I've really been struggling this week with what I'll write (if anything) about the Death Side reissues that just came out on Feral Ward. When they came in Jeff asked if I had originals of them and I replied, "yeah, I have every single Death Side record, including compilation appearances." That seemed to really impress Jeff, and there was a time when I guess that would have really impressed me if someone had said it to me. Actually, I remember the first time I saw Forward I overheard a couple of punks walk up to Ishiya and ask if he would sign their Death Side records (he politely refused). I remember being really blown away, thinking to myself "wow, they have Death Side records... how is that possible?" However, I can't think of the last time that I put on a Death Side record for my own listening pleasure, and I don't really see it happening again any time soon. It's not that I don't like them anymore, but it's almost like I've just had my fill. Sort of like at the end of a really good meal when you push your plate away and say "no more." It's not as if the meal has lost any esteem in your mind, you just don't really want any more of it, and would rather go and do something completely different like take a walk or read a book or take a nap or whatever. That's the way I feel about Death Side right now... I've had enough, and I'd way rather listen to any of the many, many records that are still new and exciting to me.
So does that mean I'll be getting rid of those records? Absolutely not, though I'm not really sure I have a good argument as to why. Part of the reason, certainly, is that I bought a lot of those records in Japan and they serve as souvenirs of the times I got to visit there. They're also, in a way, souvenirs of a certain time in my life when I was just learning about Japanese punk and hardcore and it seemed like the most exotic and exciting thing in the world. It was also a lot of work to figure out exactly what Death Side's discography was and track each record down. I remember, though, when I got the last record I needed (the Smashing Odds Ness compilation 8") there was a weird feeling. It wasn't so much happiness or relief or even disappointment... it was just sort of like "ok, that's done." That record does have a pretty good Crück track, though, haha!
The last piece of the Death Side puzzle
Anyway, this got me thinking about the handful of "complete" collections that I have. I've always kind of been a collector (like a lot of people, moving through baseball cards and comic books on my way to records), but when I first got really interested in music "complete" meant something different than it did now. Mostly, it meant getting every one of a band's major studio albums. I've always been attracted to bands with a little bit of heft to their discography, and in my teen years I spent a lot of time chasing down Screeching Weasel and Bad Religion records. These were the dark ages before the internet when there was no real way to tell how many records these bands even had. Every time I went in a record store I'd look for releases by my favorite bands... I'd always go to the "B" section and look for Bad Religion, the "D" section and look for Descendents, the "S" section and look for Screeching Weasel, etc. Record stores didn't tend to be very good about stocking catalog titles, so every once in a while there would be a record that I hadn't seen before and I'd always grab it (no matter the format... I'd happily take CD, vinyl, or cassette, as each format had its advantages and disadvantages) and spend a lot of time figuring out how it fit into the context of the other records I had by that artist.
Once I got to college and particularly after I got my own computer (which would have been around 1999) I started to discover discography web sites, which really changed my attitude toward completeness. Two very essential documents that re-shaped by attitude were the Revelation Records discography compiled by Kevin Finn and the Leatherface discography compiled by this guy Tim (the Rev discography you can still find here; I couldn't find the Leatherface web page after a bit of Googling, but the author of that site still does a blog called ibuywaytoomanyrecords.com). Straight edge hardcore was, at best, a passing phase in my listening habits, but I used to look at that Rev discography all the time nonetheless... the way that it compiled detailed pressing information, identified all of the unique versions of each record, and established a clear hierarchy of which versions were better or more desirable was really mind-blowing. I mean, I knew even then that, say, Warzone's Lower East Side Crew 7" was very rare (I don't think I'd ever even seen one at that point), but knowing that there were only 200 on green and only 6 (!!!) with the rare alternate sleeve was really intriguing to me.
While that rev.txt document was extremely novel at the time, I think it's interesting to note that Discogs has effectively moved the needle of the entire record collecting world to be more in line with this style of collecting. Years ago it was only the most fanatical collector who would search out particular pressings of, say, your standard classic rock records, but nowadays early (and especially first) country-of-origin pressings of classic rock records command substantial premiums. I credit this almost solely to the way that Discogs categorizes and displays information, highlighting the plethora of different versions / pressings of each release in their catalog. If you like a record and you look it up on Discogs (which is typically one of the top few Google results when you search for a record by its artist and title), seeing that there are multiple versions of that release just tickles some primal thing in the human brain that makes us want all of them, or failing that the best one. I can't help but think that things would be different if allmusic.com or rateyourmusic.com had better Google rankings than Discogs; we might live in a record collecting world that emphasized breadth over depth. But I digress...
