The needle is about to drop for local musicians, bands and record labels yearning to do something they haven’t been able to in Vancouver for almost 30 years: press their own vinyl records.
Ever since Praise Records in Burnaby closed its doors in 1991, vinyl purists have had to look beyond our borders in order to manufacture records. In the early 1990s, even though the format was pretty much declared dead by the major labels, vinyl was the preferred format for independent bands like mine, the Smugglers. We had to search far and wide to make it a reality, and our first few records were manufactured at United Records Pressing in Nashville, Tenn.
The imminent return of vinyl pressing to Vancouver is thanks to East Van rocker and entrepreneur Billy Bones, lead singer of the Vicious Cycles and former owner of Sparrow Guitars. Clampdown Record Pressing Inc. is set to begin production this spring and is already taking orders.
“I’ve always wanted to own a record press,” Bones told me over the phone from Toronto, where he was getting a crash course in making records courtesy of Viryl Technologies.
“I’m a record nerd. I probably have 3,000 records in my living room alone. So I tried tracking down an old record press, but a lot of them were machines with parts that would be impossible to replace if they broke down,” Bones said. “Then I discovered Viryl.”
Viryl Technologies was founded in 2015 with a plan to modernize the vinyl pressing industry. Their concept was to create a modern record press while providing consulting and tech support for start-up plants. According to Bones, what Viryl is selling is “the most technologically and ecologically advanced record pressing machines ever built.”
Along with his partner and bandmate Norm Anderson, Bones bought in. Together, they are investing in modern technology for a vintage format.
“There’s a huge demand for vinyl records right now,” Bones said. “Every record press in the world is completely slammed with backorders.”
Historically, vinyl sales hit an all-time high in 1977, but the market took a nosedive in 1988 with the dominance of cassette and CD sales and continued to decline until it hit an all-time low in 2006. Then, in 2008, Record Store Day was founded. It was initially an attempt to support independent brick-and-mortal music retailers. The initiative received widespread support specifically via exclusive, limited edition, highly collectable vinyl releases from musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Arcade Fire, Paul McCartney, Neko Case, David Bowie and Jack White. Thus, vinyl began its remarkable comeback, and in 2018, for the first time since 1985, vinyl sales topped $1 billion.
“When major retailers like Urban Outfitters and London Drugs started selling vinyl, that’s when the plants really started getting busy, because all the classics were getting re-pressed. The waits were becoming very long to get records made,” said Bones, noting that even Ikea is making its own record player for 2019.
The pressure for platters remains so great that brokers have emerged, acting much like a mortgage broker or real estate agent — people you can pay who will use their connections to get your records pressed faster.
And since no record pressing plant currently exists in B.C. or Washington State, Bones hopes to spin the demand for the born-again format to support the B.C. music industry.
Thanks in part to a grant from Amplify, the government funding program from Creative B.C., Bones has recently signed a lease on a 3,000 square foot industrial warehouse in Burnaby that will be home base for Clampdown Record Pressing Inc.
“Once the machines are up and running, we’ll be able to press a record about every 40 seconds,” Bones said. “At Clampdown we’ll be able to handle everything from your classic black record to fancy, fun records, like coloured vinyl, splatter vinyl and picture discs, in the seven-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch formats.”
The plant’s staffing will be modest at first, with three or four employees.
And that Clampdown moniker? It’s a tribute to the Clash song of the same name, found on London Calling, the band’s classic double gatefold LP that has sold five million copies since its release in 1979.
Here’s hoping Clampdown will soon be pressing up future Canadian classics on hot wax.