Music. Friendships. Good times.
Well if that doesn't sum it up, I don't know what does. And it sums up Russell Cunningham, the easy-going Windsorite who grew up in the Detroit music scene of the early 2000s before leaving to go start a record label in Vancouver, only to return to Windsor and bless us with last summer's Saturday night Evergreen Dreams patio sessions.
Russell's curating our new music selection and so I sat down and spoke with him about growing up here in Windsor, the perils of owning a record label, and some of the cool things he has planned now that he's back home.
First, thanks so much for hanging out with us and playing some music on the patio last summer. It was so good to have you around.
My pleasure, it’s been really nice collaborating with you and Marina over the past year.
Why is your Instagram handle ‘Early?’
Yeah, that’s my pseudonym. I used to go through life on my own schedule. I was never very punctual and it became a bit embarrassing at times. I also needed an alias to perform under - something short and obscure. Being told I was late all the time, I figured I would fake it until I made it.
Gotcha. So you were living in Vancouver for a while. What’s it like being back in Windsor?
It’s been quite nice, I’ve had a lot more time to work on my own projects and help raise our two young boys, which is most important. The timing was definitely right to come back home, having been gone for over 10 years, we have a different perspective on the people and places we have here in Windsor-Detroit.
Yeah I think a lot of people who left would echo that sentiment. Plus, dunno if you get this, but there’s a feel that people are starting to create some cool things here. Not that they didn’t before, just that there seems to be a new small wave of creative things happening, like they’re moving back and bringing some ideas from other places, maybe some of the Detroit energy is drifting across the river.
I agree, most seem to be people who also have lived away for quite some time and want to bring back something unique - the other half appear to be the eccentric type who would thrive in any environment. Windsor is a place where you can afford to dream and take your own shot while still putting a roof over your head and good food in your stomach. Instead of waiting around for someone else to make something happen others are realizing they can do it on their own or with the help of some friends.
Speaking of, you and some friends started a record label out west. Tell me a bit about Pacific Rhythm.
Yeah so Pacific Rhythm is first and foremost a record label that was founded by Derek Duncan and myself back in Vancouver in 2013. There was a lot of unique and interesting music being made by our close friends that we wanted to share worldwide so we thought we should get to work. We acquired a distribution deal with Honest Jon’s out of London, UK and started pressing and selling our own records. Simultaneously as we started importing and selling records, we were collecting and playing locally which ultimately led to us having our own brick-and-mortar location. And all the while we were throwing parties and inviting international artists to come perform. Seven years and twenty releases later here we are, still doing the damn thing.
Starting a record label doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that is really that easy. What are some of the challenges?
Definitely scheduling. Since we press our music on vinyl and dub to tape we are beholden to the supply chain from the manufacturing plants.This makes scheduling very unpredictable and trying to keep a steady stream of music coming out without a large drought can be tough.
If we went through mastering and manufacturing process at the start of the calendar year we are competing with all of the major labels repressing their huge catalogs to get ready for Record Store Day - so when they press up say 16,000 copies of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” naturally we get pushed to the back of the line.
We are also competing with father time, although having a resurgence in the past 10 years records are by and large not how most people consume their music. It doesn’t take much to throw a wrench into the gears of production. For example, last year Apollo Masters burned down, they are one of only two lacquer manufacturing plants in the world. This could also mean further delays in production for us in the future.
Other challenges are no different than other businesses. Did these orders get shipped? Who responded to this email? Did this invoice get paid? Small things add up quickly and soon enough you're spending the day putting out fires instead of listening to some new music or planning for future projects.
And on top of that you guys were throwing a lot of parties. Sometime this summer I ran into someone who had been to a Pacific Rhythm soirée and said they were pretty unique.
The lack of access to licensed venues or nightclubs in Vancouver meant we had to have our shows in some interesting locations. We’ve had parties in basement grottos, defunct buildings, restaurants, art galleries, ex porn theatres, auto shops, carriageways, industrial courtyards, and that’s just the condensed version.
