When there’s a guy I really like, who I have boyfriend-y feelings for, I always make him a mixtape. Always. I don’t give mixtapes to hook ups or to anyone else, really its just guys I’m actually into. Its probably the most ’90s thing about me, though of course the art of the mixtape extends way beyond that. I do it because I think its cool to share a piece of myself with someone I like, the expectation of course that they’ll make you a mixtape and share a piece of themselves, too.
I met C, my longest English boyfriend, on Grindr not too long after I moved to London. We’d been hanging out all the time for a while and hit that ambiguous period where it was kind of like WHAT ARE WE DOING. I was too scared to ask for clarification and all the paranoid Google searches I did told me not to bring it up because asking could kill whatever vibe was going on between us.
So I made him a mixtape. A few days after I gave it to him we met up again to go to a gallery in West London and I still didn’t know what was going on between us. Then, later on that evening, he handed me a USB stick with music on it. He knew I liked punk rock and also that I’m black so he put a track on mine by the ’70s, black-led punk band called DEATH, apparently one of his favorite bands. Well played — I was really impressed. We dated for almost 9 months.
When you make a mixtape for a guy you like, don’t fill it up with songs about how much you love them or need them or miss them or want to have sex with them. That just makes you sound like a big old case of lol. Instead, try to think about what you two have in common, your favorite songs, bands or performers, a mood you want to capture, a weekend you shared, a song you played when you had sex, or something that can enrich your conversations and give you something more to talk about and new places to connect. When they play or hear any of those songs, now they’ll think of you.
“Numb,” Andy Stott
I try really hard not to repeat songs on mixtapes I give to different dudes, but sometimes its hard because they’re your favorite songs. One of the songs I put on C’s mixtape was “Numb” by Andy Stott, a really slow burning, sexy, dub-techno track that I fell in love with the second I heard it. It’s a song that’s really much more about muffled beat pastures and emotion than any tangible lyrics or hummable melodies. I felt like the track spoke to my esoteric, music nerd boy side.
“Speak to Me Bones,” Land of Talk
At 5 + years my longest relationship so far was with D, probably the love of my life, and I fucked it up. We were both really into indie rock and I don’t know how but I discovered this super unknown Canadian indie rock band called Land of Talk and told him he NEEDED to hear them. We went on a road trip so I put “Speak to Me Bones” on the mixtape and I was right: he loved how gritty, dark and underground they were.
“Retrograde,” James Blake
B, who I met in Australia, is one of two people I can say I have had feelings for in the last 10 months, and I don’t catch feelings that often. He gave me his mixtape first — I asked him to make me one — so I could listen to it on the flight back to London. It started from the day we met to the day I left and went through a range of emotions, genres, sounds. I may never see him again but at least I have his mixtape. In my reply I included “Retrograde” by James Blake, probably one of my favorite songs in the last 10 years. I try not to repeat tracks on mixtapes I give to different guys I like (very difficult), but if there is ever a track that is likely to be on every mixtape I give to someone I’m into, it’s this one. So cold, so emotional, so haunting, so much bass, so mysterious.
“Stranger in a Room,” Jamie xx
P is the guy I’m most interested in at the moment, a tatted up DJ and music nerd who I knew would get my kookiest musical flourishes. The mixtape I made him has “Stranger in a Room” by Jamie xx on it. There are some songs you hear and connect to immediately, and for me this is one of those songs. I loved it right away, but I really fell in love with it when I was living in Berlin last summer and having a really good time, so now when I think about or hear “Stranger in a Room” I get this huge smile on my face and remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard it. Later, after hearing the whole mix, P texted me, “I absolutely LOVE the mix you made me :)”
Sharing your musical taste really is autobiographical, and if anything, giving a guy you like a carefully curated mixtape shows how music can bring us together.