Bella Union’s Simon Raymonde On The Vinyl Landscape

As sales records tumble, yet pressing plant delays remain...

The on-going vinyl resurgence is one of modern music's most remarked-upon phenomenons.

A format condemned to the bargain bins during the 90s, the rise of the CD – you can famously smear jam on 'em and they'll still play – seemed to demolish all in its path.

Yet the warm audio glow vinyl offers, and its sense of heritage, brought the format back from the brink, with a new generation of fans re-claiming it. The past decade or so has brought a vast percentage increase in vinyl sales, with catalogues re-booted and fresh artists requesting that their music appear on black wax.

Yesterday – December 29th – saw the BPI unveil a new round of eye-watering percentage marks, with vinyl enjoying its best year in British music since 1988.

For those on the ground, however, it hasn't been quite simple. The architecture for pressing vinyl is now being far out-stripped by demand, meaning that small labels – who initially brought the vinyl resurgence into being – were pushed to the sidelines, experiencing lengthy delays on manufacture.

Writing for Clash, Bella Union founder and Lost Horizons musician Simon Raymonde speaks about his love affair with the format, and why the headlines don't tell the full picture.

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I feel the pain. As an artist myself and as a label owner, I feel it from all sides.

What new band, full of tension and anxiety at the world around them, wants to wait a year before their fresh exciting debut record comes out?  

But many of us have seen this coming for years. Sadly not enough to make much of a difference.

There are parallels everywhere tho with our transport infrastructure and lack of investment in modernisation. Not enough trains to carry passengers in peak times, old rolling stock, blah blah blah. It’s easy to just moan about the inadequacy of the situation, but until the supply can meet the demand, this ain’t getting any better any time soon.

One of the worries for independent labels and artists is that rumours are rife that the majors are now simply jumping to the front of the queues at all the pressing plants whenever they want to by (quietly) waving a cheque. Once upon a time there was a code that seemed to work between the labels and the plants but if that is now broken and it’s all about who pays the most, then I fear this is going to all end in tears.

Clearly we need more pressing plants, and quite why there are so few in U.K. at a time when vinyl production has increased so much is something that’s puzzled me for several years. If I had Jack White’s money believe me I would do the same as he has done for Third Man by having his own pressing plant, but it isn’t just as simple as that sadly.

Until someone comes up with a greener and more cost-efficient alternative to the current process to manufacture vinyl, that also creates a product that is comparable, then we shall continue to piss into the wind.

I am sure if a gazillionaire like Elon Musk can fly passengers to Mars and back in his own SpaceX ships, buying a few vinyl pressing plants to allow Grimes to get her new record out within the same calendar year she made it, shouldn’t be beyond his capabilities.

One problem is that this is an old process that has barely changed in several decades. It’s almost miraculous that it even exists, so strange and mysterious the process from start to finish is. It is a feat of complex engineering events that should not really be possible. Maybe if Tony Stark had invented it you wouldn’t be so surprised and if Tony Stark existed even he might stand a chance of refining the process and allowing it to join the modern world.

My hope is like with everything, that it will simply right itself in time, like a boat that’s taken on too much water. Once the balance is restored, sailing becomes pleasant again. But this storm isn’t abating just yet.

Until then we will continue to make these beautiful blobs of aluminium, nickel, tin, silver and God knows what else, for all of our bands, and waiting a few extra months to see the joy on their faces as they open this magical creation, really seems like nothing at all. 

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Lost Horizons will play London's Scala venue on June 21st.

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