Inside a utilitarian brick building — plain except for foot-tall block letters across the facade that read “ARCHER” — greasy fluid smears the floor. A breeze from an open door swirls the smell of a day’s work at the last vinyl record-pressing plant in Detroit.
This shop, at the corner of Davison and Cliff, spins out about 10,000 vinyl records a week for local Detroit garage rockers the Dirtbombs to DJ Swamp (Beck’s DJ) to a long list of techno and dance artists.
The music may be current, but the four hulking record-making contraptions covered in levers and wires look like dinosaurs. “You should hear this place when the machines are turned on,” Mike Archer says, as he walks past a workbench stocked with the other tools of the music industry: wrenches, screwdrivers, and a full-blown arsenal of handled implements. Archer has run the place for 15 years; before that, it was his dad, and before that, his granddad. Surveying the scene through a stranger’s eyes, he says: “We’re working with 1970’s finest technology.”
In the ’70s, Archer says, cities were saturated with record-pressing plants and punk records fell like coins from a winning slot machine. But vinyl went to tapes, which went to CDs, which went to 99 cents and an iTunes account. Vinyl hasn’t disappeared. It’s alive and well enough to keep Archer’s phone ringing and his machines clanging.
“I’m busy, and I don’t even advertise,” says the 43- year-old whose short hair and trim beard are dusted with gray. “It’s all word-of-mouth, and good thing everybody talks in the music industry.”
It’s interesting to note that he’s kept busy by more than local indie bands. Musicians from all over — New York, Chicago, Canada, Europe — contact him. But, Archer says, it’s the locals he loves. “I try to take care of Detroit and Michigan first; [local musicians] are never turned away,” he says. “They’ve always been loyal and supported us, and we’ll always support them.”
It’s a philosophy that hasn’t changed much since ’65, when Granddad Archer decided to dabble in the music biz. A lot of what they mashed with the presses back then was local, too, Archer says. “There was a lot of Detroit Northern Soul,” he says. “We saw a lot of artists from Motown come through here with their independent work.” And as it is now, it was then the only record-pressing plant in Detroit.
Other record presses did crop up when vinyl was king, but none stuck around like Archer’s.
“These machines are old and complicated,” Archer says. “It’s a battle every day [to make records]. But the end product is pretty cool.”