This past Record Store Day was going along as expected at New York's Other Music: lines of vinyl-hungry music geeks out the door, employees rushing about to keep the shelves stocked and maintain order amid the chaos, and DJs spinning tunes for all involved. But at one point in the early afternoon, store manager Josh Madell was called to the shop's front door and was greeted by a representative from Warp Records.
"He pulled me up the block to say he had something for us," remembers Madell. "He said, 'I got this 12-inch. I honestly don't know what the details are, but there's only six of these in the world. We just want you to put this out in the bin and don't talk to anyone about it.'"
Thus began one of the weirdest, most exciting, and—without question—most successful promotional campaign/scavenger hunts ever to surround the release of a new album. If folks weren't already keyed up to hear about the forthcoming full-length Tomorrow's Harvest by elusive electronic duo Boards of Canada, their interest has to be piqued now. The success of this campaign can really be boiled down to the band and Warp Records knowing exactly who their audience is: electronic music obsessives who spend an inordinate amount of time online.
Case in point: JR Chaparro, the NYU student who stumbled upon the record at Other Music. The 22-year-old admitted Boards of Canada obsessive did what both band and label expected; he took the record home, filmed a video of the track—a 20 second rush of radio static, wobbly modular synth chords, and a robotic voice reading out six numbers—and posted in on Reddit.
"I didn't know what this was all about," says Chaparro. "I thought maybe I should watch their website and see if they were giving away exclusive content with this code. But the more I thought about it, I figured it was part of some marketing campaign, so I made the video to see if the crazy 4chan hacker people could tell me what it means."
At the time he posted the clip, they couldn't, but since, all the pieces came quickly together even as they came out in dribs and drabs in the week following Record Store Day. There was the change to the logo of the message board for BoC fans that revealed Soundcloud links embedded in the code. Then came the pieces of music slipped into the playlists of Zane Lowe's Radio 1 show and NPR's All Songs Considered, followed by the ad aired on Cartoon Network. All had one more series of numbers that, once connected, allowed access to a password-protected website that led fans to the big announcement about the new album and a place to preorder it.
As successful as this whole endeavor was, most folks involved are remaining cagey about it. Neither Warp Records nor the band would comment for this piece. And all that Robin Hilton, producer and co-host of All Songs Considered would say is, "We'll be faithful to the spirit in which it was given to us…without comment."
Too, there's still a bit of mystery surrounding the campaign, even after the dust has settled. Of the six records out in the world, only three have been reported to have been found: both the copies at Other Music and Rough Trade, as well as the one send to Avalanche Records in Edinburgh, Scotland.
"I had no idea," says Avalanche's owner Kevin Buckle. "There was a huge expectation that we would get a copy, but I'd actually been speaking to Warp in the previous weeks about repressing the Boards of Canada vinyl, and there had been no hint of a new album, never mind that we would be involved."