A eulogy for What.cd, the greatest music collection in the history of the world—until it vanished yesterday
After the online music library What.CD closed down, QUARTZ's Nikhil Sonnad laments the cultural legacy and significance of the site in an in-depth, eulogy-like farewell feature.This article originally appeared on QUARTZ
In 2007, I became obsessed with a musician named Lizzy Mercier Descloux, a nearly forgotten French eccentric who created a singular style of punk-rock deeply influenced by African music and funk. I read incessantly about her music, but I could not find a way to actually listen to it. Amazon’s catalog was limited, so I couldn’t buy a CD. Spotify didn’t exist yet. And even illicit file-sharing sites came up dry on searches for Lizzy.
So I decided to dive into a deep corner of the internet, attempting to gain access to a mythical website that was said to have all the music you’d ever heard of, and all the music you hadn’t. It was called What.cd, and it promised a lot. Its Twitter profile used to read, “Beyond here is something like a utopia—beyond here is What.CD.”
It lived up to this utopian promise, until the site was shut down yesterday (Nov. 17) after a raid by French authorities. It now reads:
Due to some recent events, What.CD is shutting down. We are not likely to return any time soon in our current form. All site and user data has been destroyed.
This is a tragedy for music fans, and for humanity: What.CD was an unprecedented cultural repository. It offered something close to the sum-total of humanity’s recorded musical output, organized and classified to near-perfection...