Acetate Steps: In memory of the mix tape – Arena Studios & Gallery
Well, I’ve done it. I’ve popped my Cultural Champion cherry.
After having a head-spinning introduction to our year as Cultural Champions on Thursday, I spent Friday evening poring over the masses of information we’d been provided with on upcoming events. I wanted to dive into my new role, but didn’t have a clue where to start. What to do? What to do?
Trawling through the Open Culture website, I came across an advert for Acetate Steps, a celebration of the mix tape. This was it! A child of the 80s, I grew up with mixed tapes. My fingers would hover madly over the play and record buttons on my old ghetto blaster while I tried to get it just right so that I caught the songs off the Top 20 without recording the DJ, but usually failed miserably. It was also a rite of passage for a girl growing up back then to have boys who fancied her put a mixed tape together of songs that aimed to impress. I still have a bunch of these old tapes, but sadly not the one my first ever boyfriend made for me that included Peter Gabriel, Syd Barratt and that legendary old romantic bunch, King Crimson.
So it was that with a spring in my step I set out on Saturday with my reluctant 13-year-old daughter for the Arena Studios and Gallery to see an exhibit that celebrated this wonderful, lost art form. To say that the Arena Studios and Gallery was hard to find would be to flirt wildly with understatement; with my daughter questioning at one point if we were still actually in Liverpool. But when we found it, man was it worth it.
We were welcomed warmly by Pam Sullivan, the studio manager and one of the people who had put the installation together, along with Carol Ramsay and Iain Yell. In the studio’s intimate setting, the installation was made up of dozens of cassette tapes with their insides ripped out and hanging from the walls and ceiling. I’ve always loved art you can interact with and I, or rather my ungainly legs, interacted with the hanging, intertwined tape so much I almost brought it crashing down. Oops. Pam couldn’t have been sweeter.
The walls were decorated with cassette boxes with hand-written menus and Dynano-label-type slogans that made me smile no end. Things like
Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life
and the immortal
B-sides are the best
There was a massive old boom-box in a corner and the air was filled with an audio soundtrack by Iain Yell that evoked hours spent in my teenage bedroom. Snippets of Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, Al Green and generic disco overlapped with Donovan’s Sunshine Superman, while John Peel introduced Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start to a year of being a Cultural Champion. Back at home Carol Ramsay tweeted my to say she was glad I enjoyed it. The mix tape exhibition has, sadly, now ended, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more offerings from this lovely studio.
And I wonder if, in 30 years, my daughter will be wandering round an exhibit that’s a celebration of Spotify play lists? I hope so.