Soundtrack to my Ego

The mixtape is the ultimate representation of the ego, argues C James Fagan, as he gets to grips with his very own cultural artefact …

Music, noise and sound; hardly new things, but listen to music and sound and their immediacy make them seem part of this present. In this sense, it is perhaps all too easy to overlook music’s place as cultural artefact.

Listening to the latest Taylor Swift song (if you want to or not), you are listening to the most recent entry within a cultural process which started with cavemen clapping, through to the heavenly echoes of churches, to the distorted output of smartphones.

What has this got to do with playlists, you might ask? Well, what is a playlist or mixtape but such a collection of cultural artefacts (in this case music); a collection which is deliberately formed to create and promote an image of the self.

Admittedly that image presented is an ideal image of ourselves: the most dynamic, interesting and sexy image of ourselves. Not only can a mixtape provide people with a sense of personality, it can also be made to give a sense of personal history. It’s corny, I know, but there’s truth in the idea of songs anchoring themselves to a certain time in your life.

This is what I’ve attempted to do with this mix: to create a playlist of the self, a soundtrack to my ego. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible, not only with you, but with myself, and avoided a revisionism of my musical history. Or have I? Ultimately there’s a fallacy at the heart of any mixtape, for they can’t hold all the personal connotations and associations each song will have. Maybe it will help with giving a sense of this thing I call ‘me’.

So if you’re willing to bear it as I stamp my foot and say ‘Shut up, shut up, this song’s all about me!’, lets get going.

Where to start? I was born somewhere in the middle of the age of disco, though I was far removed from the coked-up dance floors of Studio 54, however disco was connected with a more prosaic hedonism. The hedonism of summer holidays of sticky back seats in rented cars, and one of the main sources of music for me: the car radio. Anita Ward represents bright shiny music for bright shiny days.

“While listening to Barry’s grand gothic music I would scan every detail of the sleeve”

This is followed by the John Barry’s Main Theme from the Disney flop The Black Hole; one of the first recordings that I could call my own. While listening to Barry’s grand gothic music I would scan every detail of the sleeve, depicting the USS Cygnus tumbling into the titular Black Hole. This version features the heroic overture that Disney insisted on, for that Star Wars-y touch.

One of the first major technology advances to occur during my lifetime was the personal stereo. A device I received as a birthday present, and for the first time I felt I was able to manipulate music in a way I wanted. Of course, for that music I went to the nearest source, which was my brother’s bedroom, where I found YES’s album 90125 and Owner of a Lonely Heart.

Now it’s the teenage years, well into the age of the CD, which are available from many shops on the high street. More importantly it was time to align myself with a tribe, with an image and a set of ideals. Which for me was Heavy Metal; maybe the aggressive nature of the likes of Sepultura provided a sonic security blanket.

Moving further into the 90s and while everyone seemed to be trying to act like Oasis, and were trumpeting the Brit Pop band, I was listening to a mix of dance music and Nine Inch Nails. I’ve gone for the techno beats of Ken Ishii (main picture), because I was listening to it, it also marked the dawn of the internet age and time spent trying (and failing) to watch the video across the net. Unthinkable in the age of YouTube.

Next is one of those songs that you’re convinced should be a hit and be blasting from every stereo in the land, Spearmint’s A Trip into Space is one of those songs. Originally heard in a late night Channel 4 programme called The Trip, maybe its best it didn’t top the charts and I can keep it for myself.

We are now heading for the turn of millennium and I’m approaching adulthood. Though I don’t feel like an adult, discovering Boards of Canada seem to reflect a sense of unease about the world, one where the adult world overlapped with the past. I wonder if Boards of Canada also stayed at home to watch Picture Box.

“Discovering Boards of Canada seem to reflect a sense of unease about the world, one where the adult world overlapped with the past”

At some point I  became a Fine Art student and with that came some kind of need to find new music that was different from what I already knew. That came from cLOUDDEAD, a giddy mix of poetry and hip-hop; also Dead Dogs Two provides a great soundtrack to watch a sunset.

Still within the same timeframe comes The Killers – Somebody Told Me. I don’t know if I actually like this song, but it is associated with smokey, dirty, sticky dance floor of Newport, of some good times. Therefore defines a period of my life.

Finally there is the song of now, which is hardest to choose. The songs above have presented themselves as representatives of a past and have the benefit of hindsight. I can’t remember when I first heard the Flaming Lips, but I did and quickly devoured their back catalog and over the last ten years they’ve been a source of inspiration. I even based a performance on one of their songs. I’ve chosen The Gash as its pomp and optimismmakes it a grand anthem for all the strivers outthere determined to fight on!

So that’s it that’s me, well one facet of me. Ask me to do this again and you’ll get a different, not too different version of me. That part of the fun of making playlists, isn’t it?

C James Fagan

Posted on 01/04/2013 by thedoublenegative