The vinyl artisan

1-       Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Cristian and I deal with music, specifically with vinyl discs. In 2005 I opened my workshop Vinilificio, and since then my daily job is to transfer on vinyl music people give me, which 99% of the times is in digital format. I make single-copy vinyl discs, which some years ago was not possible because you were obliged to produce an industrial quantity – at least a few hundred copies. Somehow this is an answer to a dream many people had for many years – to have your own customized vinyl. This is my job. Moreover, for some years now, I have been working for a German record manufacturer as the referee for the Italian office, so I can print over a hundred copies.

2-       How did Vinilificio start?


I have always been involved in hip hop, since the beginning, and I have always been interested in DJs. This led me to organize the ITF (International Turntablism Federation, now IDA, International DJ Association) championship, so since 1997 I have been in close contact with DJs and particularly ‘turntablists’, i.e. DJs who scratch and use turntables as musical instruments. This gave me the chance to get to know a lot of people.


We have always wanted to manufacture discs, but formerly there was no other way than industrial pressing, with all the linked expenses. Besides, at the ITF championships the need to have customized discs was strongly felt. This was before the arrival of devices that give the opportunity to play digital files with the turntable, like Serato. So I kept wondering how to do this, but I couldn’t find any way. Then, during an ITF championship in Germany, I met this wacky guy, which is the contriver of the system I use now. This man succeeded in improving a system to cut directly on vinyl. The resulting vinyls are quite cheap and also the best qualitatively speaking. That’s when I understood that it was the right moment to start this adventure.


Within a few months I succeeded to collect the money I needed to buy the main part of this system. In those days, I used to live with Tayone  here on the hills near Bologna. During the first year Vinilificio was run by me and Ronnie (Dj T-Robb): I used to do the promotion work, while he took care of the technical work.


The name ‘Vinilificio’ came from Tayone. It was evening, Ronnie and I were just back from Germany, where we went to take the machine (I have spent there some days to learn). It was Tayone, Ronnie and myself, and we were thinking about a name, while we were looking for a place to get something to eat. It was late, 2.00 AM probably, and we passed in front of a bakery. On this van in front of the shop, there was the sign ‘Panificio’ (bakery) with the logo of a man baking bread, and Tayone said: “Why don’t we call it Vinilificio?”. So we had the name and the logo in one fell swoop. Then, about a year later, Ronnie left the project and I went on alone.


At the beginning, vinyls were requested mostly by DJs, who wanted to put their music, their beats for MCs, or reggae versions, on vinyl. So there was not the need to have a customized vinyl: a normal, white-label disc with the right music was ok. Then, over the years, the market changed a lot. People started to understand that listening a vinyl disc was something more than listening to music. In the liquid music era, where music is everywhere, thus tending to devaluate, putting music on a disc means to appreciate its value.


3-       For what services can we address Vinilificio?


Vinilificio deals with what is, technically speaking, the transfer of audio on vinyl. So I transfer an audio master from a device to another. 99% of the times these are digital files. It’s like a backup on vinyl.  The most different things are put on vinyl. My customers are very different: the girl that wants to give her boyfriend the vinyl of his band’s demo; artists that want discs for contemporary art installations or theatre plays; or music fans that have very rare discs and want a copy they can listen to, without ruining the original one. This is what I do, single-copy vinyls. Every piece is unique, even though they have the same music on it.


The model range is quite wide: it goes from 5” discs, like “pocket” vinyls large as a CD; through 7”, 45 rpm; 10”, that once were called EP; to 12”, 33 rpm, namely LP. There are variations you can ask for, like transparent discs, picture discs and, exceptionally, shaped discs, that however have a higher price. Moreover, there is the possibility to print labels and covers, so that you can have your fully customized disc.


The press service, instead, is usually requested by little record labels, mostly independent ones, that have the purpose to sell the record, therefore needing an industrialized production. Linked to that, there is a mastering service and all the technical support for the production of a disc.


4-      How did your love for music, and for vinyl discs, start?


I was raised in a family where music was always present. My father used to play bass and guitar since he was young and he used to listen to rock music, while my mother loved classical music and opera. Then, I started taking piano lessons during my childhood and I did so for many years, so music was something that I always felt mine. Love for vinyls was a consequence: vinyl discs were what I could find at home, even though I never had a big collection of them. I had many more cassettes, as that was the cheapest way to listen to as much music as I wanted. At the time, whenever I could manage to buy a disc it was a major victory – it was the result of weeks of savings. The LP was a desired object. Thus, the possibility to produce them is, somehow, a dream coming true.


