FYF Fest cassette mixtape contest: Simple idea brings in a bounty

In anticipation of this weekend’s indie and punk rock FYF Festival, event promoters Sean Carlson and Phil Hoelting had an idea for a contest. It involved cassette tapes, the anachronistic music medium thought to have died in the late 1990s.

In honor of the creative, personal means in which music obsessives used to share new sounds before the rise of mp3s, iTunes, Spotify and the world of drag-and-drop music mixes, the two decided to offer a prize to the person who submitted the best collections recorded on a cassette.

The winner would get $500, five pairs of tickets to the festival and the broadcasting of his or her mix between acts. The rules were pretty simple and entries would be judged accordingly: Make a mix, include the song titles, and be creative about the tape’s packaging.

PHOTOS: A bounty of cassette mixes from the FYF Fest


Carlson says he expected few dozen entries, tops, but when the deadline hit his office was filled with over 600 mixtapes, and the participants had taken his instructions to heart. Among the bounty were not only hand-designed cassette boxes and J-cards (the cardboard inserts on which song titles are written), but entries packaged in wild configurations, and tapes hand-painted as though they were canvases.

One tape, called “I Love My Leather Jacket,” was outfitted with its own construction-paper leather jacket. Another came affixed to a cardboard Godzilla, with the cassette in the belly. Another came packaged in a hand-designed tin canister.

Standing in front of the bounty at his Eagle Rock home earlier this week, Carlson explained that he thinks the slow pace of working with the vintage medium inspired people to dig in and get to work. Though one can no longer order cassette decks, apparently basements and closets throughout America still house working units.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect mixtape,” said Carlson. “It doesn’t exist. It’s always about the mood you’re in and what’s going on in your life.” He adds that the contest opened his eyes to the varied tastes of his audience. “There are so many different entries, so many different approaches, so many different emotions, people of all ages making these tapes. Some people made a fun tape, some people made a break-up tape. There are quite a few letters in there, and you can see how deep people get, and how much they put into it.”


He offered as an example one entry whose first side is all songs in the key of A, and the B side features all songs in B. Another packaged a cassette within the cut-out pages of a vintage book. There’s a bag lunch filled with a tape, napkins, and a diner bill with the track listing. Another was so enamored of his own work that he included three bucks as postage, so the judges could return it when finished.

The winner was Chris Lopez, whose cardboard Godzilla held the tape that judges deemed the best. His track list included music by, among others, Lisa Germano, the Gun Club, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, the Dream Syndicate and the Velvet Underground.

Carlson hopes the contest will help spawn a “slow mixtape” movement. “I really hope it prompts the kids who made these tapes to want to make tapes for their friends, and realize how much it captures a moment in their life. I still have tapes friends from high school made me.”



FYF Fest: Artists hour by hour

FYF Fest turns a mature 9 years old

FYF Fest: Single-day tickets available on-siteFollow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit