Juxtapositions in Chevy Chase, Washington, DC

“I didn’t make tapes for other people much,“ PJ Brownlee told me as he hooked up the tape deck in Art Sound Language, his record shop in Washington, DC. PJ brought some old mixtapes in. Some he had received. Some he had made for himself. Instead of spinning records at the turntables, as he usually does when the shop is open, he popped cassette tapes in and out of the tape decks and told stories about old friends, about getting interested in punk rock and skateboarding and then new wave, growing up in Tallahassee, FL.

PJ at tape deck at Art Sound Language

PJ at tape deck (and turntables) at Art Sound Language

He played a tape that his friend Craig Stinson made him in 1988 or ’89. It once contained a song list meticulously written onto graph paper, but, at least today, the insert was not accompanying the tape. As customers meandered in and out of Art Sound Language, PJ listened to tracks on the tape and bubbled up with band names. The Silos! The Pressure Boys!

side AAAAAAA of Craig Stinson mix tape for PJ

“How do you remember what all these songs are without the list?” I asked.

“That’s the power of a mix tape,” PJ said. “When you only had ten tapes, this is what you would listen to over and over again, hot as anything.”

side BBBBB of Craig Stinson tape for PJ





Craig Stinson had moved from Florida to Wilmington, NC. He and PJ reconnected when Craig was back in Florida visiting. Both PJ and Craig were drawn to Let’s Active, the North Carolina-based trio of Mitch Easter, Faye Hunter, and Sara Romweber. This tape was a collection of similarly poppy bands, many with local NC flavor and connections to Dolphin Records.

Don Dixon!

“Here’s that UV Prom song!”

Both Craig and PJ played guitar. Sometimes, they would put their own songs at the end of a mix tape for the other. They might even cover the other person’s song.

PJ listened with focus while fast forwarding from track to track, identifying additional bands on the tape: Fetchin’ Bones, The Connells, and The Graphic.

PJ brought some other tapes to the store today. These were more autobiographical—from the early punk rock tapes PJ made for himself to later Polvo-heavy compilations.

J-card for Black Flag, TSOL, Agent Orange tape JP made as a kid

PJ used to go to his grandmother’s house to use her stereo to make tapes of records. Later, he became interested in classic rock, and taped over lots of the punk and new wave tapes. “Your identity at this one moment is written over and written over.”

REM bootleg records on tape

PJ holding REM bootleg

PJ holding REM bootleg

REM tape tracklist close-up


Radio station tracks

Radio station tracks from Florida State – 1992

College radio libraries provided free source material for mixtapes.

“These are nice snapshots of moments,” PJ said.

blank Sony tape upon which is written Dinosaur Jr full album

Sometimes the college radio station would play full albums

After mixtapes, PJ made cdrs. Now, he fills his iPhone with music and uses the Shuffle feature. There is a curatorial aspect of mixtape making that lends itself well to owning a record and book shop.

PJ, do you see a through-line between mixtape making and your work at Art Sound Language? 

Definitely, though it was a very looong through-line, the act of putting one thing next to another and taking a look or listen has always been critical for me, going back to the way I played with my Matchbox cars and Star Wars action figures to arranging my tapes, records, cds, and books on shelves, publishing zines and books, and curating art exhibitions. Sometimes, as on mixtapes, those juxtapositions get stuck in place, fixed—like when you drive the nail into the wall, that’s where the painting hangs. In the iPod / iPhone era, juxtapositions became inherently multiple, fleeting. Now, at ASL, arrangements of records and books can be made and remade ad infinitum. It’s still a very big part of what I do, both in the store and on social media.

Autumn 1999 and Spring 2000 mixtapes for the car

Sarah holding old mix tape

Sarah with c. 2000-ish mixtape for car

Getting your favorite records onto tape for the car made for very enjoyable driving!

Seen here are PJ with two cassettes of vinyl that he made for himself for the car in 1999 and 2000, respectively, and me with a cassette from around the same time for the car.

I’ll be dee jaying selections from this tape TOMORROW, APRIL 20, RECORD STORE DAY, at Art Sound Language at 5520 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC at 2 pm. Join us!