With time, music became more and more important, because from a certain point in my life, when I was quite young, I started to get involved in social centres, and not only in an ideological way. I took on an active role, and it became a way of life. To have a place where I felt I could express my awareness in a different way has been very important for me. The fact that there were youth occupying a space without asking permission to anybody, and that they were filling it with contents, really stroke me. Particularly, my experience at ‘Isola nel Kantiere’, an occupied social centre in Bologna active in the early ‘90s, really marked my life. Participating in the life of occupied places in Bologna gave me the opportunity to start organizing gigs. I think I organized my first gig at the age of 20. From that moment I realized that organizing gigs was an incredible thing and it became my main activity for many years. I organize much fewer things now, but there were years when I used to organize four gigs every week.


5-      Earlier you were saying that in the liquid music era one hears the music, but does not listen to it. On the other hand, the vinyl record keeps its value and it gains more. Why? What does an LP have that other devices do not?


It is because the vinyl record is the device that influenced the collective imagination most of all and for almost a century. It was among the first devices that permitted to record music, to permit to fix sound and reproduce it. It was the recordable device that spread the most on a global scale and remained the only one until the rise of tapes. Vinyl record signed the inception of mass music. Before that, you could only listen music live at concerts. It is still in the collective imagination: when you buy music, even on the internet, there is always the symbol of a disc somewhere. You also have to consider the aesthetic side, which is itself remarkable. A vinyl record is large: looking at the cover is something magic, like watching a painting. Also, when you go to look for a record in a store, the first thing you look at is the cover. So, it has a strong evocative power.


Moreover, compared to other devices, such as cassettes or CDs, the vinyl record has always been considered an arrival point. If you were a musician, releasing a record was a great goal. With the rise of digital devices we had a limitless diffusion of music. With such a huge amount of it, music itself looses its value: you can hear it everywhere, all the time, it is a noisy background to life. The vinyl, instead, starting from the gesture of taking the record from the shelf, looking at the cover, putting it on the turntable, putting the stylus on it, hearing the noise of silence and then the music, flipping it to change the side; it imposes you to listen. This way, you give importance to music. The record, nowadays, gives value to music. Obviously, it would be crazy to demand this to be the only way to listen to music. The possibilities of digital music are not secondary. But when a record label, major or independent, believes in one project, it is ready to spend money to release an LP. Obviously, we are not talking of millions of copies like decades ago, we are talking about far more little numbers that, however, give importance to what a musician do.


It seems a paradox. In a consumerist society, where everything is produced and consumed at a high speed, to own a disc (which is an object), instead of being a materialistic act, gives value to the music you listen to.


6-      At this point, you have to suggest us at least five essential LPs.


I’m not very good with playlists… I would choose something by Pink Floyd, because they have to be there. I’d say ‘Ummagumma’, because it had a fantastic gatefold cover, with all the instruments. I would say also ‘Sgt. Pepper’ by the Beatles, because its cover, with all the little faces, has to be in the list. Then I would say Kraftwerk, ‘The Model’. Public Enemy have to be in the list. I would say ‘Fear of a Black Planet’, but every record of the first five they did would be good, they were all bombs! Then I would say ‘A Love Supreme’ by John Coltrane, it’s a classic.



7-      What’s the record you made that you are the most proud of?


First of all, in a job like this, you will never know who you will find on the other side of the phone. So the kinds of music I transfer every day are very various. A project that really gave me satisfaction was to produce a series of picture discs for an Icelandic artist, Ragnar Kjartansson. He did a series of performances in which he played some lieds of Schubert, and those discs were then exposed in Italy and United States. I also made vinyls for Aquadrop, an Italian producer that really hit me for his skill and style. Another thing that hit me lately is a suite, almost ten minutes long, composed at Red Bul Music Academy by Ilya Goryachev, a Russian producer, with a Spanish composer and an English drummer. That is a very beautiful work, recently made.


