The more frequently you listen to it, the more deeply a mixtape will ingrain the logic of its sequencing, until it comes to seem that the order of songs could not have transpired in any other way. I think of this as cassette time: a chain of events that each tape creates, internal and unique to itself.
This tape, the one that these notes accompany, had to begin with Fia Fell’s laser beam synthesisers and progress through Lady Lash’s sanguine flow to Milk Teddy’s genteel pop and thence to Waterfall Person’s welter, past truth-n-dare’s fluorescent declarations and the wooziness of School Damage to the glistening Kimchi Princi and The Hacketts, boogieing. If it didn’t happen this way then it would be another tape, not better or worse but different. A mixtape, like an essay, starts and ends somewhere that could have been another somewhere but you have to make a decision and once you do, every other latent possibility falls away. It’s maddening, really. Tape making is one of the most masochistic pastimes. Like writing. And just as addictive.
I like to believe that I’m not nostalgic for cassette tape—it is, after all, the worst-sounding and least reliable of analogue formats—but the rubbery, slip-on cover of my smartphone is a facsimile of a cassette. And the facsimile has fooled people: people old enough, like me, to recall the heyday of cassette but not young enough, as I am, to know a tape’s dimensions like a kind of muscle memory. I guess I do miss those exasperating days spent compiling mixes, though I don’t miss the time chewed up by chewed-up tape, unspooling it from the cartridge with the aid of a pencil, trying to right the damage, then winding it back in again. The worst was when it snapped, and all one’s patience went to waste.
A mixtape makes a ribbon of argument between one artist and the next. Here is a way to hear each with, and often against, the others. “We are complicit at all times,” sings Pikelet, on this tape. Pikelet’s placement next to Lady Lash, a Kokatha musician (“I am me, right here / I’m supposed to be,” she raps), is a juxtaposition that might prompt one to think about the fraught relationship between Indigenous and colonial settler people in Australia, if the latter is indeed the “we” of Pikelet’s lyric, which I suspect it is. There are ways and means of being bound up with this country’s multiple countries, but they are not the same.
All the artists on this mixtape are based in Australia, but you wouldn't necessarily guess that upon hearing them. I think it’s fair to say that the musical eclecticism represented here is a consequence of the kinds of listening—and the forms of musicianship—that the internet has made possible. What—if any—is the musical connection between the unorthodox pop of Pikelet and the polished beats of Lady Lash? Or between Lalić’s languorous, Auto-Tuned ballad ‘Sleeprunning’, on Side A, and Gussy’s bouncing ‘Morning’, which opens Side B? Perhaps it’s enough that they’re all here together, existing on cassette time. That itself is the connection.
Pre-internet, just about the only tapes on which you would have heard pop followed by hip-hop followed by rock followed by R & B were the end-of-year chart compilations that filled the racks at stores like Kmart. These tapes were marketed as cheap Christmas gifts for kids. (Proud owners of Hits 4 U ’92, stand up with me.) In many ways, the internet has returned us to the omnivorous, cross-genre listening that used to be the preserve of pre-adolescent children—or very open-minded adults—before subcultural loyalties bent them into more rigid patterns.
But the internet has not delivered us back to the innocence (one could also call it naivety) with which we listen to music before we know that genre exists. On the contrary. We are all knowing now. A song like Pillow Pro’s ‘Sex Appeal’—a DIY slow jam—is effective because it erodes the distance between techniques of mainstream and underground music-making, but you are still aware that the distance was once there. School Damage’s ‘Silent Zone’—which so closely recalls the spartan synthesiser sound of Young Marble Giants circa 1980, yet deals with “shopping sprees and online dating”—could not have been, until recently, anything other than a jarring anachronism. Now it’s a smooth one. There are no kinks between eras anymore, and the historical associations play out easily.
You might not even listen to this tape as a tape, but only as a digital download. And that’s fine. Have I told you already that tape is unreliable? That stuff is a bastard. It will only let you down. If not the tape itself, which will warp, then the Walkman, which will break, or the batteries for the Walkman, which will run flat ten minutes after you insert them, leaving you to face a whole bus trip with nothing for company but other people’s conversation. Best avoid that heartache.
The cassette tape as an object, though, free of the bother of having to play it—how beguiling it is! I like the way that a tape inside its case will rattle slightly, a little percussive instrument. It fits into the hand. And so often it bears the trace of another’s touch: their writing, their artwork. Before the internet, young people used to waste their time perfecting their drawings of band logos, the better to impress their friends and potential love interests by copying said logos onto the card insert or sticky labels of a tape. Among my most precious objects are those tapes made and given to me by friends who have since passed away. I know that they touched the thing, and by the tape I get as close to them now as I am able.
This tape is a little different, not so personal, though still directed at you. (And at you, and you, too.) Take some time to get to know it. Give an ear to the drifting marine world of Tim Coster and another ear to the Tetris warp of TT SKTLS, and then bare your arms to Lisa Lerkenfeldt’s wintry haze before singing along to Beloved Elk. Don’t forget Jade Imagine; if you do they will never invite you to their lunch table again.
A parting tip: two small pieces of sticky tape placed across each punched-out tab will allow you to record over this cassette, should you wish to. Which you won’t.
These liner notes were commissioned to accompany The Lifted Brow Mixtape, a curated one-off cassette tape available to subscribers, featuring 17 Australian-based acts.
You can subscribe to The Lifted Brow here.
The launch of Issue 35 will feature performances from three of our mixtape artists: Pillow Pro, Pikelet and Lalić. Come join us on Friday the 15th September, 6.30pm at The Curtin Hotel.