Hear The Hands That Make Your Record
For a while there, it seemed like the only person who'd make lathe cut records was Peter King.
He wasn’t, but some dudes in Germany would only cut records for other German dudes, so scarcity was the name of the game. If you were willing to pay international shipping from New Zealand and get on a long waiting list, King was your guy for very small-run vinyl. The underground noise and experimental scenes particularly took a liking to King's odd-sized 8", 9" and 10" records, including fellow country-persons Gate, David Kilgour and Neil Campbell (Birchville Cat Motel, Astral Social Club) and others like Ashtray Navigations, Hala Strana, Jad Fair, Kemialliset Ystavat and No Neck Blues Band.
As the machinery became more replicable, I've seen a lot more of these handmade records in the past decade. So what a surprise that Witch Prophet's DNA ACTIVATION got this old-school treatment. Or maybe not… this is a psychedelic R&B album that feels and sounds ancient, as if beamed from another civilization in outer space. In its snaking Ethio-Jazz loops and fuzzed-out melodies, there's a musical conversation to be had with R.A.P. Ferreira's Purple Moonlight Pages (another one of 2020's great albums) — Witch Prophet conjures myths as she makes her own.
You can really hear the hands that made DNA ACTIVATION, so yeah, a hand-cut record makes the most sense. Robyn Raymond — owner and cutting engineer behind Red Spade Records based out of Ontario, Canada — made just under 100 of these great-sounding Witch Prophet records, and I was curious about them! So I shot her a few questions.
What makes a lathe record different from a regular record?
So a lathe-cut record is procedurally the same as a master (lacquer or metal) that would be plated, and go to a pressing plant, but the medium is different, in that I cut already formed blanks of plastic that are cut in real time and then are ready to play!
A lathe cut record sometimes has a slightly higher noise floor, meaning it might have more static sound or more clicks and pops, but now with so many talented lathe cut makers out there, the quality is veritably the same! Sometimes the turnaround times can be faster because we facilitate the shorter runs of records, rather than a pressing plant that might have a minimum of 100-300. Some lathe cuts are in mono, so you can get that popular lo-fi sound quickly and have a tangible format, and some are stereo; I cut in stereo. Stereo cuts are the ones that are closer to pressing plant “traditional” records.
You cut every single record by hand; thus listen to every record in real time as it transfers to the vinyl. Sometimes you make 10, sometimes 100 copies. What kind of relationship do you build with the music that way?
I do! It’s sometimes easier with some work than others, but for the most part it allows me, as an ex-musician, to appreciate every nuance, the composition, the arrangement. In some cases, I know the records better than the artists that did the recording. Because it’s in real time, I also have the opportunity to find and correct or eliminate errors quicker. I have such a deep love for what I’m doing for these artists, that I try to make every record as perfect as I can. And then tout their brilliance on socials!
You only work with Canadian artists. Is that practical or a source of pride? What are 3 Canadian artists that deserve more shine?
I’ve actually had the amazing fortune to work with artists and labels from around the world! Last year I did some work with Vanilla Thunder, an awesome label from Singapore. I did an art project with an artist from New Zealand, and have been seeing a lot of requests from some super sweet Americans as well!
We’re blessed in Canada to have so many talented humans. It’s so hard to choose! But!
Child Actress from Montreal — she’s making music that is consistently edgy, emotional and dreamy!
The Good Depression — they created one of the best, slickest and heaviest self-produced/self-released debut records I’ve ever heard. Check out No Funeral.
36 tracks. We begin with Buggin's head-stompin' hardcore. The Armed's maximalist post-hardcore makes me dizzy. Genghis Tron fills a Cave In-shaped space-rock riff-fest void in my soul. Two-minute rock and roll mosh party via Teen Mortgage. Guitarist Billy MacKay and clawhammer banjo player Nathan Bowles got me thinkin' 'bout summer. Amulets' tape-loop dissonance and beauty. DJINN makes psychedelic jazz for the Tiki bar. Angel Bat Dawid’s remix for Alan Braufman sounds like a softcore porn soundtrack gone Twin Peaks. Lucy Gooch's underwater-angel ambient. Immortal Girlfriend's synthwave got me on a speedcycle at midnight. Majestic shred via, um, Infinity Shred. Snacking's cute-as-a-one-inch-button emo. When did hardcore wreckers TORSO sign to Revelation?!! I am moshing with righteous fury to Regional Justice Center. Tunisia's Znous continue to pump out the nu-metal jams; "Free Fire" kinda has a SOAD "Aerials" vibe that I very much f*** with. Cannibal Corpse always rips, but man, this RIPS. Lotta tracks from the Bandcamp Friday drop, including Cara Neir, Sturle Dagsland, Lucy Liyou, Octo Octa, Voilaaa, that amazing Ryley Walker and Kikagaku Moyo collab. Closes with a satisfyingly disjointed slow jam from K-pop singer Youra.
*Yeah, Viking’s Choice is back on Apple Music, but only one person has access to NPR Music’s official account, so it may take a day to update.