When Auckland electro-rap star Coco Solid decided her new record should actually be a record, it involved a lightning dash to Sydney, a barrel of pink PVC and a hometown launch gig the night after. Scott Kara went along to witness how they practice the ancient art of vinyl pressing.
Tuesday Sept 16: 4:30am
It's far too early to be upright but Coco Solid is beaming brighter than the luminous lights of the Auckland Airport terminal as she stands in line at the check-in counter. The electrorapper, with the wily tongue and clever rhymes to match, is going to Sydney for the day to see her record
Graffiti Girls Forever
get pressed on "pretty pink vinyl".
"It'll be a bit Willy Wonka," she reckons of the visit to Sydney's Vinyl Factory, a pressing plant in the suburb of Marrickville which has two of the famous old EMI record presses from vinyl's 60s and 70s heyday.
Coco - real name Jessica Hansell - can't quite believe nine songs from her latest double album The Radical Bad Attack are going to be available on "hot wax".
Since starting out in the early 2000s, Coco and side-kick rapper Erik Ultimate have had a die-hard DIY approach to releasing music - from the artwork through to the minimal production of Al-C5. The first release, Bop n Roll, came out on tape and three further albums on CD, but vinyl is a dream come true.
"Vinyl is a real taonga," she says. "CDs are galactic and all that and I thought I was going to be CD-for-life but vinyl is more emotive."
Going to Sydney is the first high in a big week for Coco who after getting back with her "hot wax" will host a vinyl release party at the aptly named Cocos Bar in Fort Lane the following night. ("My sister's got an assignment to do but if she gets finished she's going to come down and rap"), then she's off to Taupo on Thursday to meet local iwi as part of her job at Greenpeace, and come Friday she's jetting to Barcelona for five weeks to attend the Red Bull Music Academy.
"I've tried to be really organised this week and I get caught up in the maths of it all but this morning I'm like, 'Lets go get some vinyl'."
Still standing in line at check-in we look over the hand-drawn lyrics and credits sheet that's going inside the record cover. She's got some cracking lines like, "Smoke rhymes like salmon, Y'eat em like pate, Fresh as vine leaves, I'm so gourmet. Breakout da couscous and da pinot gris, I wanna meet da clever bitch who can rival me", on Graffiti Girls Forever. Our guide today, John Baker, a local rock'n'roll historian, die-hard record collector and the New Zealand agent for the Vinyl Factory, tells us proudly he loves the "testicle song".
"I've never heard it referred to as the testicle song before but that's fine John," says Coco.
The song is actually called Disco Light.
Checked in. Through customs. Phew. Can we have a lie down now?
On the plane Coco says she's already had requests from people asking her to put a copy of the limited edition record aside for them. "One guy from Edinburgh emailed me and said, 'I'm a creep and you don't know me but can you please please keep one for me'."
The record's lead track is Graffiti Girls For Life, the first song on the "sex" side of The Radical Bad Attack, which is one of her favourite songs.
"It's both mine and Erik's song and my three sisters [Baby Stepz, She-Wizard, and Hayley J, aka the Graffiti girls, aka the Hansell sisters] are on it too so that's special for me."
Another highlight is the dark instrumental version of Graffitti Girls featuring a beat by producer Extravagangsta. She remembers when she first heard that beat she told him: "That is mine. Don't you f****** give it to anybody else."
Soon after take off it's time for that lie down. Coco finds a comfy couple of seats on the half-empty plane to stretch out, maybe catch a few winks, and watch the Sex In the City movie.
7:40am (Sydney time)
Breeze through Australian customs, get the rental car which Coco nicknames the Hulk because it's bright green, and we're off to the laid-back neighbourhood of Newtown for breakfast to wait for the Vinyl Factory to open.
Baker says he and a friend reckon vinyl has the "fondle factor". The old school format is having a renaissance with many music fans who are going back to records as a reaction to the disposable digital format.
Because of this increased demand more and more musicians are opting to put music out on vinyl but also, says Baker, a record has a cool factor and that special boutique feel.
Now, with a company like the Vinyl Factory it's easier than ever for New Zealand acts like Coco Solid to get their music pressed on vinyl. Previously the alternative was dealing with companies in Europe and the US which had long turnover times and were notoriously unreliable.
