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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Daniel Dylan Wray

‘This is so creepy!’: the Taylor Swift vinyl haunted by Britain’s weirdest musicians

‘It only got weirder’ … Taylor Swift and Cabaret Voltaire.
‘It only got weirder’ … Taylor Swift and Cabaret Voltaire. Composite: Republic Records/ Getty Images

‘Please help me,” pleads Rachel Hunter on a TikTok video now seen by millions, as the sound of ominous drones hum beneath a robotic voice repeatedly asking, “The 70 billion people of Earth … where are they hiding?”

The noises are emitting from a record spinning on a turntable – the brand new vinyl release of Taylor Swift’s re-recorded Speak Now. Except it’s not. It’s the churning sounds of industrial-electro pioneers Cabaret Voltaire sampling the 1963 sci-fi TV show The Outer Limits on their 1992 track Soul Vine (70 Billion People).

A pressing mix-up means Hunter has what’s been printed as a copy of Speak Now, but when played it’s actually the new compilation Happy Land: A Compendium of Electronic Music from the British Isles 1992-1996 (Vol 1). It’s a collection of tunes complete with its own folklore, rather different to that on 2020’s Folklore which Swift fans may be more in tune with. Happy Land taps into an “old weird Britain of rural raves, chalk horses, burial mounds and tense standoffs with the police”, as writer Joe Muggs explored in his review of the album and scene – one he calls “massively druggy” – earlier this year.

True Romance by Thunderhead was the first thing Hunter heard when she played the record. “I thought maybe the vinyl had some sort of special message,” she says. “Because Taylor does that sort of thing. This voice was saying strange things about flesh and anxiety. I was like: this is weird. I thought maybe the other side would be less strange but I flipped it over [to Cabaret Voltaire] and, no, it only got weirder.”

The comments under the video run into the thousands. Words such as “scary”, “terrifying” and “haunted” are plentiful. Released as Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), record has quickly been nicknamed (Cursed Version). But plenty are calling it “fire” and digging Cabaret Voltaire, including Hunter. “I was like: this is so creepy,” she says. “But when the beat kicks in I was like: this is a vibe.”

“My kids in Australia told me about it,” says Stephen Mallinder, co-founder of Cabaret Voltaire, now in Creep Show. “They said, ‘Dad, you’re on a Taylor Swift record and this girl looks really distraught about it’.”

The two-volume compilation was released on Above Board, a label run by Dan Hill, and curated by Ed Cartwright and Leon Oakey. “It’s so charming,” Cartwright says. “You couldn’t really have chosen a more perfect compilation of music to mysteriously appear on that record.” Mallinder adds, with a laugh, “It’s possibly the most subversive thing we’ve ever done.”

So, what exactly happened? And why does it only seem to be a mysterious one-off case so far? “We made an assumption it’s a batch,” says Cartwright. “But no others have appeared.” Studies show that around half of the vinyl released bought isn’t actually played, so there’s a chance there are more in circulation unbeknown to owners.

Five hundred copies of Happy Land were pressed originally but who knows how many have accidentally ended up on Swift’s records, which have already shifted blockbuster figures of more than 225,000. Swift’s label released a statement saying: “We are aware that there are an extremely limited number of incorrectly pressed vinyl copies in circulation and have addressed the issue.” The mix-up seemingly occurred at the French plant MPO, which pressed both records (they didn’t respond for comment).

“What I find amusing is the number of people now probably following the same path as Rachel,” laughs Cartwright. “To go to Taylor Swift’s UK web store and order the orchid triple vinyl in the hope they will get this crazy anomaly.”

Cartwright doesn’t have to look too far for examples. “These records are going to be like gold dust,” says Hill. “I’ve bought two, and everyone in my office has bought one. Every single person I know, even those who never buy records, is reaching out to try and get a copy. It’s brilliant. You’ve got these Taylor Swift fans who have been force-fed electronic music and then you’ve got this whole Discogs-digging culture trying to find faulty Taylor Swift records who never in their life would normally buy them.”

The rumour mill has been in full churn. “Somebody said maybe it’s Taylor using her powers for good,” chuckles Mallinder. “Which I’m sure isn’t true but I like the sentiment. Other people have said they think it’s a Banksy-type stunt that somebody’s done deliberately.” Cartwright has a background in PR and has even faced accusations of an inside job: “People have been phoning me up and saying, ‘Back to your old tricks again?’”

Where things get really strange is that Hunter’s vinyl copy of Speak Now somehow features Ultramarine’s track Happy Land, featuring Robert Wyatt (Hunter’s least favourite on the album) on both sides.

“That is a whole other Bermuda Triangle of weirdness,” says Hill. “It’s going down some weird vortex I can’t even comprehend. I don’t know how that’s happened because technically it’s impossible.”

Cartwright adds: “That would require a whole new lacquer to have been used that differs from our original album.”

Everyone is stumped. Hunter has even had to prove that her faulty copy of Speak Now is real. “NBC News emailed me asking if it was a meme,” she says. “So I did a TikTok where I slowed down the speed of the vinyl to prove it.”

The mashups have begun. Cabaret Voltaylor takes the Cabs’ proto-industrial banger Nag Nag Nag and smashes it into Swift’s All Too Well. While the name Cabaret Voltaire was under the ownership of band co-founder Richard H Kirk, who died in 2021, can we perhaps expect a Mallinder or Creep Show rework of a Swift original? “We’re up for anything,” says Mallinder. “If Taylor wants a mix, we’ll write some tunes.”

• This article was amended on 13 July 2023. Aphex Twin features on Vol 2 of Happy Land, not Vol 1, which appears on some copies of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), as previously stated.

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