• It’s official, but it looks unauthorized

The night last week’s issue went to press I came across an unlicensed vinyl version of Kanye West’s Graduation at Laurie’s Planet of Sound. I’d previously only seen it listed online, which is part of the reason I ended up buying it. It may have been too late to get a photo of it for my B Side feature on bootleg rap and R&B vinyl, but my fascination with these releases didn’t end when that story hit the streets.

The Graduation knockoff isn’t the only LP I wish I could’ve had in my possession while writing the feature (I’ve got my eye on Drake’s Nothing Was the Same), and there are more records I would’ve liked to write more about that didn’t quite fit into the piece. For example there’s the “bootleg” vinyl version of Donald Glover’s latest rap album as Childish Gambino, Because the Internet, which I mentioned in passing in the piece; it’s not an unlicensed release, but given the flexibility of the term bootleg I got in touch with Glover’s label, Glassnote, to get some more details about the release. As I wrote in the feature, the Because the Internet vinyl is inspired by Trade Mark of Quality, a beloved early-70s bootleg label that released B sides, unissued songs, and live recordings of popular artists. That’s easy to see from a photos of the LP, which has a rubber-stamped title on a plain white sleeve that’s reminiscent of Trade Mark of Quality’s earliest releases, but Glassnote sent me a copy of the record to get a better look at it.

The double-LP has many of the markings of an ordinary licensed release, which are missing from the current stream of bootlegs I found: Because the Internet came in a plastic sleeve with a bar code on the back, which can be traced back to Glassnote; both records include a matrix number etched into the blank area near the hub label along with the name of the manufacturer, a Minneapolis-based plant called Noiseland Industries; and it came with a download card bearing the names Noiseland and Soundtrax, the digital music company Noiseland uses for vinyl releases that come with access to free MP3 versions of the music. The Because the Internet “bootleg” is as legal as any other Glassnote release, and the artwork is part of what differentiates it from a more straightforward LP. There is a proper vinyl release in the works for Glover’s album, and Glassnote decided to release a small run of the “bootleg” version when Because the Internet came out last month to get it in the hands of the rapper’s die-hard fans, some of whom are willing to pay nearly $100 for a copy on eBay.

It’s a neat bit of marketing and although I have plenty of issues with Glover’s rapping, I must admit the LP is a cool object. It reminds me of another record I picked up in the process of working on the bootleg story—Fecal Matter’s Demo 1985. That’s the title that appears on the B side hub label of an LP of the demo tape by Kurt Cobain’s pre-Nirvana band, Fecal Matter, but the record is adorned with some variations on that title; both the spine and cover appear to list the artist as “before NIRVANA . . . , ” but the spine lists the name “Fecal Matter” in the area that would appear to be the album name, and the cover includes the phrase “the 1985 Kurt Cobain hometape” below a grainy photo of the original demo cassette cover. Oddly the original title of the demo, Illiteracy Will Prevail, only appears on the photo of the actual tape.

It’s clearly a bootleg, one that mostly lives up to music journalist Clinton Heylin’s definition as it includes material that’s remained mostly unreleased in any formal way; “Spank Thru” is the only song from the original Fecal Matter demo that’s available on an authorized release, and it appears on a 2005 Nirvana compilation called Sliver: The Best of the Box, which is basically an abridged version 2004’s With the Lights Out box set. Like Because the Internet, the Demo 1985 LP is clearly inspired by a bygone bootleg label, specifically a 70s rock imprint from Southern California called the Amazing Kornyfone Record Label. In fact, what little information is available on Demo 1985 says it’s manufactured by that very label; the hub labels on both sides duplicate the R. Crumb-inspired cartoons and lettering that appear on original Kornyfone releases, and the catalog number that appears on the front cover is an acronym for Kornyfone (“TAKRL 2013-02”).

While the person (or people) behind Demo 1985 claims to be “the rebirth of a legendary label for legendary tapes,” I suspect there’s zero connection to that beloved old label other than the obvious homage that is the Fecal Matter LP. For one thing it appears to be manufactured overseas as a sticker on the cover that says the record is “Coloured Vinyl” offers a pretty good sign that this Kornyfone isn’t based out of southern California. This isn’t the first time the Kornyfone name has been used for unauthorized LPs not attached to the original Kornyfone label—in the 80s a label out of Germany released bootlegs of AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Wipers under the name the Amazing Kornyphone Rebirth Label. The Demo 1985 LP is another fascinating wrinkle in the narrative of unauthorized albums, and one that’s been documented before—even bootleggers can have their ideas bootlegged.