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Are Expensive Records Actually Any Good?

We throw a microscope on the artistic worth of the most expensive pieces of wax around.

It's been quite a year for big bucks music purchases. We had the Caustic Window Kickstarter scheme which eventually saw a previously unheard Aphex Twin record sold to Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson for $46,300, just months before another unheard Aphex record, this year's Syro, sold for a tenner down HMV. Then, this week, the rumours, sadly, weren't to be believed: Skrillex hadn't actually paid five million dollars for the Wu Tang Clan's one-copy-in-the-whole-world-only Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Turned out that the RZA had just let him borrow it for a video. Nice bloke.


These were, surely, special cases, I reasoned to myself. No one in the real world spends more than a tenner on a CD and maybe fifteen quid on a new LP, do they? I thought I'd test the waters by heading over to the second best site on the internet - Discogs - to do a little research into the highest prices people are seemingly willing to pay to have physical ownership of either some scratchy black wax or a jam smeared CD stuffed with ones and zeros.

I put my head down and rooted through the virtual bins of disco, house, techno and drum and bass. Given that most of us don't have a few grand stuffed under the mattress I decided to compare the most expensive record in a genre with the cheapest to see if there's a marked difference in quality between the two.

There's thousands of unloved, warped, scratched, water damaged, unplayable disco 12"s littering the virtual aisles of Discogs, clogging things up like a long haired housemate who takes half hour showers.

CHEAPEST RECORD: Change - "Searching" (£0.01)

Now, that's not a bad record by any stretch of the imagination. It's not "Love Has Come Around" or "Kiss Me Again" but it's got a wonderfully engorged bassline and an endearingly passionate vocal. I'd happily play this out. For a penny you'd be delighted.

PRICIEST: James Jukes - "Hold On" (£149.90)

Weirdly, Discogs currently lists Lindstrom's Quiet Place to Live 12" as it's priciest slice of disco. Given it's recency and the fact that the A side is a boilerplate slap of lumpen cosmic disco and the flip features a marginally more interesting remix by Todd Rundgren, it's baffling. So I scrolled down past the multiple entries for that particular record and found the silver model for Salsoul inspired spending.


And you know what? It's a pretty good boogie track. You might very briefly wonder what it was if you heard a DJ clumsily play it in the upstairs room of a pub in Camden on a Thursday night before remembering that you had a pint in your hand and going back to devoting your full attention to that.

VERDICT: Put the PayPal wallet away and put that loose Change to good use.


Even the most devout worshipper found kneeling at the 4/4 Chicago altar every weekend has to admit that a good 97% of records released that could be definably labelled as 'house music' are fucking abysmal atrocities that make you pray for early onset deafness. The Discogs bargain bin is a horrorshow of tawdry handbag belters that sound like they took five minutes to knock together.

CHEAPEST RECORD: East Side Beat - "Ride Like the Wind" (£0.01)

This penny dreadful does nothing to dispel that myth. It sounds like something Lukas Moodyson would use to soundtrack a particuarly brutal and grim kidnapping scene in one of his brutal and grim explorations of the depths of the human psyche in brutal and grim estates in Lithuania.

PRICIEST RECORD: Levon Vincent - Stereo Systems EP (£743.00)

Save yourself a month's rent on a four bed house in Manchester by checking it out below:

VERDICT: The Levon Vincent track is pretty boring but at least it's not "Ride Like the Wind" so I guess I'll be living on mulch for a few weeks.

Cheap, bad techno is oddly similar to cheap, bad cider: it's corrosive, foul and doesn't go down well. Discogs is chockablock with the kind of royalty free shit you'd hear in a club scene in a Movies4Men 1am softcore erotic thriller about a banker who goes off the rails after a night with a dominatrix. This particular dirt-cheap bottom feeding busted bangers section of the site is particularly grim.


CHEAPEST RECORD: Digital Orgasm - "Startouchers" (£0.01)

Just listen to that. It's rare to be genuinely embarrassed by a record but this does it for me. I actually feel sad that someone out there made it, that they were proud of it, that they thought it was worth pushing out into the world, that something called "Startouchers" by someone or something calling themselves 'Digital Orgasm' was even conceived of in the first place.

PRICIEST RECORD: Clarence G - Hyperspace Sound Lab EP (£750.00)

From the ridiculous to the sublime now, courtesy of a hilariously expensive record by Clarence aka the sadly departed James Stinson of aquatic secret-merchants Drexciya. The Hyperspace Sound Lab EP sells for a solid seven hundred and fifty quid, which seems reasonable given that it's approximately 75,000 times better than the Digital Orgasm dud.

VERDICT: NatWest took the bait and I've extended my overfraft. I may have plunged myself into a debt I'll forever be repaying but I can just about keep my head above the water safe in the knowledge that I own a copy of Hyperspace Sound Lab.

Every so often, people other than my mum and girlfriend read the things I write on this website. Sometimes they're moved to read the entire thing and then leave a comment. These fans of mine seem to be guys really into D'n'B who're a bit upset that I don't write about their beloved genre enough. In the interest of appeasing them I've decided to sit down and listen to two entire drum and bass records without jumping out of the nearest window to avoid the stench of white dreads and unwashed yoga pants.


Firstly I threw my penny into the cheapo hoopla of the remnants of a subculture that seems to only thrive in Bristol and small towns that don't have recreation centres.

CHEAPEST RECORD: Banacezch - "Zlin & Black" (£0.01)

I don't know if Banaczech is respected or not, but I've got to say: this would sound pretty decent in a PS2 snowboarding game. Not quite SSX material, but a game you'd drop a fiver on in a family run department store one morning in an uneventful half-term. This track would pop up as you semi-joylessly replayed the third route of the second mountain over and over. Eventually, like the game itself, it'd become a relic of the blank boredom of that space between onset adolesence and early adulthood, something to pull out in articles like this for an easily identifiable chunk of English emotional resonance.

PRICIEST RECORD: DJ Defcon - Dub Play Junglist (£2675.75)

Wary of sounding like the man my detractors think I wish I was, I flipped it the fuck up and balled out, deciding that if I was going to give this D'n'B shit a go I needed to sample it's version of wagyu beef, the Beluga caviar of the Ram Records set. This one HAD to be incredible, right? It was going to lift me out of my chair and chuck me into room two of an Andy C takeover at fabric wasn't it? Nope. It sounds like a drum and bass record.

VERDICT: Looking forward to running water and toilet roll for a few months as a result of dropping that single copper on my man Banacezch.

What I learned from this was obvious. The price of most things - and there are exceptions to this, of course - is not indicative of it's quality. The expensive record isn't better because it's expensive, and the cheap record doesn't necessarily sound cheap just because we know it retails for the same amount as a Fruit Salad. All of us, being inhabitants of a world extensively remodelled by the mores of capitalism, are desirous for objects of expense. Capitalism also means that 99.9999% can't access those tokens of wealth. Be happy with the records that cost a penny, the pints that cost a pound, the credit crunch lunches for two at chain pubs that give you change from a tenner.