On mix CDs

Almost everyone I know has made a mix CD for someone else. What a lot of people aren’t aware of is that the art of the mix CD is held in very high regard by certain musicians and record labels that continue to produce meticulously crafted mixes that are as successful as albums of entirely original material.

Germany’s Kompakt label, for example, has released many mix CDs to complement its selection of minimal techno and house music. Artists such as Superpitcher and Michael Mayer have released seminal mixes that are now regarded as milestones in the mix CD genre. Mayer’s Immer, released in 2002, is known as the album that gave birth to the minimal house genre by compiling a series of innovative tracks by different artists and emphasizing the fact that they all had something in common.

Coldcut, founder of the Ninja Tune label, is also responsible for an excellent release that is part of the Journeys by DJ series of mix CDs. What makes Coldcut’s mix interesting and different from Mayer’s is the way it jumps from genre to genre. It reminds us that mix CDs can often give us a richer experience than any single artist could ever provide within the context of a single album. Coldcut exploits this notion by cutting back and forth from ambient to spoken word, from reggae to drum and bass, layering multiple tracks on top of each other and seamlessly transitioning from track to track, truly living up to the idea of the mix CD as a journey.

Studio !K7 also produces a well-known compilation series called DJ Kicks; Erlend Oye’s interesting compilation stands out. Oye, who calls himself “the singing DJ,” removes vocal tracks from songs and replaces them with himself singing. A haunting composition is created when, on the album’s second half, Oye combines a minimal Royksopp remix with the vocals from “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths. A wholly new composition is created, one that is at once more personal than a simple mashup and exists powerfully not only on its own but also as part of an album.

Mix CDs provide artists with the power to make more exciting statements than they may otherwise be capable of on their own. They provide a medium for the exchange of ideas through the assimilation of familiar and unfamiliar material together into a new whole.