Dirt: The highly specific playlist

Fluxblog's Matt Perpetua makes Spotify playlists inspired by vintage magazine ads.

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Daisy Alioto interviews music blogger Matt Perpetua about Spotify playlists that feel like cassette tapes.

You know I love a playlist with the power to transport me into another lifestyle entirely. So when a playlist called Jack Nicholson Partying In Miami 1998 crossed my Twitter feed recently, I went straight to the source.

Daisy Alioto: When you first started Fluxblog in the early 2000s, how integral were playlists to the blog? 

Matt Perpetua: They didn't really exist then. I'm trying to remember when I first got an iPod. It may have been a little bit after. You'd have to make playlists on your computer, in your iTunes or something. I grew up with tapes and mixtapes. You would make tapes for other people or a car trip. So that's really where the earliest mix-making impulse for me comes from.

DA: But mixtapes weren't outward facing.

MP: Yeah, exactly. The first real outward facing thing I did was around 2009 or 2010 when I began making a year end collection of songs from that year that I liked a lot. That was the first survey series that I made–maybe six zips of MP3s that could be burned to CDs–that are each about 80 minutes a piece. And then I went back and did it by decade. They became more robust and more inclusive. I was trying to make sense of music on an annual level and a decade level. Those were the first forward-facing mix products that I made. So I think at this point I have everything from 1965 to present in that form. And they're all on my Spotify, or most of them. When I have a vibe for a more specific playlist in mind, I can just kind of go back through those playlists, and be like, okay, I want this and this and this. I want this artist, but not that song. It expedites the process. 

DA: Before I called you, I was trying to think: what’s the real difference between mixtapes and playlists? It’s more than just that playlists are digital mixtapes. Mixtapes were for specific people, and playlists are for scenarios. But on Spotify they can sort of be both. Are there playlists that feel like mixtapes to you? 

MP: The playlists I have been making recently have been a deliberate attempt to work within the cassette model. So it's 90 minutes or 120 minutes. There's a hard limit of how much music I can use. I have an Instagram account called 20th Century Rocks. I collect lots of magazines from the 20th century, largely music ones. So I have an enormous amount of Rolling Stone and Spin. And there's this magazine called After Dark that I really like that was this kind of gay arts magazine from the 70s. The advertisements in the magazines are so evocative I started using them as the jumping off point for playlist ideas. New Wave Girlfriend/Preppy Boyfriend came out of a watch ad from the mid-80s. I thought, what’s their story? And the resulting playlist follows the logic of a classic 90-minute tape. But it’s also like a movie soundtrack for these characters and their relationship. 

Fully Clothed Beach Babes was strictly meant to be a tape, to the point that I worked out the A side and B side divide. That was an L.A. Gear ad from 1989. So all the songs in that are '88, '89. Just trying to kind of channel those characters. What would these girls be into? If they made a tape to go to the beach, what might they put on it? I'm just trying to get that vibe. And that's also what the radio sounded like when I was eight years old. 

DA: When you were a fully clothed beach babe.

MP: Yes. There’s another image-inspired playlist that I put out last week. I found this amazing photo of Jack Nicholson at a club in Miami in 1998. He's 61 years old. And he's just raging. What is he dancing to? I did some research on the dance bangers from 1998. A lot of it was trance because I knew that that club played a lot of trance. 

I've been using old magazines as creative prompts because I feel like I've sort of exhausted a lot of historical type stuff. But I don’t want to have too many 80s things in a row. I should probably start looking at some magazines from the 2000s. They're generally hideous though. Magazines in the 2000s are very, very ugly.

DA: I've been thinking a lot about that Spin cover with Dave Matthews that was going around. 

MP: Oh God, right? That was my tweet...

DA: That was your tweet??!! Thank you for giving that to the world.

MP: It's one of the worst covers that I've ever seen in my life. And I found out that basically what happened there, because all the fonts and stuff are weird, is that was the issue they were closing when the big blackout happened. I mean the cover photo is so bad that I don't think there's really an excuse for that. It also has all of that text on it that is so specifically 2003 in this really cringe way.

DA: I think we need a playlist for the 2003 blackout.

MP: Yeah. Wow. Oh man. I know a lot of people who have really great memories of that. I was waiting around Grand Central for hours praying my batteries would last me on my Discman.

DA: How has Spotify as a platform changed the playlist game?

MP: They have such a volume of material there. Gradually, they get it all. A really good example would be Aaliyah. Also the market penetration of Spotify is so great that if you only make something on Spotify, a majority of people will be able to use it. The biggest reason I stopped doing the MP3 version is it became useless to most people. So I was stubbornly holding onto that for a while until I was like, okay, fuck it. This is so much easier and more efficient to do it this way.

DA: Do you plan to keep going down this image-based road for the foreseeable future?

MP: I've got a few in the works. Just because the image is from one era doesn't mean all the music has to be of that period as long as it fits the vibe. 

The Dirt: Every playlist should have an A and B side.