My Life in Mix CDs

2000 – Hip hop starter CD

From: your older brother

Features: Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Mary J Blige, Ja Rule, Nelly, TLC, Sisqó

You’re eleven-years-old, and the only CD you have ever owned is the B*Witched single C’est la vie. Your brother bought it for you as a birthday gift when you were nine, and only just managed to mask his disdain for your already-terrible music taste.

Besides B*Witched, you’ve spent an unnatural amount of time watching Shania Twain video clips on Saturday morning Video Hits, and the rest of your musical education has been from Bollywood movies (which is also the only music you listen to with your family).

This year, you move into a small house attached to the new motel your parents own, and are suddenly sharing a bedroom with your sixteen-year-old brother, something he accepts with saintlike tolerance.

At some point, you start listening to music together in that room, and the heady rhythm and beats of his favourite hip hop tunes start luring you away from the safer territory of white girl pop.

On a weekend, while doing the usual Saturday morning routine of cleaning motel rooms with the rest of the family, your father catches you singing The Thong Song by Sisqó. At the words, ‘Ooh that dress so scandalous/and you know another N**** couldn’t handle it’ coming out of his darling youngest daughter’s mouth, he has a sort of parental outrage fit, and bans you from listening to your brother’s music ever again.

It’s too late though. Hip hop is like smooth caramel, addictive, sweet and already under your skin.


2002 – The Whitlams – a compilation

From: your high school best friend

Features: Thank you, No Aphrodisiac, I will not go quietly, Blow up the pokies

You’re twelve, and high school is upon you before you even have time to make peace with giving up your imaginary horse, who you’ve spent the last six years galloping around on at recess and lunch time.

You show up to your first day of year seven in your sister’s old jeans that barely fit you, and a collared polo shirt that your mother has decided is a ‘neat’ option, given the school’s lack of uniform. In a sea of short denim skirts and tank tops with pink waist belts you stick out like a sore thumb.

The next day, you come armed with your brother’s blue ‘Dada’ hoodie, which reaches to your knees. In true gangsta style, you do your best not to make eye contact with anyone, but somehow you make friends anyway.

One of these friends is a girl who you professed to hate in primary school, but who is undeniably awesome and who you gravitate towards despite yourself.

You try to get her into hip hop, but it’s like she can see through the hoodie and the baggy jeans to something lurking inside you. Instead, she makes you a mix of songs by some band called The Whitlams.

You’re dubious, but you put it in your Discman anyway, and at the first croony notes of Tim Freedman’s voice, you are hooked. His slightly posh accent, the poetry of the lyrics, and the catchy tunes have you forgetting all about hip hop. Something about this feels like a homecoming, like you always knew you weren’t truly gangsta.

The fact that it can’t get much whiter than The Whitlams is somewhat lost on you.


2004 – 90’s indie pop mix

From: your young, attractive English teacher who maybe shouldn’t be making CDs for his students?

Features: Kenickie, Bright Eyes, Geneva, Manic Street Preachers

At fourteen, it’s clear your friendship group is on the fringes of the high school mainstream. You’re still too vocal about your love of Harry Potter, and have taken to wearing rainbow striped socks with the optional school uniform, of which you are an early adopter.

Mr M. is the new English teacher, and is in his early twenties which feels like ancient to you. He sometimes hangs out before school near your group of friends out the front of the building, and once in a while gives you a mix CD.

By this point, your brief foray into hip hop is far behind you, and although you still like to get down to Nelly every now and then, you have been sticking to tunes made by skinny white boys since year seven.

Mr M. adds to this collection with his CDs, but also introduces you to the power of the female voice when he burns you a CD of songs by the British girl band, Kenickie. Kind of punk, kind of pop, you’re obsessed with them for the next few years.

You dream of learning how to play an instrument (ignoring the fact that you failed the audition for the school band in primary school based on your complete lack of rhythm), and starting your own girl band.

In your daydreams, you’re miraculously thinner and more edgy, and wield a guitar like a magic wand, transforming all the kids who think you and your friends are lame into swooning, screaming fans. At this point, you’d even just be happy if they stopped throwing fruit at you during lunch time.


2007 – ‘Quirkies’ high school sound track

From: you, made for all of your friends

Features: The Kooks, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, The Bravery, Interpol

At seventeen, you think you really know who you are, despite having worn black for an entire year without knowing you’re doing it, and being in the midst of a cultural crisis.

By now, you’re pretty certain you want to be a writer, living in a garret somewhere, hooking up with tortured poetic boys and essentially doing everything your Indian parents have expressly forbidden you from doing.

Your sister had an arranged marriage last year, and while she seems happy, every time you think about having one yourself, your heart sinks so fast it makes you feel faint. There is a constant sense of dissonance between the life you live at school, and the one you lead at home.

You’ve been making your own clothes for a year, and the hemlines of your plaid skirts are creeping upwards from what a Good Indian Girl is allowed to wear, so you’ve started putting long coats on as you leave the house so your mother won’t see.

