Today we welcome a new guest contributor to the Vault: Kvlt Cat, who also runs the very cool KVLTCAT zine. In her new column Kvlt Catechisms, she’ll be addressing topics related to black metal culture and history. Give her a warm welcome, Vault Hunters – we’re hella stoked to have her on board.
I have been collecting black metal vinyl bootlegs since 2016. Occasionally, when discussing these releases in online forums, I’ll receive comments about “low quality boots” and “crappy lathe cuts” (lathe cuts are short run vinyl records that are hand cut one by one). While bootlegs are often understandably opposed, they hold a fascination for many collectors. I’ll use “bootleg” as an umbrella term to refer to fan edits, live concert recordings, unauthorized releases of copyrighted albums, and even unofficial releases from artists themselves.
If you collect vinyl seriously, you’ve likely used or interacted with Discogs. While Discogs’ bootleg ‘ban’ has been more gradual rather than going into effect on a specific date, it seems like the biggest cull of unauthorized releases on the site occured about six months ago. While Discogs still retains listings for bootlegs, they are blocked from sale in their marketplace. This is detrimental to collectors, since one of Discogs’ most vital functions is aggregating user-generated price data from their marketplace so users can determine whether they’re being ripped off on the site and beyond. Their COO has discussed banning the sale of bootlegs in the same breath as choosing not to list records linked to white supremacist philosophies, which frankly seems like comparing apples and oranges. As he was quoted in The Vinyl Factory:
Our code is currently designed to remove the release in its entirety from the Marketplace without touching the history of its existence in the database. Copyright issues are not the only reason we block items from our marketplace. We also actively block Nazi/White Supremacy material and what we find is hate oriented propaganda material. That is done with the support of our community who help identify this material. Because we feel we cannot profit or support the sale of this we have always removed any sales history.
Discogs’ aversion to the legal risks of selling bootlegs, however, has not dampened customers’ desire to buy them, with dozens of Discogs forum threads seeking alternative marketplaces and questioning the ban spawning every few months. Regardless, their ban remains firm, with users reporting that even their comments on threads concerning unlicensed releases are being mass deleted by Discogs moderators.
Bootlegs embody the D.I.Y./KVLT spirit
Whenever I come across bootleg, it feels more like an ancient artifact than like a product that I’ve purchased or traded for. The intangible obscurity which anything “kvlt” relies on is well-embodied by a good vinyl bootleg – especially if it’s of a live show. Who made this? When was it recorded? Is this as close as I’ll ever get to being at a Satyricon gig in the 90s? All of these questions and their muddy answers lend to the mystique of black metal bootlegs. A vinyl pressed illegally in a garage is far more in the D.I.Y. spirit than the 12th commercial version of the same record (often produced from low-quality digital re-recordings of the original master). With the dominance of digital music media and how easily one can, for example, rip music off of Youtube using a browser-based tool, I’m surprised marketplaces are still griping about bootlegs. That being said, consumer and market preferences are not the only voices which matter in discussions of bootlegs.
Apathy from artists?
Does an artist’s apathy toward bootlegs effect their salience? Certainly the preferences of the artists should be considered when their art may be released and profited from without their endorsement. In a recent interview with Vice, Venom’s founding guitarist Jeff “Mantas” Dunn commented:
Some of the best Venom merchandise I’ve ever seen was from Vietnam, and that was obviously totally unsanctioned. Some people go to great lengths to present the best possible product that they can, but it still hurts the band revenue-wise. It’s a symptom of what we’re involved in and as an artist it’s something you’ve got to accept. It’s been happening forever and it’s almost impossible to stop. But it’s flattering to be that in demand and that collectible.
Naturally, not all musicians share this opinion. Bootlegs are, strictly speaking, illegal to produce, but selling them falls into muddy legal waters and there is no clear legal barrier to owning them. It is also important to distinguish between bootlegs being sold as clearly-identified unauthorized releases vs. sellers attempting to pass bootlegs off as official releases.
Despite artists who exert varying levels of control over unlicensed distribution of their material (ranging from Metallica’s infamous Napster lawsuit to Danzig, who is rumored to be behind some of his own bootlegs), bootlegs will likely continue to be an element of the underground metal community.
If you would like to catch up on Discogs’ great bootleg debate, this thread is a good place to start reading some user reactions.