Ruffy talks: the DJ Harvey effect

“Recently I discovered a fantastic album – ‘Rain Forest Music’ by J.D. Emmanuel. It’s an old New Age album from 1981, it’s exactly what you might think it is from the title – lots of animal noises and some plinky plonky synths that aren’t too offensive. Lovely stuff.

Recently this kind of New Age music has become very popular – stylistically it serves as a foundation for a lot of the floaty sounds we’re hearing in much contemporary club music – and so lots of young’uns who’ve been exposed to these sounds in the club are chasing down the origin to the point where in many cases these artists are more popular now than they ever have been. This new-found popularity has led to an unprecedented demand for music to the point where original copies of ‘Rain Forest Music’ have been selling on Discogs for well over £50.

Okay, nothing special here, right? Plenty of old records – especially obscure, rare, private press jobs like ‘Rain Forest Music’ – end up with a much higher value than retail over time for all kinds of reasons (aka the ‘DJ Harvey effect’). At this point you have a couple of options – fork out a fortune for the record or pray for a re-issue. Fortunately some of J.D. Emmanuel’s music has been re-issued – it was seeing these reissues at Piccadilly Records that led me to ‘Rain Forest Music’ which, so far, has no vinyl version on the horizon.

There are a number of reasons that a rare record might not get reissued, and they’re usually boring ones – nobody can find who owns the rights, the masters have been destroyed, there’s not enough money to pay for a pressing – but in the particular case of ‘Rain Forest Music’ and the music of J.D.Emmanuel in general there’s a different solution to getting the music without paying through the nose: J.D.Emmanuel has set up a Bandcamp where you can buy high quality digital versions of ALL of his musical output at rock bottom prices. No messing. You can have a WAV of ‘Rain Forest Music’ in its entirety for six US dollars. And he’s got all kinds of other weird stuff you can get – concert recordings, different versions – it’s bloody brilliant.

And the very best thing about this is that all the money goes straight to the artist! If you buy a copy of ‘Rain Forest Music’ off Discogs for 60 quid or whatever, all that cash will almost likely go into the pocket of a private seller. None to the person who made the music. I heard a story on Facebook that in fact Emmanuel threw out all his copies of ‘Rain Forest Music’ because at the time he couldn’t give them away…

And this is where I’ve been trying to get for the last 400 words. Please, for one moment, put aside any vinyl versus digital argument – it’s been done and done to death and nobody knows the answer.

The point is that in some people’s eyes, owning a dusty, crackly vinyl copy of ‘Rain Forest Music’ that cost them a ridiculous amount of money from a speculator is somehow more worthy than paying $6 directly to the person who created it for a digital version.

I don’t know how you measure this worthiness, what it means for artists making music and what it says about the concept of consumerism but right now I’m listening to a lovely clean copy of ‘Rain Forest Music’ on my stereo, J.D. Emmanuel has got $6 (minus Bandcamp fees) of my cash in his back pocket and the world is just a bit more relaxing.”

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