As for the Leatherface discography, that one was intriguing for a different, but overlapping, set of reasons. First of all, I was really, really into Leatherface. I'd seen them live on their first US tour with Hot Water Music and they really threw me for a loop... I hadn't been that energized by punk since I first started going to shows and it was all new, novel, and infinitely exciting. Second, even though the community that collected Leatherface records didn't seem to overlap much at all with the Revelation/straight edge set, I could see a similar sort of hierarchy of desirability emergent in the author's description of Leatherface's discography. Some things, like their first album, Cherry Knowle, were really common (Cherry Knowle had been licensed by several different labels already and was even in print on BYO Records at the time), their proper studio albums were a bit more difficult to find, and their EPs and singles (of which there were many) were even more difficult to find. I'd encountered the EP thing a bit in the past, I remembered, as record stores with healthy "import" sections (like Tower Records, which had a pretty decent store in Richmond) always had these weird slimline CD singles by Bad Religion that were only pressed in Germany and included songs you couldn't get anywhere else. More intriguingly, though, there were a few Leatherface records that were really difficult to find. In particular, there was a rejected test pressing of their 4th album, Minx, that included an alternate mix, and there was a 12" single called Not Superstitious that included that track as an a-side and the bonus tracks from the CD version of Mush on the b-side. I distinctly remember that the author of the Leatherface discography really teased the budding record collector in me with that last item... unlike the other records listed in the discography, this one didn't include a picture of the sleeve, and the author noted that while he had heard of this record he'd never seen one in person and wasn't convinced that it really existed.
Eventually I got all of the Leatherface records (well, except the rejected test pressing of Minx, though I do have one of the accepted test pressings!). I'd find online vendors from Europe and Australia, set sale lists posted on weird message boards, and of course ebay. Occasionally I'd really score. Twice I found distros that still had dead stock copies of long out of print releases, so I remember buying 20+ copies each of the Eagle and Little White God singles, which I either traded for things on my wants list or sold on ebay to fund other purchases. Of course, the last record I actually acquired was the infamous Not Superstitious EP. One popped up on ebay when I happened to be working a particularly lucrative summer job and I bid hard, as the kids say. If I remember correctly I spent $75 on it. I don't think I told anyone that price because I was so embarrassed at having paid that much for a record. But it meant that my Leatherface collection was now complete because I owned an original vinyl pressing of every single one of their releases.
Incontrovertible proof that it exists!
That's what "complete" has continued to mean to me to this day, though I recognize that it means something quite different to a lot of people. A lot of people are into collecting all of the different versions of particular records (or even particular artists' and labels' entire discographies), and I must admit that I like hearing about this and follow a few blogs and Instagram accounts that focus on this style of record collecting. The best of these is the Endless Quest blog, whose author has an unfathomably large amount of Bane and Integrity records. I could not care less about Bane and only like a couple of Integrity records, but I still really like the blog. With the author's intense focus on pressing variations and vinyl color, it's obvious that he's spent a lot more time with the rev.txt document than I have. I've dabbled in the "alternate version" game a bit (and I still have a few alternate sleeves and other interesting variations), but you have to draw the line somewhere and I draw it at owning one nice original copy of the records I really enjoy.
I did want to note quickly the end of one of the best European distros, Spain's Trabuc Records. I got an email from Trabuc earlier this week with the following note:
Yeah, that’s right, i’m done with the label. After 13 years i feel it’s time to move on. Personally I’ve dedicated my 100% to this project but the flame doesn’t burn like before. I’ve put aside personal stuff and life needs because this project was always first and i feel i need to change that. Financially, can’t really keep going like this either. Records don’t sell that good, money is always short and releases has been delayed many times, toghether with the accumulated debt put a pressure on me i can’t bare anymore, so i’m forced to give up and find a proper job, like my granma always said.
I have to say it's a real bummer to hear about that, but I completely understand. Running Sorry State is really difficult as well. There are certainly perks, but the amount of pressure only grows as the store, label, and distro continue to grow. Unfortunately, we've never mastered making money either, so it's difficult to pay down our considerable debt (much less actually pay myself), particularly when each new release continues to sell more poorly than the last one. It's also kind of striking that I haven't really seen any online chatter about Trabuc shutting down. Maybe if I read Spanish I would have seen more of a reaction, but I don't think I've seen a single person mention it. At the very least, I think that it's a clear indication that distros (and, to a lesser extent, labels) occupy a much smaller and less influential space in the world of punk these days, and it may even indicate that one or both of those institutions is not long for this world. I hope that's not the case, but the fact that no one even seems to care about an influential institution like Trabuc is really troubling.