White Label Wednesday: Medsker’s Retro Beat Mix

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In the comment section of last week’s White Label Wednesday column on ABC, Ted lamented that I didn’t beat mix the songs together. Today, he gets his wish.

I made roughly 15 to 20 beat mixes during my time as a DJ in college (1987-1991). I didn’t own any gear, so I either made the mixes after hours at the clubs where I worked or I used the gear of a fellow DJ friend, who was brave enough to have his gear in his dorm room. Since the mixes were all recorded on cassette, very few have made the jump to the digital realm. Easy CD Creator had an add-on earlier in the decade that enabled people to input analog sources into their computer, and it would record the tracks and break them down. The program was clearly designed for vinyl, thinking that it would create a new file whenever a song ended or faded out. With beat mixes, this was a little more complicated, since the idea is for there to never be a break. I’d end up with one 12-minute file, and then 15 ten-second files. I would then take this .wav file editor and put the songs back together. Wheee.

The worst thing about uploading the tapes was that the digital recording was really quiet, so I would have to amplify the tracks exponentially, which of course amplified the tape hiss as well. You don’t really hear it when things are jumping, but when a song got quiet…whoooooosh! I should just break down and get one of those USB turntables that can convert vinyl and cassettes, but there is just one problem: I have no money, and with two kids, no time. So most of my tapes are still tapes.

Except for this one. Recorded in early 1991, before the whole ’80s nostalgia thing got into full swing, I made the Retro Mix because I had all these older 12″ singles that just didn’t work well with the newer records I was buying, so I made a mix of nothing but older stuff. This mix was recorded on my friend Paul MacDonald’s gear in his dorm room, and his mixing board had one of the coolest things I had ever seen at the time: it could actually record about three or four seconds of music, which you could trigger like a sample! I know, totally not a big deal now, but I had to experiment with it by spinning the intro to the Power Station’s “Some Like It Hot” backwards. Those drums were just asking for it.

As for the beat mixes themselves here, well, some are good, and some aren’t. Just like any of my beat mixes, really. There’s always one colossal train wreck on each mix, and this time it’s the transfer from Arcadia’s “Election Day” to Level 42’s “Something About You.” The problem was that the percussion intro to “Something About You” is not at the same speed as the rest of the song, so as I was matching the Level 42 beats to the Arcadia track, I was using the middle of the song, and then cued the record back to the beginning. Whoops. I did something atypical with this tape in that I started several of the mixes “hot,” going live with the beat mix from the very first beat of the song. (Talk Talk, Chaka Khan and the Human League, to name a few.) Much of that was out of necessity, since “Don’t You Want Me” only has eight beats before the big keyboard riff hits. And if Chaka Khan looks wildly out of place with the other artists on this mix, keep in mind that the song was written by Green Gartside and David Gamson of Scritti Politti, and sounds exactly like a Scritti song. Green even sings backup.

Now, in case I didn’t already make this clear, be advised: this is an eight-year-old, pre-USB turntable transfer of an 18-year-old cassette, where I recorded a bunch of 25-year-old vinyl. And chewed up 25-year-old vinyl at that. Audiophiles might get hives listening to this, and most of Side II is not beat mixed. (There are only two beat mixes on the entire side.) But anyone looking for an ’80s party mix, or an insight into how my college-age mind worked, might get a kick out of this.

UPDATE: King of Grief to the rescue! He has graciously volunteered to assemble all of the tracks into one mp3 file. And what a marvelous editing job he did, too. Download Side I

Side I
1. Howard Jones – What Is Love?
2. Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It
3. Thompson Twins – If You Were Here
4. Arcadia – Election Day
5. Level 42 – Something About You
6. Depeche Mode – Everything Counts
7. Chaka Khan – Love of a Lifetime
8. Wham! – Everything She Wants
9. Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls
10. Human League – Don’t You Want Me
11. Eurythmics – Sexcrime (1984)
12 OMD – So in Love

And for reasons that I’ve since forgotten, I added this bit from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon that still stands as my favorite Looney Tunes moment ever.

Side II
1. Power Station – Some Like It Hot
2. After the Fire – Der Kommisar
3. Boomtown Rats – Up All Night
4. General Public – Tenderness
5. The B-52’s – Dance This Mess Around/52 Girls
6. Adam Ant – Friend or Foe
7. A-ha – The Sun Always Shines on TV
8. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes
9. Go West – We Close Our Eyes
10. INXS – The One Thing

Download Side II

Next week: another beat mix, from 2000, using CDs and then-current songs!

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David Medsker
David Medsker used to be 'with it.' But then they changed what 'it' was. Now what he's 'with' isn't 'it,' and what's 'it' seems weird and scary to him. He is available for children's parties.