7″ Vinyl Culture in NYC – Bobbito, Liondub, Subatomic, Deadly Dragon Talk 45s

[Turbulence - "Live Good and Prosper (Richie Phoe Remix)" | Redbud Records, 2010. Photo of Tiger's Reggae Hut by Alex Solmssen.]

By Mike Steyels

It’s about the sound. It’s about the feel. It’s a passion born of tradition, comfort, and necessity.

The culture surrounding 7″ vinyl in New York City is a scene driven by DJs, where casual listeners are rare. While weekend collectors and club DJs generally gravitate towards the 12″, which is named after its diameter, 7″s are the tool of a select few here. The reggae selector is the primary culprit in this corner of the world. But those with global interests are frequently involved too. Whether it be Latin sounds or the music of Africa, it often finds its way onto these nimble discs. And it’s not uncommon to see the funk and soul side of things represented either. (Punk and hardcore are devoted to the format as well, but that’s another story.)

As is the case with vinyl purists in general, 7″ record collectors firmly believe the sound of a record is simply unmatchable by any newer technology. They are also called “45s” because of the speed at which they are played on a turntable. 45s first appeared in America 1949, produced by the company RCA Victor.

“A 7″ has a wide groove and a warm, loud sound,” explains Bobbito Garcia, a longtime DJ and owner of Álala. “I’m a firm believer in beautiful, uncompromised sound and digital still hasn’t caught up. It just doesn’t hit as many points on the sound wave.”

Liondub, who has an imprint dedicated to the format called Liondub45, agrees: “7s are small, simple, they sound incredible and are so much louder than other records. Juggling mid 90′s dancehall and reggae on 7″ is by far the best experience for me as a dj…tactile, light, fast, loud and mad fun!”

“Their compact size makes for easy travel,” adds Dubspot instructor DJ OBaH. “I buy more 7s these days than 12s”

[Nickodemus - "Gimme the Music" | Wonderwheel 2011. Photo of Scratch Famous from Dealy Dragon by Gozilah.]

Many vinyl enthusiasts don’t check for digital releases at all. And a number of reggae DJs don’t even use computers. So the only way to reach certain crowds is by pressing vinyl.

Some people, like Emch from Subatomic Sound, who take full advantage of what technology has to offer, recognize this and make sure to have wax ready for them. “We typically press 45s of our most reggae and dub leaning releases because we know reggae DJs more than almost any other still play vinyl and want the songs in that format,” he tells us. In fact, the B-sides of the 45s prevalent in early reggae culture spawned the genre known as dub.

The world of 7s can be as small as the discs themselves, and many of the stores that sell them also have them pressed. “We’re a tight, small community. We all know each other,” says Mari Ayabe from Concent Productions. He sells those records in his Williamsburg shop MeMe Antenna. Alongside Concent releases are those by other local labels like the global sounds of Electric Cowbell and the beats and breaks of Bastard Jazz. “A 7″ is cheaper to produce and more affordable to purchase than a 12″,” he adds. Academy Records in the East Village has also started pressing their own rare African funk with the help of Voodoo Frank. But of course Deadly Dragon Sound is the largest purveyor of 45s. The walls of their tiny Lower East Side reggae shop are stacked high with them, including a few dozen singles they released themselves.

If there’s any indicator that 7″ culture has solid momentum in New York, it’s the brisk pace of business done at the Brooklyn Phono pressing plant. “This year we have had around 40 new labels produce 7s – not including pre-existing clients,” says Fern Vernon Bernich, who runs the plant along with her husband. And while they have four machines for 12s, their lone 7″ machine is in constant use. As is the case with many of those involved, Phono plays an active role in the community. They don’t require a minimum, allowing labels and artists to press only what they need. They also let them use their space for silk screening, make rubber stamps, and offer breaks wherever they can.

In the end, it’s just about the love. It’s the one point everybody stressed. Whether it’s the ease of use, the quality of sound, or the bond it creates, they all just enjoy it. Bobbito summarizes it like this: “I’m devoted to vinyl. I play vinyl at home and do 100 percent vinyl sets. So it just makes sense to provide for others like me.”

[Sugar Minott & Ticklah | Liondub 45, 2010]