A few months ago, I got really into Trailer Park Boys, a Canadian mockumentary that follows the exploits of a group of lovable criminals. One of the main characters, Ricky, a dope grower, often comedically alters idioms and sayings; "trial and error" becomes "denial and error," and he calls sweet and sour chicken "sweet n' power chicken." My favorite Rickyism is "supply and command," because this little Freudian slip changes the meaning of the original phrase, "supply and demand," by suggesting that those who manipulate and control the supply of a product have the power to regulate the demand for it.
This is particularly clear to me on the Discogs marketplace. Sellers with rare records have a monopoly over their wares and thus have the power to set exorbitant prices for hard-to-find items. Usually, this applies to old records, but it's more troublesome when new record labels press a limited run of a fresh release. People start to foam at the mouth when they hear the words "white label," "limited edition," or "short supply," and they rush to get their hands on a slab of vinyl.
The allure of an ultra-limited edition super rare anonymous mysterious white label often grows stronger with age. Old, rare records can fetch hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the Discogs market, which is controversial because the artist who made the music will never see a dime of that cash. What makes a record worth up to $9,000? We put together a case study of some very pricey records in order to find out.
Moodymann/Theo Parrish, Small Black Church EP (KDJ 1995) $100
Small Black Church
has been repressed several times, so it shouldn't be too hard to find a cheaper copy out there. However, this one is special because it's the white label version, and because it was pressed on brown translucent marble vinyl, which is a cheesy way of making a record look special. The only other brown marble copy that has ever been sold on Discogs went for $164, so you can consider this one a deal.
DJ Deeon, 2 High 2 Lift! EP (Dance Mania 1998) $119.99
Over the past few years, this record has sold for as low as $10 on the Discogs marketplace. The only reason this one is going for over $100 is because it's the last one on the marketplace, so the one seller who's offering it can demand whatever he wants.
STABLO, "No. 9998" (STABLO 2011) $138.61
The STABLO series is a great case study in manipulative Discogs hype. It's a familiar story: in 2010 and 2011, a series of mysterious white label DJ tools appeared, with no indication as to who made it, and people absolutely shat their pants over it and tripped over themselves trying to get a copy. The cheapest records in the STABLO series run at $30-40, and the most expensive ones max out around $140. According to Jamie Fry, who was later identified as the STABLO label head, he chose to keep the series anonymous in order to see if a record could be successful purely based on the music and not the artist's persona or existing fame. The paradox here is that trying to remain mysterious is a calculated branding decision in and of itself, and that the mystique can stimulate record sales. In cases like this, it's often not "all about the music"—it's about the maddening, seductive secrecy that surrounds it.
Theo Parrish, Sketches EP (Sound Signature 2010) $243.89
It should come as no surprise that this expensive version of the Sketches EP is a limited edition white label, and only two sellers on the marketplace have it. At least you get three pieces of vinyl for this price.
Boards of Canada, Aquarius EP (Skam 1998) $250.00
We've all seen the lengths Boards of Canada will go to get people super duper excited about buying their records. But 1998 was a simpler time, especially for record labels—back then, they didn't have to create wild goose chase scavenger hunts across the internet in order to encourage people to buy a record: all they needed to do was press 500 copies of a record, slap it with the words "limited edition," and let people know that the tracks on the record are EXCLUSIVE.
Reel By Real, Surkit EP (Interface 1991) $545.35
EP was repressed in 2010, and you can grab a copy for as low as $8. But if you want a copy of the white label, you only have one option, because only one seller is offering it—for over $500.
Peech Boys, Don't Make Me Wait EP (West End 1982) $900
This one kind of makes sense: The Peech Boys were a foundational disco group that included Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan, and its records are artifacts of rave history. This white label promo copy for sale on Discogs could have blasted through the famous Paradise Garage sound system itself.
UR, Z-Record (Underground Resistance) $1,313.00
Only one seller on the Discogs marketplace has a copy of Z-Record. In fact, they have three copies: one in blue, one in red, and one in green. Luckily, they're happy to share the wealth—as long as you can throw a considerable amount of wealth his way in return.
Lil Louis, "Frequency"/"How I Feel" (Dance Mania 1987) $2,499.99
There are eight copies of this Dance Mania classic for sale, and they run from $30-70. This one is about 80 times more expensive, and the note underneath the listing explains why: "HOLY GRAIL PRESSED BY LI'L LOUIS AND SIGNED BY LI'L LOUIS TEST PRESS ONE OF IT'S KIND NEVER LISTED BEFORE. I BELIEVE IT'S THE ONLY COPY EXISTING LIKE THAT ONE." So there you have it.
Sandwell District, "Feed Forward" (Sandwell District 2010) $9000
The cheapest copy of Feed Forward is $250, which sounds positively dirt cheap in the face of the $9000 price tag on this limited edition, clear vinyl copy. The listing says it's in mint condition, which probably means this bastard bought the record without the intention of ever listening to it or playing it: maybe he's just sitting on it, biding his time until some sucker pays him a year's rent for the thing.