At Cascade Record Pressing, just south of Portland, hard-working presses turn lentil-shaped PVC pebbles into glossy vinyl records. The mechanical din is loud, but the guitar-drenched music roaring from the facility’s speaker system is even louder. Mark Rainey, Cascade’s CEO and one of the company’s three founders, seems impervious to the cacophony as he surveys the warehouse landscape, calmly bending down to inspect a job in the works. The humming outfit is Oregon’s first-ever record pressing plant, and the only such operation active in the Pacific Northwest.
Located 10 miles (16 km) south of downtown Portland in the sleepy suburb of Milwaukie, Cascade produces around 2,500 individual records per day. Inside the 10,000-square-foot (929 sq m) facility, pucks of heated vinyl are squeezed between two stampers (an A-side and a B-side) and into record form. These records are then trimmed, meticulously scanned for anomalies in quality control and rested for 24 hours. After they’ve cured, each disc is gently hand-dressed in a sleeve and jacket before being shrink-wrapped and shipped out.
Open since 2015, Cascade is a well-oiled machine that showed up at exactly the right time. In 2017 alone, an unprecedented 14.3 million records were sold in the United States — the latest number in a dozen consecutive years of climbing vinyl sales. Today, approximately one in every seven physical album sales is vinyl. It’s an uptick in interest that Rainey attributes to a widening consumer base, in part due to global efforts like Record Store Day. “I tell people, vinyl is not coming back because a bunch of 40-year-old dudes are buying records,” Rainey says. “The market has new people coming to it, new blood.”
Rainey’s musical roots
At 46 years old, Rainey traces his own relationship to vinyl records back to his childhood home in central Virginia. His parents had an eclectic record collection, and as soon as he was allowed to, Rainey would play records off the shelf, absorbing everything from easy-going folk to rhythmic Trinidadian steel drums. As a teenager, he began to seek out vinyl on his own.
“[Music] is profoundly important to me,” he says. “[It goes] back to childhood and frustrations with a perceived inability to express myself. Music was this tool, or escape, that [provided] a reprieve from that.” Rainey explored making his own music in a band early on, but quickly found his talents were better suited elsewhere.
After spending time in Boston, Rainey headed west. The move landed him in the Bay Area during the mid-’90s — then the surging musical epicenter of street punk. “The scene was this collection of bands that, in terms of Bay Area punk, didn’t fit into any of the established cliques that were going on, so it became its own thing,” he says. “I was lucky enough to be the guy motivated enough to release records.”
In 1997, Rainey founded TKO Records. The label delivered genre-defining vinyl releases from street punk bands like The Dropkick Murphys, Poison Idea and ANTiSEEN into the hands of moshing fans. After more than a decade of running the growing label and a Huntington Beach record store, Rainey and his family moved to Portland for a change of scenery. Here, Rainey began brainstorming a new venture to contribute to a city already known for its music. “It really became, what is something related to music I can do that is not being addressed?” he explains. “And here we are.”
Vinyl production at Cascade Record Pressing
The equipment required to produce new records comes at the price of indefatigable determination. By and large, presses are no longer manufactured and difficult to come by. There are fewer than 20 presses operating in North America, and most are overloaded with work due to rising demand. The six 12-inch, ‘70s-era presses at Cascade were tracked down in Canada by Rainey, along with Cascade co-founders Adam Gonsalves (of Portland’s Telegraph Mastering) and Steve Lanning. (Cascade also has a 7-inch press they hope to have in beta testing by the end of 2018.) The machines had been out of commission for nearly 20 years, so Cascade hired motorcycle mechanics to bring them back to life. Now, the presses produce vinyl 40 hours a week.
Though Cascade works with customers across the country, turning out everything from indie punk to video game soundtracks to country, the company hopes to further position itself as an ally to the local music community. “I mean, we’re the only plant in the Northwest, so really that extends to the entire market,” Rainey says. “We want to be a resource [and] an option for them.”
The Future of Cascade Record Pressing
Cascade’s community-centric approach immediately attracted interest from local labels like Tender Loving Empire and Mississippi Records, which each booked a sizable amount of work even before the presses were fully functional. These days, Cascade’s books fill up three months in advance, and expansion seems inevitable. “I think that because there’s so much music going on here, there are still plenty of sub-communities we’re trying to branch out into,” Rainey says. “We’re really trying to make more inroads with hip-hop. The Northwest, and Portland [specifically], has a really great current hip-hop scene going on right now. And hip-hop — like punk and indie — is part of why vinyl survived during the dark ages.”
In addition to scaling up production and expanding their repertoire, Rainey hopes to someday see Cascade get kids engaged in the record-making process and work with them to create vinyl of their very own. “If you play football and you get a trophy, that’s great — but not everybody plays football,” he says. “I think that for kids to have concrete evidence of a success or achievement, to open their eyes to possibilities early on, is really important.”