– A chat about vinyl, small bands, and running festivals with Craig Evans of Flying Vinyl.
Music has changed radically since the internet happened. Finding new bands has become easier than ever, with the reservoir of available music getting exponentially near-infinite thanks to the fifteen year run from Myspace through Youtube and Limewire to Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and whoever else is doing stuff nowadays. Is Yahoo still a company?
Anyway, in my perfect world, this would mean every decent new band can get their music out to people who will like it and have the chance to ‘make it’. A musical American dream, if you will. The reality is a bleak contrast. 12 songs made it to number one in 2019, compared to 42 in 2000. Simply, it is harder than ever for most to break through. More competition means less standing out, and online if a track doesn’t immediately grab you – just hit skip! This is only exacerbated by the slow decline of many of the nation’s independent venues, giving bands fewer chances to show off their live skills to captive crowds.
Fortunately, amongst this growing culture of disposability and quick consumption, counter movements have arisen. Film photography is back in a big way, with Kodak reviving old films lines and struggling to meet refreshed demand. Dirtier, angrier music has seemingly become more prevalent, from the emergence of politicized Grime and UK hip hop to punk revivals spearheaded by groups like Idles and Slaves. As streaming continues to grow, so do sales of Vinyl records, driven at least initially (that’s for another article) by people going to the most tangible and involved form of home music consumption.
To look a bit more into this, and also just have a generally interesting conversation, I met up with Craig Evans of Flying Vinyl, a 7” single subscription service. We talked about what they do, why they do it, and briefly dissected the current landscape of the music industry.
The concept of Flying Vinyl was born out of frustration with the fates of bands struggling to make it. Craig saw bands with real potential flounder and break up and sought a way to help re-connect listeners to the music while helping these bands get exposure. The idea was that giving bands a tangible platform and forcing listeners to connect both audibly and physically would make listeners see music as more than something that just floats by to be heard once and lost to the west wind. It also establishes a middle-ground for the bands and listeners to interact and support each other. The outcome of the monthly subscription box idea was never certain – everyone already in the industry condemned the idea as a failure, but it would appear that Flying Vinyl have very much succeeded, now five years in with releases featuring around three hundred bands.
This success has been noted. Labels that were skeptical before the first box drop now use Flying Vinyl as a way to increase awareness of upcoming acts. Most notable here is Transgressive Records, who curated a box with five of their upcoming artists, with Marika Hackman’s Boyfriend on green vinyl being my favourite of the lot.
If there were a poster child for the success of Flying Vinyl in promoting bands, The Amazons would probably be the best choice. As stars of Box One, they’ve been in from the offset. Additionally, partner-company Blood Records is emerging as the sort of firm every record collector wishes they could run. Not everything bands want to do falls under what labels would call ‘commercially viable’, irrespective of how cool it is. In Craig’s words:
“With Blood again, it’s at a point where we’re still building it. If we can put a release out because its creatively interesting, and it sells a couple of hundred records and we don’t make that much money, who gives a shit? It’s nice that we put it out, its good anyone’s buying it, and it’s good for the band because they get their record out.”
The range of releases on Blood is quite interesting. Past examples include live records from The Blinders and The Amazons, compilations for Girls Against and Dream Wife, a deluxe version of Anteros’s album When We Land, a few exclusive debuts, one of which is right around the corner.
(I would say who it is, but apparently that’s not allowed. Bureaucracy, am I right?)
“To me, one of the most interesting aspects of creating these vinyl projects is how the relationship with the bands shape up. For many of the bands to grace Flying Vinyl’s boxes the release was a massive help, and has lead to a strong relationship with future possibilities.
There’s also a much better relationship when you’ve always been part of the furniture in a bands life, like when you call up a band like The Amazons or Black Honey or Magic Gang or whoever, it’s not like ugh it’s another person pitching us, it’s like you were there when everyone else was shutting the door on us, so the relationship with them is always gonna be better. The payoff of this has already started to materialize, with Blood Records putting out an exclusive live Amazons record, and having continued to collaborate with groups like Black Honey as they’ve grown in popularity, helping bring attention to FV and Blood.”
Perhaps the crowning achievements of Craig Evans’ humble, grassroots project are the two Flying Vinyl festivals. Two single day, single venue festivals in London in 2016 and ’17, celebrating a huge amount of the year’s artists. Craig’s description makes it sound like a seminal event for those who attended; ‘It just really went off. There’s a lot of people who will say that day was quite,?? there are people in relationships with each other as a result of that meeting at that festival which is weird, there’s people who, like, Harriet who does our photography is now on the road with Black Honey more or less year round.’ Unfortunately, this reporter could not attend due to silly things like “GCSE preparation”.
The Amazons headlined the first year and describe their experience as the first time they really felt that something was happening, the whole room just moving as one and really getting into the music.
Where Flying Vinyl aim to go from here, we don’t really know. Currently, Blood Records is their focus, with an ultimate aim of acting as a pseudo label and letting bands record music that their own labels perhaps don’t think they should – and then getting it out exclusively on the vinyl format. While long-run vinyl exclusivity sounds perhaps frustrating to fans who won’t be able to get limited-release records, defying labels is a time-honoured music tradition with historically great results. Blondie’s Eat to the Beat comes to mind, as does Nirvana’s In Utero. Both were criticised by the band’s labels, and both hit big and are truly classic records.
One thing is for sure – The Revolution Will Not Be Digital.