Some vinyls that really gave me pleasure were those ones used for the world DMC and IDA championships. Among them, for instance, there are those used by Dj Mandrayq when he won the world IDA championship in 2010. Clearly, the credit for the victory is his at 100%, but I know that a bit of Vinilificio was there too. Also, form the “iconographic” point of view, the picture discs realized as prizes for the IDA world championship. IDA world champions of the recent years have a picture disc made by Vinilificio at their houses, and this is a great pleasure for me.


8-      Speaking about record labels, I know that you are among the founders of Original Cultures, which became a record label not far more than a year ago: tell us about that.


Original Cultures rises from the encounter of four friends. A friend of mine, Laurent Fintoni, a journalist, editor and great music lover, lived for a time in Japan. Coming back from his Asiatic period, he travelled across the world and stopped for a while in Bologna. While he was here, he told me that he had known a lot of people in Japan and that it would have been great to create a platform to make European and Japanese musician to come together, because there were a lot of differences, but also a lot of similarities. The first idea was to create a sort of bridge between Japan and Europe. This idea, even though a bit crazy, sounded good to me, and it would have been even better to also add a part about visual arts. We involved two friends: Yassin, who is a certainty for me (when I organize something he is always by my side managing the technical part) and Alessandro “Paper Resistance”, a graphic illustrator whose works I like a lot, and that has a lot of musical affinities with me. So we created this group. To the initial idea a visual part was added, and we felt the exigency to broaden the spectrum beyond Japan and Europe, thinking about a wider planning, in order to create something new and unique. The final idea was to bring together a group of music and visual artists taken from different parts of the world, into an artistic exchange (a sort of workshop) for a week, and make them create a final performance, a sort of summary of the work done.


The first thing we did was bringing together Om Unit  (English), Tayone (Italian), and Tatsuki  (Japanese). The interesting thing was that everyone of them was a DJ coming from the scratch scene, but they were all dedicating themselves to beat-making, everyone with his own style. For the visual part we involved Ericailcane and DEM from Italy, and Will Barras, an English street artist. We brought them together to work for a week and they did this beautiful show, based on shadow plays, stop-motion, music… We brought the same show to London six/seven months later, with all the challenges linked to a bigger city like London, and this time it involved other artists, mainly Japanese.


The year later we produced Katzuma’s Expanding Disco Machine. We reviewed the international focus, to give the opportunity to put in live music a project that was of only one producer until then. So we brought together six/seven musicians, who play together now. For the visual part we called Opificio Ciclope.


The third year, instead, we focused the project The Formula, quite an ambitious project that became a turning point for us. The idea was to go beyond the typical gig, giving to the show a different form. So we asked to Valerio Evangelisti to give us an unpublished short story, on which a soundtrack and a visual performance were then built. The musical part was composed by B. Kun at the synth, with Hed at the drums, Danilo Mineo at the percussions, Alessio Manna at the bass guitar and Architeq as dub master. The visual part was made by David Loom, an Italian artist. For the first time, there was a direction by Pietro Babina.


The The Formula project was quite ambitious and hard, but it enabled us to grow through the challenges it made us face. And, above all, it allowed us to start a discography project. After three years, we had an original never-heard-before musical heritage: we organized gigs and events that were also appreciated, but which had no follow-ups. We felt the need to bring this series of events to an end and the already made ones to fruition.


Naturally, the idea of a label came to light: Original Cultures Record. The first official release was the LP ‘The Formula’, by Beat Inc. (B. Kun and Hed), resulted from our last event. Before that, we released a series of pieces produced by Tatsuki as free downloads for the first Original Cultures event. After ‘The Formula’, we produced Alessio Manna’s solo debut album ‘Black Job’, and then we released other digital albums, as well as establishing new relationships with musicians and producers we had not worked with before.


We also started ‘Zoooriginal’, a project that embodies the starting spirit of Original Cultures, to bring together musicians and visual artists. In this project we released a 7” picture disc, starring two musicians, one per side, with an artwork by a visual artist. The first volume starred Daisuke Tanabe and Jealousguy for the music and Ericailcane for the artwork, while for the second volume we involved Katzuma and Souleance for the music and David Ellis for the artwork. The third one should be released in March 2014.


The record label is also having an influence the events we are organizing. This year we realized the Road to Essaouira project. In September we brought together two English producers, Swamimillion and Fawda Trio , a gnawa band from Bologna. We have the intention to record the result of this encounter in Essaouira (Morocco), and to release a LP from that.

interview by Francesco Rovito