like scratching and beatmatching.
By the mid 1990s, with the rise in popularity of CDs, the mix-tape was on the wane – at least in the private sense.
The public mix-tape continued to morph and grow, especially in the world of hip hop.
DJs began creating new songs by combining fragments of existing songs creating a remix or mash-up to give the songs new contextual meaning
Enter the world of turntablism.
In the past, Local DJ and turntablist Shane “DJ Seith” Erickson has likened his work to that of collage artists.
A well-known name on the local arts scene, Seith gave himself a personal challenge for 2021.
“This year was all about getting back to creativity and putting new challenges in front of me to overcome and grow from,” he says in a post on his Facebook page.
“I started a tape club and took on the task of creating a new tape each month this year from scratch to finished product, as in-house as possible, from the music itself to the artwork, assembly, and duplication of the tapes.”
Seith set up a Patreon page where fans and supporters signed up to receive one original mix-tape per month.
“I created [the] page to provide listeners with a behind-the-scenes look at the work I am doing with instrumental hip-hop and turntablist-style DJ mixes,” says Seith.
“I also answer questions about DJing and production.”
His Patreon subscribers got exclusive access to video, audio, producer livestreams and writings not found anywhere else.
And of course, they received a hand-delivered, original mix-tape with unique artwork every month of the year.
"Making a new tape each month did present creative and logistic challenges, especially at the beginning," says Seith.
"I didn't go into the project with a fully-formed plan beyond a couple of key points that I wanted to hit, so there was a lot of having to brainstorm how to actually achieve what I wanted to do."
Seith spent the first few months sorting out the logistics.
"A lot of the work was centred around logistical challenges like 'How am I going to realistically achieve the artwork I've created in a reproducible way?' or 'How can I duplicate the tapes in a way that doesn't take as long while not sacrificing sound quality?'"
He found himself having to set aside time for the learning and discovery phase of the project.
"I had to lay out time for testing, failing, adjusting and then testing again," he says.
"And by the time I had figured things out for one tape, the deadline would pass and it would be time to start another tape with a brand new set of problems which required me to iterate on the fixes I came up with from the prior month."
In January 2021, Seith released his first tape for the club, called Seedz Meets KV.
“The tape was a mix funk and soul on the A-side and psychedelic rock on the B-side,” he says.
For his April release, Seith decided to ramp up the excitement around his project by stoking a mystery.
Seith announced to his followers that he had "found" a taped rap broadcast from an early 90s radio show on WSQR 98.5 FM.
Of course, there was more to Seith’s story than meets the eye.
“April's tape club release introduced the world to a forgotten late 80s/early 90s rap radio show that happened to be recorded by someone in ‘Beat Supreme Radio, April 27, 1991,' hosted by DJ Kool Dovey D,” he writes, noting it was a work of fiction.
The tape included voiceovers from a variety of local artists and friends who acted as radio hosts, DJs, newscasters for the fictitious WSQR 98.5 FM.
By releasing it as a purported “found” recording, Seith generate a lot of discussion with his followers.
"I had quite a few people fooled by that one," says Seith.
"That was the tape that was sort of a line in the sand. A lot of people got right into it and were trying to decipher the city and date of origin of that tape based on the clips I posted to social media, sharing it among their friends and rap radio historians. When it was revealed to be fabricated, some folks got the joke and rolled with it, and some felt like they got taken."
Seith notes he worked hard on creating the unspoken back story to that tape.
“This was so much fun to write for and create. A totally different approach to making a mix than I've ever done before ... there were a lot of notes and writing that sort of existed on the fringes of what was actually being presented on the tape, notes about the city of origin, the radio station itself and its ownership and history ... the sports scores at the beginning of the tape were actually the names of tape club members and longtime supporters, slightly changed to sound like city team names. So there were a lot of small details put into that one, yeah. I didn't have a single person come to me and say 'This isn't real' until after I revealed everything at the end of April though."
Tape six of the12, that was released in July, was a concept mix-tape that told a hero's journey through music that “relied either entirely or heavily on synthesized sound.”
“A lens was put onto my love for classic video games and the sounds that accompanied them, and the selections and arranging followed thematic sections -- home, catalyst, journey, conflict, triumph, and change,” he says.
Over the course of the year, Seith began to see members of the tape club suggesting themes for the products.
“One of the members of the tape club had asked if I could do a rap mix-tape of modern underground artists," he said.
"I agreed but thought that the concept of a rap mix-tape on its own didn't excite my curiosity enough to feel comfortable with doing. I thought long and hard about what I was going to do. My partner had started playing online bingo with some friends, so I asked her to show me how it worked. She showed me how she would run these bingo games, and I thought, ‘How ridiculous and stupid would a bingo-themed rap mix-tape be?'"
Of course, he went forward with the idea.
“[It] had my inner child laughing their head off, which was all I needed to commit to it,” says Seith.
"I got to selecting and arranging, then did the mix in one take, peppered with the sounds of a real bingo hall throughout, and started copying tapes. I even made bingo cards to go with the tape which contains words and phrases from the songs in the mix instead of numbers, so you could actually play bingo while listening to rap music.”
Seith held a livestream event around the release where people could join in and play Bingo! from their computer or smartphone while listening to the tape play in full over the stream.
“We had a live board that would show the words from the cards as they were called and people could call bingo in real-time over the internet to win prizes like CDs, stickers, and art prints.”
For each of the tapes he released, Seith created original artwork for the cassette cover art.
“This was my first attempt at [using] handmade stamps and a lot of unexplored skill sets had to be used to get this one off the ground,” he says.
“I was working with carving tools and linoleum blocks, both of which I had no prior experience with. It quickly became my relaxation activity and after the first two stamps I decided that I would do all of the tape cover art in this way.”
Seith says that February's tape cover art was especially daunting.
“I wanted the cover to have many colours, but was not sure how to achieve that with lino carved stamps. I figured out a way to get it to work with a ruler and a lot of patience and trial and error. Gluing the stamps to a piece of rough-cut click flooring for rigidity required a lot of geometry to get the four stamps required to make the image to line up, and there was no second try.”
Seith also created additional artwork that was stamped across the spines of the tapes.
"This created an influence on how I ran the access to Tape Club; it was in my best interest to do what I could to ensure that all twelve tapes stayed together to keep the artwork intact."
He notes the tapes have received varied responses.
"A lot of people have told me that they like what I’m doing with it, the idea of making a mix each month and making the artwork into stamps by hand and handling all of the making of the mix in-house," says Seith.
"I've been told that the project has inspired people to start creating and taking on cassette releases of their own, which is more than I could have asked for."
He notes that his choice to use the older medium of the cassette tape has generated some questions.
"Some have been having trouble understanding why the tapes aren't available to listen to online, and I have also had quite a few people say that they would like to support but don't have a way to listen to tapes. But I would say that the response has largely been positive."
After such a massive project, did Seith feel like he accomplished what he set out to do -- "getting back to creativity" and taking on "new challenges"?
"I think what I was able to do was to be able to sort of let go in a way and just let myself occupy this space where I felt I could explore more and discover stories to tell through mixing and sampling. And that's really where I wanted to be."
What is next for Seith in 2022?
"I'm going to be working on making available the remainder of the unclaimed tapes from this year's project to the public, likely around the beginning of July," he says.
"I will also be releasing some more behind-the-scenes writing and material from the project to Patreon subscribers. As of this writing, I currently have one tape left to release for the club members which has been completed and is just now at the writing stages. The final tape drops on Jan. 1, 2022. Otherwise, I'll be continuing to dig in the [record] crates and discovering music."
Read an earlier story about the birth of DJ Seith here.