Freedom in Not Choosing: How Mixes Made Me Enjoy Music Discovery Again Article

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These days, my downtime has been consumed by DJ mixes.

It can be anything from Ducko McFli peppering his FADER Mix with Future reworks to Gaslamp Killer taking me deep into the murky waters psych rock; I want someone else to guide the journey. Albums consume my thinking, playlists soundtrack my activity, but mixes are the direction I now lean in when I want to relax.

This may be nothing new for you, but it’s a novelty in my routine. I never consciously realized it until I noticed the change, but before these last few months, I needed to control my music. I wasn’t neurotic; I could tolerate that guy who insists on bumping trash tunes from the late 2000s under the ignis fatuus that it’s “the hardest shit ever.”

In my personal listening sessions, though, I wanted to map out what I was listening to, for how long, and for what purpose. Looking back, I understand it. When faced with a finite amount time and an endless stream music, your choices have more weight. Should I give this a spin because it’s important historically? Does this song match my mood, or can it help me alter it?  

Weight, even a small poundage, has an effect over time. My listening was becoming a burden. That’s not a sentence I ever wanted to type.

No matter how deep I buried myself in an artist’s discography or tried to expand my taste by listening to unfamiliar genres, I felt a sense inadequacy. No one wants to feel that and we shy away from situations giving us that response. I didn’t see my fervor for adding shelves to my mind’s record vault waning, but it’s like when you gloss over faults in a relationship until you’re a sufficient distance away. It took me adjusting my listening habits to fix it.

I’m not sure what motivated me to start clicking on mixes, or even what “the first” was, but I noticed myself queuing one up whenever I could. Now that I was close enough to feel the pull, I didn’t mind letting gravity do its job. I was enjoying music discovery again. 

There’s been much talk freedom in the recent political climate, but it’s difficult to articulate the substance that word. Both poles political identity claim to be either fighting for new freedoms or protecting their erosion. While freedom is necessary for a fulfilled life, absolute control over each detail can stir anxiety—like with my music listening. Sure I was “free” when I directing my playlists and album spins, but it felt more like fighting the Hydra Greek mythology since new genres and artists would pop up just as I felt confident in my knowledge.

You don’t get the same burden listening to a mix. Any attempt to control the swaying tides your emotions is no longer in your hands. The DJ determines where your heart goes. It seems paradoxical at first, but it’s a relief to willingly pass that responsibility to someone else. In a way, the fact that you can load your mood on another person's back highlights the fragility our emotions. They are, by definition, not logically thought out, and recognizing this keeps you from being devoured by them.

Listening to a mix, and submitting to its will, provides a unique means music discovery that’s refreshing. It’s not directed the way 2 a.m. internet searches are. There are many songs that I’ll never hear outside that particular mix, and knowing that gives it a clandestine allure. Tracklists are nice companions that help you dive deeper into your discoveries, but even they can be limiting. We all have biases for and against artists and genres, so if you see that person coming up, you might be inclined to skip. At that point, you might as well stop listening, because the cohesiveness the mix then sits in a pile ashes.

Sometimes you’re not even given a tracklist to reference, and music recognition stware is useless for the obscure journeys an experienced DJ. These moments, to continue with the relationship imagery, are like a passionate but short-lived affair. You may never see that person again or know what happened to them, but you have that moment and it’s enough.

Perhaps relinquishing control is a part maturing and recognizing your limits or maybe I’ve simply found a way to balance out my own insufficiencies. I do know that mixes are restoring a sense freedom I was losing: the freedom to relax and enjoy music, freedom from the pressure deciding. We’re constantly making decisions, from the food we eat to the way we believe people should be organized. Making one less decision in the music you listen to gives you a momentary oasis from the choices we trek through like sand.

It feels silly writing all this because I’m taking note a party that’s been rocking for decades. As someone who pulled up to the soiree painfully late, though, it’s a welcome refuge.

What does it mean to be free? Nina Simone may have been closest to the truth when she equated freedom with “no fear.” Even using this as an outline to guide us, it’s not a thing we can point to and assign a clear definition. It’s a state being which, by nature, can only be known if it is lived.

I’ll be content with living in the mix.  

Here are a few more mixes in Miguelito’s rotation:  

  • Ben Hixon’s 80s and Gospel Mix 2 from earlier this month
  • Four Tet, Daphni, and Ben UFO Dublab (thanks to Jeff Weiss for the tip)
  • blonded 005

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