Armagideon Time

The most valuable item in my record library — according to Discogs Marketplace metrics — isn’t some punk obscurity or limited run test-pressing.

That honor goes to the WipeOut 2097 soundtrack, released as a gatefold double LP by Virgin in 1996.

It’s not hard to see why the album commands such absurd asking prices. Vinyl was well and truly dead by the mid-nineties. The few offerings that did get released on the format were token gestures to the foreign market audiophile crowd or aimed at dance venue disc jockeys with an old school bias. The type of person willing to pay a premium for these discs won’t be they type inclined to part with them. Combine that with the overall scarcity of the goods, and you have the makings of a seller’s market stanglehold.

The above doesn’t even take the nature of the material into account. When lesser releases by alt-rock also rans can hit the neighborhood of thirty bucks for a fair condition copy, all bests are off when it comes to offerings with wider appeal. The WipeOut 2097 soundtrack falls under that rubric as both the licensed soundtrack to a well-regarded videogame franchise and a compilation featuring a murderer’s row of the leading lights of the so-called “electronica” craze.

The Chemical Brothers, FSOL, Prodigy, Underworld, Fluke, Orbital, Daft Punk, Leftfield — almost the entire establishing pantheon of artists associated with the scene are featured, some with mixes unavailable elsewhere. The assortment of tracks may not represent their apex-of-the-era output — because the cuts had been chosen for in-game purpose above all else — but it’s still a unparalleled core sample from a specific moment in time, right down to the technofuturistic trade dress crafted by The Designers Republic.

That sense of moment, more than anything, drove my obsession with owning a copy. The electronica scene broke big at a watershed moment in my life. I was in my mid-twenties, finally out of college, and working a (mostly) grown-up job. My tastes and style had evolved past punk and were more elastic than they’d been in years.

It was around that time that Maura started taping stuff she considered “interesting” off a late-night MTV show called Amp and Asian-market music video programming from the International Channel. The music and aesthetics picked up a number of loose threads from the past — the disco and synthpop of my childhood, the industrial and EBM beats of my teens — and wove them into a cable plugged directly into a future I’d written off for dead, Syd Mead-inspired urban futurescapes populated by a luminous riot of commercial-gnostic symbols. It was a synthesis that matched my own sense of becoming something more than the sum of my history.

The moment was too good to last, but the connection I felt with it lingered on through the real future to come. After weeks of earnest longing and the unwillingness to drop that much on a single album, I was well and truly primed to pull the trigger when a VG+ copy cropped up on the Discogs Marketplace for half the usual asking price…which was still double what I’ve spent on any other slab of vinyl.

I’ve had no feelings of buyer’s remorse about it, just the lingering disappointment that the best cut in the WipeOut XL videogame — FSOL’s “Landmass” — didn’t make it onto the collection.

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