“Got any White Labels mate?”

According to obsoletemedia.org the term “white label” refers to vinyl records which have a plain white centre label, usually in plain packaging. This label can have hand-written or rubber stamped details of the artist and its title or a sticker.

  • Some of these are test pressings to check the sound quality and are usually in quantities of 5 or less.
  • Some are promotional copies sent to retailers or DJs and are a black and white facsimile of the record company’s label, with the background colour removed and details printed with additional wording such as “promo copy only”.
  • Sometimes white labels are used to conceal the artist’s identities so that the record can be listened to without any preconceived prejudices.
  • Producers may supply copies to dance clubs to gauge the crowd’s reactions to a new release.
  • There are also unauthorised copies and remixes from independent DJs/Producers without the artist’s or record companies consent.
  • Competing DJs would tear off the original label or cover up with a plain white label to conceal what record they were playing.
  • Generally not distributed for sale to the general public.

The two final points allude to the rarity of white label records, their intended anonymity and particularly the “gatekeeping” practices of DJs which is of interest to me. The subcultural capital afforded to these limited edition pressings manifests to many on the outside as elitism. The authentic and original is a closely guarded secret aware to only those in the know. I found an Ebay advert for a limited edition 12” single for sale. The seller provided a photograph of the item in question.

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What struck me was the fact that by providing a photo of a white record label, without any identifying features, The seller assumes that the prospective “in the know” punters would identify this as the “real deal”, whereas to anyone on the “outside” it’s just a white record label without any information to suggest that this is in fact that particular record. This ambiguity interests me and I want to present white labels as the currency of subcultural capital.

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Sketchbook – Initial ideas – the kudos of white labels.

I printed a black and white copy of the white label from the Ebay advert and mount it in an oversize frame. The fact that it is a printed photocopy and not an original, creates tension regarding that label’s authenticity.

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The currency of subcultural capital and commodity fetishism has inspired me to present the white label as a desirable object on its own terms. I had previously cut out a circle of white paper with centre-hole in the middle, but this looked very bland and flat. I looked at a white label record and noticed the contours where it has been attached to the record, so I decided to replicate these undulations.

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I eventually created an embossing stamp, first from cardboard and then from laser engraved wood. A piece of paper is sandwiched between and pressed or rolled and then trimmed.

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Self-adhesive white labels are available to buy and plain CD stickers can be adapted. However these are mass-produced for the DJ/record producer market. I wanted to produce individual hand-crafted bespoke labels with the emphasis on quality using a laser engraved jig on the finest plain paper, trimmed to size using a handmade stencil. This implies commodity fetishism as the label itself has an intrinsic value as a handmade object, despite being cheap to make.

Posted in Blog - MA Fine Art.

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