There were so many memorable events beyond the ones we put on. The whole community elevated one another so effortlessly. We were on the edge of the continent in our own ecosystem — all that mattered was beautiful music, solid friendships, and good times.
Music, friendships, and good times - what more, right?
So let’s talk about the music piece. How did it become so important for you? Where did that start?
I recognized very young that music was something that enhanced or diminished the mood I was in. Most new music in the early 2000’s did not resonate with me - bad lyrics, corny production, image first mentality. So I started to look around for alternatives and between close friends, the world wide web, and my geographical location it led me directly into electronic music.
I bought turntables and started my own record collection in 2003. I was in high-school, living at home and working part-time at Chrysler’s making a lot of disposable income. I was spending thousands of dollars a month on music equipment and records.
My friends and I were also travelling over Detroit and Ann Arbor for shows on weekdays and weekends coming back early in the morning only to go to class or work a few hours later. It was exhilarating. From that point on everything I did seemed to revolve around music - I went to college for audio engineering, travelled around Canada/USA and Europe attending festivals and nightclubs, I started my own radio show on CJAM, hosted parties and spent long days over in Detroit digging for records.
Where were you going in Detroit?
For records I was going to Record Time, Melodies and Memories, Neptune, Detroit Threads and Submerge - many of those stores are no longer with us but have made an impact worldwide. As for shows we went to Motor, The Shelter, Necto, Oslo, The Works and countless other locations with no name.
I’ve always found that really interesting, the intersection of Windsor and Detroit and the cultural byproducts that it produces. There have been plenty of artists from Windsor that will tell you that Detroit had a huge influence on their work, yet at the same time their perspective is unique as a bit of an outsider with a fly-on-the-wall point-of-view.
Without a doubt - that is a huge advantage we have living here. It doesn’t matter the medium either, there is an originator or influencer in every single one of the arts. It still amazes me when I can leave a concert, party, art show or museum and be back to my house in 20 minutes. I likely wouldn’t be doing what I was doing if it wasn’t for Detroit and the wonderful people that call it their home.
Safe to say we all miss it with the border being closed. What’s the first place you’ll go when we can cross again?
If I’m rolling solo it’ll be straight to Eastern Market to grab a coffee and head to Peoples Records to dig for a few hours. On the way home I’ll stop into Lafayette to grab a coney and attempt to stop smiling for the rest of the night.
So in the summer you were working behind our outside bar for the Evergreen Dreams summer residency. Man those nights were memorable - the warm weather, great music, food…
In such a wild and turbulent year it was nice to have something that felt so pure. Being able to play some beautiful music to people enjoying their food and drink out on the Pressure Drop patio was extremely cathartic.
You were playing music right next to Mark from Peace Love & Jerk - sometimes the smoke from his grill was so thick I could hardly see you. I’d have snacked the entire time and gained 50 lbs if I were that close!
It was almost comical, every week I would be in the middle of mixing a track and I would catch Mark out of the corner of my eye drop down a plate of jerk pork right next to me. I’m no chump, that got eaten quickly. Don’t ask me how much weight I gained because I didn’t check.
Well you have a few months to work on making room for this summer. In the meantime, tell us a bit more about what we will see now that you’re putting together a music collection at Pressure Drop.
We had such a positive response to the music I was playing on the patio I felt it was the perfect opportunity to curate a collection of music and have it here at the shop. We’ll have records, cassettes, zines, books, screenprints and various merch all available. The music collection will consist of soul, funk, disco, jazz, ambient, library, house and experimental genres and won’t be found anywhere else in the area.
We’re super excited and think it will really fit the vibe.
Exactly. People can drop by, browse, play some records, grab a coffee or beer and just enjoy themselves.
And let's hope that happens soon! Well, thanks for the chat, Russell.
I’ll go take a snooze - wake me up when it’s time. Thanks Mike!
Russell’s music collection opens in March. The collection can be found on the Pressure Drop website and through Discogs.
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