November 2016

Bastille Gets All Mixed Up

This hit British foursome has made the “mix tape” a major part of its creative work.

As we mentioned in our November 2016 cover story, Bastille has released more than just its official albums, singles, and EPs. The band has also put out several unofficial compilations of tracks, including remixes and collaborations with other artists. These compilations, released for free online, are called “mix tapes.” But why?

First coined in the 1970s, the term “mix tapes” originally referred to actual analog cassette tapes, containing homemade compilations of recordings from various sources—a mix of music, which explains the name. Music fans in the late 20th century made mix tapes for themselves and for friends, creating a specific order of tracks either to present the highlights of a certain artist or style or to match a given mood or theme, in much the same way that you can create playlists today using streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music.

In the early days of hip-hop, no DJs or MCs had recording contracts, which meant that the only way they could get their music heard other than playing live shows was by distributing homemade mix tapes. This practice caught on in a big way and continued long after the digital revolution took hold, with the “tapes” becoming CDs.

Now, more often than not, mix tapes aren’t a physical product at all. The term is generally used to describe a compilation album released in any format for free. Hip-hop artists often take the mix tape route when they produce tracks that contain samples from copyrighted recordings. The argument is that if no money’s being made from the new tracks, there’s no need to bother with asking a record label or song publisher for permission to use the samples. Still, even this definition is in flux; Drake’s recent If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is called a mix tape, but fans had to pay to hear it.

You can check out the latest Bastille mix tape, VS. (Other People’s Heartache Pt. III), here. And look below for an “official” Bastille track, “Good Grief,” from their latest album, Wild World. This live version of the song expands the core quartet with an extra guitarist and three-piece horn section.