Flexi-discs were especially popular in the early 80’s, with various magazines (Flexipop springing to mind) and fanzines using these as a cheap method to get music to the masses and as a sales aid. They were also popular with Japanese punk bands, finding it exceptionally expensive to produce hard vinyl pressings.
Since the change in trends to other formats, such as CD and digital, flexi-discs seemed to disappear. That was until recent years, with Pirates Press at the forefront of a renaissance in the flexi-disc format, recognising that this can be used as a great marketing tool, especially given the rise in overall popularity of vinyl. But being the innovators they are, these are not just simple flexi-discs and provide an interesting array of visually (as well as aurally) pleasing collectables.
We spoke to Skip at Pirates Press about the flexi ‘revolution’, here’s what he had to say:
TPL – With Pirates Press, you have long been experimental and inventive with your releases. What interests you with this format?
Skip – Matt Jones, who now runs Castle-Face Records and fronts the band Male Gaze, was at the time one of our biggest account reps and the biggest driving force initially in getting Pirates Press on the flexi train. There were a lot of big fans of the format amongst us, including myself, but he was the one who spearheaded the operation and really got things moving. He managed to get the presses built and tested and ran the manufacturing operation while it was in San Francisco up until 2013 when we moved it into our normal vinyl manufacturing facility just outside of Prague in the Czech Republic.
For me, I have fallen in love with flexis more and more as we have worked with them, more and more and seen them used in such creative ways. Now, getting to personally design many of these first PPR ones, that’s taken on a whole new dimension as well. The way that we can now get them to both look and sound is something that I take incredible pride in personally, as well as on behalf of our larger team of Pirates and extended Pirates who have gone above and beyond to fine-tune our operation over the past eight years.
TPL – Although you have produced flexi-discs before, the latest batch ‘go the extra mile’. How do you come up with the ideas for making the flexi-discs more interesting than just a slab of see-through coloured plastic?
Skip – The biggest motivating factor for us in trying to get more out of the format has been seeing how many different ways people have used them over the last eight years. We have made self-playing wedding invitations, Christmas cards, birthday party giveaways, flexis taking international balloon rides [for Third Man Records], Molotov cocktail flexis and loads of other crazy inventive ideas on top of what most people would consider their normal use – releasing a single, or using it to promote a single off of a larger album. We obviously see a vast majority of the orders taking that shape, but the crazier ones have always been more interesting and more fun – but in many ways more limited by what we have been able to do aesthetically with them.
What we have essentially been able to do is combine the aesthetics of a postcard flexi (which people absolutely love but hate the sound of) with the audio quality of our normal flexis, which depending on the type of music, verges on indistinguishable from most other records. It truly gives people the best of both worlds and allows the product itself to shine in a way that it never has before. What we have done with Pirates Press Records (which has always been basically the advertising arm of our manufacturing company) is to create a series of about 30 different flexis (so far) that highlight all the different ways that they can be used and all of the different types of design that can be incorporated with them to create interesting effects using the transparency of the material itself, using different levels of transparency and opacity to create cool optical effects or make them “pop” on a merch table.
It’s been a crazy project, and an extremely challenging one, both technologically and creatively coming up with all of the ideas, keeping them different from each other and making sure that each one has the desired effect on the band, album, or series that we are trying to promote. So far, the response has been amazing and so encouraging for us to continue with them in the way we have over the past six months since we launched the format.
TPL – What’s the inspiration behind the ‘Kodak’ format?
Skip – We have been working with lots of customers coming up with cool ideas to make a series of flexis and this idea was one of the first that I came up with. Creating an outer frame for the record, only interchanging the band and song names as well as a photograph makes it relatively easy to generate the artwork for these releases, which as a promotion for an upcoming record is often an obstacle in actually making a physical single. Coming up with that additional piece of artwork for a picture sleeve is too often the one thing that prevents a single from being released early enough to make an impact promoting an upcoming record.
The idea itself is pretty simple and the aesthetic of using a Kodak type slide made sense, as I have lots of them and love the aesthetic of them – and just based on the response to this series alone, I am not the only one. It’s definitely something we plan to keep up with down the line. It has been fun to play around with them, on an old-school style projector too – and it’s only sparked new ideas as far as utilising the transparency in these to make wreckers that can take on another dimension so to speak.
TPL – The Bar Stool Preachers have been making good use of flexi-discs, so for the avid collectors out there, how many BSP releases in total will there be in this format?
Skip – There are three with art that ties in to the three music videos that comprise their video trilogy (Grazie Governo, Warchief, and Choose My Friends), as well as an additional version of both Warchief (slide) and Grazie (album promo version), and another flexi using a still from the Broken Hearts video. So, SIX in total. (The only band with more is Territories, who we made a flexi for each song off their debut album. 12).
TPL – Several BSP releases have been used as promo’s, others with the album, however, I particularly like the idea behind the flexis being sold to raise money for charity. What’s the story behind this?
Skip – We were lucky enough to be able to use these flexis in lots of different ways, as you mentioned, and the charity angle has been a fantastic one. Streetlife has given back to the community of Blackpool for quite some time and the relationships that existed between the charity and Rebellion, as well as between the charity, my wife Hannah and her brother Tom (the singer of the preachers), runs underneath all of it. We are all in this for the long haul and want to protect and support our communities locally, and globally, to make sure that they are there and strong enough to support us back.
Pirates’ gets involved in lots of different charity projects, all with that same goal in mind.
TPL – Talking of the BSPs, you had previously issued some flexis in the guise of postcards with recordings from The Jons (featuring singer Tom McFaull). How do you think the bands differ?
Skip – apples and oranges. Or perhaps jellied eels versus pie and mash.
TPL – Going back to flexi formats, where do you think you’ll go with this next? Would you press up a 12” flexi?
Skip – We can’t do a 12-inch flexi, just technologically speaking. Nothing with grooves larger than 7”. The presses are not big enough. We constantly have new ideas that we come up with and ideas our customers come up with as well. There are half a dozen or so right now that we are working on with regards to different shapes, sizes, materials and uses for flexis. but, overwhelmingly, everybody is all about the PICTURE FLEXI right now, and by the beginning of the year, we expect our presses to be full to the gills with new projects for beautifully crafted, innovative picture flexi releases (with perhaps the widest range of uses we’ve ever seen).
TPL – And finally, Pirates Press has built a formidable roster of bands and releases, however, your 200th release will soon be upon us. You’ve already hinted it will be something special, 3LPs 34 tracks, presumably a compilation? Knowing your sense of fun and wanting to do something different, what can we expect? Any clues you’re willing to share with us?
Skip – I can’t really spill the beans, but we have some fun stuff in store packaging-wise. We will be announcing it all pretty soon. I hope that people find the most surprising and inviting part of the release to be the price. We want people to play the records, not store them, and help make sure that the songs we’ve chosen, our favourites, are played out regularly and heard across the world at clubs, parties, and everywhere in between.
Just to note, it’s one of about 15 titles we have coming out before the beginning of December, most of which we have not announced or started the press campaigns for yet. It’s hard to keep anything a surprise these days… 😉