A mixtape, of course, is more than a compilation. A mixtape is a wildly personal affair, a complex tangle of signifiers both “of” and “for”. A good mixtape is deeply self-referential but its true intention is always to inspire some kind of emotional response in the receiver. We make mixtapes for our lovers when we first fall in love, for our friends when they are far away from us. We use the platform of the mixtape to articulate something about ourselves while letting the listener know that we are thinking about them. Really, there are few cultural gestures that can better animate the basic principles of hospitality than the mixtape.
I’ve always approached menu design with a real bent toward balance and narrative. I don’t particularly care for the mini-essays and flowery prose that some menu writers use to tell the story of their program, rather I favor a tight little menu of interlocking pieces, cocktails with precious little overlap but still with some measure of self-reference and internal logic. A menu with one, say, Southeast Asian modifier amidst all the usual suspects from France & Italy can look quite accidental, out of place. Perhaps it could be balanced by another cocktail with ingredients pulled from the same cuisine. Perhaps it could be balanced by ingredients from other world cuisines that are less-represented in mainstream cocktailia. Or even more simply considered: On a nine-drink list, you can’t have two cocktails with gin & lemon juice. You’re off balance.
These instincts have always been with me—likely a manifestation of some very selective OCD—but it wasn’t until Spotify, quite frankly, that I realized the next step I wanted to take with this process. In that weird dark age for mixtapes somewhere between when nobody had CD players anymore but before Spotify made sharing playlists instantaneous I kind of forgot about the power of the mixtape. I started making some mixtapes to listen to while I worked on my beverage programming for Qui in Austin, TX and while working on a new seasonal menu I borrowed the name of a song or two for working titles for a couple of the cocktails.
Then, a weird thing happened.
I looked a little closer at the interplay between the songs on the mixtape and realized that they were quite clearly indicating where I might take other cocktails on the menu. There is purposefulness in selecting for and sequencing a mixtape. There is distinct narrative created from those instincts.
I continued to refine this process over time and it became a regular feature for my final year at The Townsend. The process, at its core, works like this:
Create a really dope mixtape with the number of songs you intend to put on your menu.
Create a matrix to look at each song’s place in that mixtape.
Break down the content of each song, both lyrical and from a musical or cultural semiotic perspective. What is the song about? When was the song written? What musical/genre tropes does the song employ?
Examine the “vibe” notes. How does the song make you feel? What does it evoke in you?
Explore the context of the songs. How do they reference each other in content or vibes?
Chart the relative intensity of each song on a 1-10 scale.
Create a kind of map of where these songs interact with each other and then begin work on developing your cocktails. Where two songs may have a kinship, be it similarities or balancing contrasts, make sure those two cocktails speak to each other, too.
Here is what it looks like!
Then, finally, the most important part of the whole process: Share your mixtapes!
This one right here can be found at https://open.spotify.com/user/1217750577/playlist/3ue1j29GKhZfadWf811wwq
I can be found running the show at Juniper in Austin, TX or making mixtapes at https://open.spotify.com/user/1217750577