By DJ El Toro
“Just shove your hand in and grab one.” That was my advice to the fellow hovering over the Mix Tape Exchange bin as I exited this year’s KEXP Volunteer Party.
I could appreciate his hesitation. As I’ve written before, mix tapes are made with thought and deliberation; mine this year was a cuckoo mélange of sunshine pop (The Association), hip-hop and soul (Erykah Badu, Naomi Shelton), holiday music (Luna’s “Egg Nog”), and a Yiddish radio jingle for Hebrew National Meats. Eclectic, yes, but programmed with love. So I can appreciate how grabbing a random CD out of a jumbled pile, in exchange for your hard work, seems a bit abrupt. I just trust the universe — and the stellar tastes of the extended KEXP family — to serve me well. They always do.
Much of what I love about the Volunteer Party Mix Tape Exchange is that I always feel like I’ve made a new friend. Even if I never meet the person who made it. This year, “mix #2 from alex!” gave me that vibe in abundance. Brimming with beats and samples and some deft rhyming, this blend of new electronic grooves and hip-hop felt custom made, for me, by someone who’d looked at my listening diet and figured out what my current deficiencies were: Koushik, Head Like A Kite (remixed by Boom Bip), Tittsworth, Daedelus, that new Jay-Z jam. I must have played it half-a-dozen times on Friday alone.
The punch line is, it turned out — as I discovered via some sleuthing — that my “new friend” was really a known associate, one of KEXP’s hardest-working volunteers (as well as our newest on-air DJ), Alex Ruder. But that underscores why I love the Mix Tape Exchange: It offers a fine example of how our volunteers influence programming. KEXP gets much more from them than folks realize. Yes, volunteers are the muscle and blood of the station, but we value their ears just as highly. That’s probably why the DJs look forward to the Mix Tape Exchange just as much as volunteers.
Anyway, I’m campaigning for an abbreviated version of Alex’s mix (or a hodgepodge of both his mixes) to become our next KEXP podcast. In the meantime, does anybody else have stories or new discoveries to share about what they pulled out of the mystery bin last Thursday?