The Vinyl Factory pressed Liam Finn's I'll Be Lightning and last year it did the limited edition run of white seven inch singles for the Mint Chicks which the band sold as tickets to two sold out shows in Auckland.
Out the front of the Vinyl Factory, which is tucked away on an industrial side street, there's a concrete mixer-like contraption full of pink PVC pellets which will soon become Coco's records. Inside the building there's box after box of vinyl by bands with unrecognisable names - and some well known ones like the Living End and Silverchair.
The first record cover decorating the stairwell up to the factory's office is Finn's I'll Be Lightning.
Coco is given a test copy of her record to blast on the office turntables.
"Get outta town," she gasps as she hear's Erik's deep and slightly sleazy spoken-word intro on Graffiti Girls. She gasps again when the beat kicks in and is surprised how heavy it sounds. "I've heard it so many times before but it sounds different somehow. It's got more gravity. It's more atmospheric."
Down on the factory floor there's already a rubbish bin full of pink Coco Solid duds that have been run through the press as they try to get the settings right.
It's hands on, with press operator Jamie adjusting bolts and hoses with spanners as records are fired into the paper sleeves at the end of the cycle.
On the table sits a hockey puck sized hunk of pink PVC with Coco Solid labels sitting loosely on top.
"See, it is like Willy Wonka," she laughs.
It's this bubble-gum-like material that, put simply, is flattened with 100 tonnes of pressure (or 3000 psi) to put the all important grooves on the record.
"It's pretty damn pink," says managing director Andy Cuddihy who started the factory in early 2006.
The engineer and vinyl addict went about trying to perfect the art of making records but admits wryly: "There are so many things that can go wrong with a record pressing."
"I don't think I know everything that can go wrong but I reckon I've probably got halfway through the list," he grins.
We're off for lunch and free time in Sydney - some record shopping perhaps? - which will give the records time to cool for a few hours before they are packed up to catch a 6.30pm flight back to Auckland.
The 150 copies are in the car and ready to go.
The rush hour traffic was heavy so we're running late for the flight, but the wax makes it on board.
Whoops. Baker has forgotten to give the rental car keys back.
Sitting in the departure lounge, and in an ideal end to a vinyl junkie day the TV shows an old timer on Antiques Roadshow getting his antique wind up turntable analysed by the experts.
Baker turns up. Keys in the presumably safe possession of a customs officer.
Any last reflections before flying home Coco? "Now I know how it's made it kind of made me realise how much I love vinyl. I never thought of myself as a big record collector but it makes you reflect on all the records you've got and grew up with.
"My friend said to me before I left that vinyl is like the I-was-here stamp for a musician. And when I saw every single record getting laboriously trimmed, them all sweating over it, down on their knees measuring out the perfect weight, I was like, 'Yeah man, it's special'. A lot of love goes into it."
There's a noisy crowd of family, friends, and fans at Coco Club in Fort Lane for the vinyl release party. Also here is Coco's producer Al-C5 who has come up from Wanganui for the gig. He's happy with how the "sex toy pink" vinyl has turned out.
"It looks really good too - that's important with vinyl," he says, outside the club having a cheeky cigarette before the show.
Back inside, the DJ's records are spread out on the bar with Prince's 1999 the most recognisable. A few dancers flail around on the dance floor but most are sitting back chatting and some pore over their copies of Graffiti Girls For Life.
When Coco, glowing in her bright pink and green tracksuit top, and Erik, in his trademark cap and sunnies, come on the crowd gather round. In keeping with their minimal aesthetic the pair are lit by one solitary light and their bouncing sparse beats get the crowd bobbing. And there's even a flourish of break dancing.
As the pair dish up dirty rhymes like "pullin on your heart strings when I'm pulling down ya zipper" and make reference to everything from Laverne and Shirley to the Death Star it turns into a rockin' little gig.
It's a celebration and it's all in the name of Coco's "pretty pink vinyl".
Who: Coco Solid (real name Jessica Hansell)
What: Day trip to Sydney to get her new record pressed on vinyl
Out now: Limited edition 12-inch, Graffiti Girls For Life, available at Marbecks and Beat Merchants.