Czech vil­lage spins retro vinyl records come­back

The China Post - - LIFE - BY JAN MARCHAL

A small Czech vil­lage has be­come a cen­tre of the global boom in retro records as an­ti­quated vinyl-press­ing ma­chines turn out the tunes of rock stars from Madonna to the Rolling Stones.

De­spite the rise of CDs and dig­i­tal mu­sic, a lo­cal com­pany GZ Me­dia de­cided to hold onto those old ma­chines — which are now pay­ing off, as they press mil­lions of vinyl records sold each year around the world.

Record col­lec­tors and mu­sic hip­sters have fu­elled a re­vival of vinyl in the West and Ja­pan with claims that the for­mat of­fers warmer sound and greater aes­thetics.

“We pressed around 14 mil­lion records last year, the most in the world,” said Michal Ne­mec, sales and mar­ket­ing direc­tor for GZ Me­dia, based in the vil­lage of Lodenice out­side Prague.

“De­spite the CD boom in the 1980s and ’90s, some­one with fore­sight de­cided to save the old vinyl record presses and store them in a ware­house,” he said. “A good de­ci­sion.”

That is how a dizzy­ing num­ber of the world’s vinyl records — fea­tur­ing Michael Jack­son, Queen, U2 and other top artists — has ended up com­ing out of this vil­lage of 1,800 peo­ple tucked away in a val­ley in the Czech Repub­lic.

GZ Me­dia pressed its first record there in 1951. Most of the equip­ment dates back to the 1960s and ’70s.

“Vinyl is mak­ing a come­back,” the lo­cal branch of the world­wide record­ing in­dus­try or­gan­i­sa­tion IFPI said in its 2014 an­nual re­port.

It rep­re­sents around seven per­cent of to­tal phys­i­cal al­bum sales in the Czech Repub­lic, and six per­cent in the United States, the big­gest vinyl mar­ket, the re­port said.

“No ma­jor band or singer puts out a new al­bum to­day with­out re­leas­ing some copies on vinyl,” the IFPI said.

‘Small round cake’

With a dense net­work of pipes be­low the ceil­ing, the noisy pro­duc­tion hall at GZ Me­dia re­sem­bles the in­sides of a sub­ma­rine — and feels about as hot as in a trop­i­cal cli­mate.

At regular in­ter­vals, work­ers feed the hy­draulic presses with a vinyl bis­cuit — “ko­lacek” or small round cake in Czech — that is made of a poly­car­bon­ate mix­ture.

Weighed down by 150- 200 tonnes, the ko­lacek only needs a few sec­onds to be­come a record.

“We’ve recorded an­nual growth of 25-30 per­cent in our vinyl pro­duc­tion over the past four years, and we don’t ex­pect the sit­u­a­tion to change dramatically — at least not in the next two years,” Ne­mec said.

While he de­clined to re­veal sales fig­ures, he said the com­pany’s largest con­tract to date has been a deluxe col­lec­tion of reis­sues of around 30 Rolling Stones al­bums sent to the rock leg­ends’ fan clubs.

“But vinyl fans aren’t just into records be­cause of nos­tal­gia. There are quite a lot of young peo­ple who want to be coun­ter­cul­tural,” Ne­mec said.

“CDs haven’t wiped out vinyl, just like e-book read­ers didn’t wipe out pa­per books.”

Ne­mec at­trib­uted this con­trast in qual­ity of sound to the fact that the two for­mats con­tain dif­fer­ing ranges of the fre­quen­cies that the hu­man ear can de­tect.

“Vinyl is biased to­wards the medium fre­quen­cies of the spec­trum, which are warmer and more en­joy­able to lis­ten to,” he said.

“CDs on the other hand have the en­tire range of fre­quen­cies, which re­sults in a colder sound.”

Vinyl for Soul

Vinyl record en­thu­si­ast Petr Vacha, a young Prague res­i­dent with long dread­locks, says he is sick of dig­i­tal mu­sic: “You get ev­ery­thing ex­cept soul.”

A new wave of buy­ers has caught on to vinyl, long val­ued only by col­lec­tors and purists who ap­pre­ci­ate the acous­tic rich­ness of an ana­logue record­ing.

The United States alone, 9.2 mil­lion records were sold last year.

U.S. sales went up by 52 per­cent against 2013, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen SoundS­can — the best re­sult for vinyl since the mu­sic in­dus­try mon­i­tor be­gan track­ing sales in 1991.

Re­flect­ing the 20-year high in sales, Bri­tain’s chart com­piler launched the coun­try’s first of­fi­cial rank­ing of vinyl records in April.

“Peo­ple of­ten buy records as gifts or to sup­port their fa­vorite artist,” said To­mas Filip, head of the Czech di­vi­sion of U.S. record la­bel Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic Group.

De­spite the rapid ex­pan­sion, vinyl still ac­counts for just two per­cent of the an­nual US$15 bil­lion (14-mil­lion-euro) global record­ing in­dus­try.

The U.S. mar­ket is cru­cial for GZ Me­dia, with some five mil­lion 33 RPM discs ex­ported there in 2014, fol­lowed by Bri­tain and Ger­many.

“Ev­ery Fri­day, a plane takes off for Cal­i­for­nia, car­ry­ing eight to 10 tonnes of records,” says the firm’s mar­ket­ing manager Jana Brezi­nova.

The days are long gone when vinyl meant a black disc: about a quar­ter of the fac­tory’s out­put con­sists of shapes such as hearts or stars, of­ten in bright colors or with splat­ter pat­terns.

One of their Bob Dy­lan records, for ex­am­ple, was shaped like a light-blue gui­tar pick.

“Speak­ing of spe­cial re­quests, an Amer­i­can rock group once asked us to in­cor­po­rate the ashes of a late gui­tar player in a record,” Ne­mec said.

AFP

An em­ployee of the GZ Me­dia vinyl record fac­tory works at the fac­tory of GZ Me­dia in the vil­lage of Lodenice, 35 kilo­me­ters north­east of Prague on June 1.

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