A few weeks back, I was interview by The Ringer’s Justin Sayles for an article he just published about the last 20 years of crate-digging and sample-based production since the release of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. It is a sprawling long-form essay that covers a great deal of territory and I suspect it’d be of great interest to many of the readers of this site.
At the essay’s end, Sayles includes this section based around our convo:
Wang says that the internet has been both an “asset and a liability” for the world of crate digging. Yes, it’s had an effect of diluting hyperspecialized knowledge, making years’ worth of collecting accessible to anyone who can get online, but it has also brought together like-minded music aficionados to share knowledge, and has connected people with, for example, a rare LP a collector in the United Arab Emirates is selling.
That last line is specifically referring to an album I last wrote about in 2008: Manu Dibango’s African Voodoo (I re-upped the sound files for it today). I did, indeed, buy the album from a seller in the UAB that I was connected to via the old GEMM.com. For a long time, it was the closest I came to having anything approaching a “come up” story even though, in the grand scheme of things, “finding a record for cheap on the internet isn’t exactly the stuff of legend.1 In any case, what I had forgotten about was what I wrote in that 2008 post:
Why not post this earlier? I actually had planned to at one point but then noticed it had shown up, in full album form, on other blogs. That took the proverbial wind out of the sails, not just because I’ve been beaten from the punch (which I could care less about) but rather, once a $400 record becomes just another download, part of its unique magic dissipates. Under those circumstances, I’d rather post up something more meaningful to me, personally, than “check out this rare record I have” (especially when it’s not so rare once it becomes more mass available). Ah, but such is the reality of music going online.
Again, I wrote that in ’08 and I suspect many folks would have already begun feeling the same way back in ’98. My point here isn’t to rehash the debate but rather to point out that we’re still having it.
Sayles’s article doesn’t arrive at any clear conclusions and that seems exactly right: the internet is still transforming how we accumulate and disseminate both knowledge about music and the music itself. My own site embraces part of the irreconcilability of it all; it’s a digital space inspired by old analog ephemera and the existence of that site might be helping contribute to both/either the scarcity of that ephemera (as collector’s items) or its greater distribution (via comps, reissues, digital releases, etc.) The only thing I can say is that I should have posted African Voodoo earlier than 2008; I was too self-conscious back then and it is a great album and worthy of notice regards of how many other blogs posted about it back then.
- With that said, the greatest come up I ever had did, indeed, involve finding a record for cheap on the internet. ↩
There’s a pretty well-documented history of fetishization within the crate digging community largely fueled by that golden era of hip hop both by fans turned crate diggers and by the producers themselves. The Stones-Throw generation of crate diggers which is what I’d call the post golden-age producer era (and into which I’d put Egon and DJ Shadow) seemed to take that fetishization to the next level; a logical next step from what the golden-era producers were doing but not without detriment to future generations of crate diggers none the less. I’ve always found it self-unaware at best when the folks that bragged about cleaning out entire record stores, who hold hyper-curated private sales and hoard tens if not hundreds of thousands of records in personal collections then complain about/bemoan the next generation not having the experience of going to the brick and mortar record shops and having once-in-lifetime discoveries (and being left to hunt for rarer records online). It’s interesting to think about. The whole reissue vs available on YouTube anyways and what is the cultural value of the hyperspecialized knowledge if it hadn’t been disseminated online and perhaps would’ve been lost and is it just about hearing the music and sharing the music anyways and so forth. I also think there’s something to the online marketplaces both dropping and raising prices of records. Nobody’s paying $400 like Questlove for a copy of Headless Heroes but at the same time, people still charge $50 for a copy of Awakenings which I used to be able to find for the price of most AJ records ($5-10). I wonder how you’d define the different generations of crate diggers (as it relates to sample-based music production) and how they feed into/interact with one another. Good topic, interesting article, thanks for sharing.