The "Bad Trade!" Project


Must've been twelve or thirteen years ago I sent out into the mail art community the "Bad Trade!" offer, which ran thus:
A kind thief just gave me for free the first CD player of my whole entire life! Alas, me am too destitute to buy CDs. Please send me any CD you have around which you no longer play, that you iz hating or iz sick of or have one extra cuz you forget & bought it twice, or wuz given to you by some shithead who misunderstood your tastes, or which you think a wee ratty just starting a CD collection should have, or which your own bad band made, & I will send you some of my dumb-ass mail art.
Well, I got hundreds of CDs. The mini-flyers I sent out with the Bad Trade! offer got photocopied by recipients & forwarded; the announcement appeared in fanzines & newsletters that were trying to track mail art doings; & the trade offer, bad though it was, seemed to have struck a note with people who suspected (rightly) that the poverty-need was not being faked, & it was a great way to unload some unwanted stuff or even a few precious things.

Mail artists all around the world sent me their reject crapola or review copy CDs, sometimes by the boxload, in many languages & most genres. I at least sampled all of them, & some few I kept forever & listened to often.

Mixed in with the loads of rubbish received were some regional bands who never had a reputation outside their own cities, some of whom were surprisingly good; & some of the European experimental stuff was exceptionally good. Plus a few mail artists were themselves in bands, & it was great to hear them performing.

The award-winner for most CDs sent, as I recall, has to have been Kenyata Sullivan, whose own music is so good, & who sent punky girl-band & art-rock stuff & CDs by his pals & compatriots, some stuff of actual & very great merit mixed in with the usual junk.

In the mail art community, old projects die hard deaths, or never quite entirely die. Not until I moved away from Seattle was there an interuption in the large number of CDs received weekly, & even after moving, some people continued to get them to me in Bremerton. Not long ago, I saw the Bad Trade announcement recycled in a new fanzine as though it were a recent thing. And to this day, whenever I get a CD from a mail artist anywhere in the world, I wonder if it is the continuing residual effect of that long-ago announcement.

Well, I no longer need to receive CDs in the needy way I did back then, but they're still nice to get.


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