As high school draws to a close, you spend hours putting together a mix CD of the songs that sound tracked the past six years. You hand-draw the cover and replicate it nine times, one for each of your best friends. The cover reads ‘The Quirkies’, after the name some kids started applying to your friendship group. Underneath is the tagline, also overheard at school, ‘They act like they’re drunk without drinking any alcohol’.

Looking at the stack of CDs later, nostalgia overcomes you. You’re not ready for high school to end. You’re especially not ready to see your friends go into a world full of possibility, when you’re facing a much narrower path, carved out of the expectations of your culture.

In the last few weeks of school, you drive your battered car around the leafy suburbs of south Canberra with your friends crammed into the back seat, takeaway coffees in hand while you talk about your plans.

The CD plays in the temperamental car stereo. Years from now, you will hear these same songs and be transported momentarily to this exact moment. You will feel sad and happy at the same time, fond of your younger self, and grateful that the people who were in the backseat of that car are still in your life now.


Early relationship mix CD

From: your boyfriend

Features: Broken Social Scene, Balam Acab, The Stone Roses, some obscure musicians you never find out the names of

You’re about to turn 22, and things have changed rapidly in your life over the past three months. You graduate university in two weeks, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in gender studies and English literature. Needless to say, you’re not feeling particularly prepared for the ‘real world’.

The last few weeks have been chaos, with everyone winding up their university lives and starting to figure out what’s next. You’re in a state of panicked flux – at the same time, you’ve accepted a job in Canberra, applied for a publishing internship in London and sat an interview for a Master of Journalism in Melbourne. You have no fucking clue what’s going on.

To make things even more complicated, the guy you’ve had a crush on for well over a year has just asked you out, and you said yes. He’s still in Canberra for another year, so who even knows how that’s going to work out, but it never occurs to you to turn down someone who ticks all the boxes your teenage self desired in a partner (plays music, wears skinny jeans, is interested in politics, self-identifies as a feminist).

He makes you a mix CD, and while you’re somewhat bemused by the lack of a track list accompanying it, you get sucked into the chilled tones of the songs he’s picked very easily. You’re slightly embarrassed to realise he probably hates everything you like (music which has recently started being termed ‘indie landfill’ and which you’re noticing is kind of repetitive). You agonise for hours over the return mix CD you make him, and he is politely enthusiastic.

You don’t know this yet, but in the seven years of your relationship to date, you never see or hear that mix CD again.


Spotify playlist – Time capsule

Features: Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, The Killers, All-American Rejects

You’re 28, and living in Edinburgh temporarily for a year off. Your boyfriend (the same one who gave you that mix CD six years ago), is with you, as is your cat who you rescued from an RSPCA and then brought all the way to Scotland at considerable expense. You joke privately that the cat is probably worth approximately her weight in gold now, but whenever you see her slow blink to you from across the room, you’re grateful you have her unconditional love with you for this transition to a new life.

Edinburgh is more beautiful than you expected even, and surprisingly easy to live in. Your apartment views stretch out to the sea, and the front door of the building opens to the vision of Arthur’s Seat, rising above the city.

Each day you catch the bus to your part-time job for an animal welfare organisation, and you marvel at how lucky you are to be living this life. You don’t think your teenage self could have ever dreamed that you would be living in the UK, unmarried, with a partner you love, and the financial freedom to pursue work that you’re interested in.

Sometimes it makes you anxious to think how happy you are, because now you have something to lose. You keep checking in with yourself while you sit on the bus, asking is this really happening? Am I actually this happy? You had convinced yourself before you left Australia that you would be too homesick to enjoy Scotland, but instead you love it here, and are already feeling sad about having to leave when your time is up.

At the same time, you know you’ll be happy to return to Australia. This oddly balanced world view, where you are certain to be happy with either outcome is new to you. You try to relish it without anxiety.

When you travel to work and into town to meet friends, you listen to Spotify through your phone. It’s strange to have any song available to you at the click of a button, but instead of exploring all the possibilities that enables, you listen to the curated playlist of your ‘time capsule’. It’s embarrassing to see how an algorithm can easily peg you for the emo wannabe you were as a teenager, but you can’t help but bop along to Fall Out Boy, remembering the angst these songs stirred in you just over a decade ago.

The reminder of your past is useful, in this new place where you can be whoever you want to be. Each song sparks a memory, and reinforces the wonder in you that your life has already travelled in directions you couldn’t have imagined. You wonder what will be next. You wonder what your time capsule will hold in another decade, or another.

You let the sounds wash through your ears and into your chest, and allow yourself to be swept away with them.


Zoya founded Feminartsy in 2014, following four years as Editor-In-Chief of Lip Magazine.  Zoya was Highly Commended in the Scribe Publishing Non-Fiction Prize 2015, was the 2014 recipient of the Anne Edgeworth Young Writers’ Fellowship, and was named the 2015 ACT Young Woman of the Year. Her debut book, No Country Woman will be released through Hachette in August 2018. @zoyajpatel


Image used courtesy of Daniel Hoherd under Creative Commons licence.

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