Records & labels

The majority of records produced in the Vancouver punk/indie scene were D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) productions, meaning they were self-funded (by the band or their friends and relatives) and pressed on labels usually reserved to that artist only (and usually one record only). There were a couple local labels, however, that played a major role in the Vancouver music scene, and they grew out of small independent retail record stores.

The first was Quintessence Records, located on West Fourth Avenue in Kitsilano. The store was owned by Ted Thomas, and established itself as a home for the local scene by stocking the imported records and music papers that connected the locals to the new sounds coming out of London and New York. Even if you never bought anything, an afternoon loitering around Quintessence provided an invaluable education. You could listen to store employees (Grant McDonagh, Don Betts, Gerry Barad, Caroline Luxford, Ernie Dick, Dale Weise, or Rob Whittome) spin the latest discs and eavesdrop on their conversations with the parade of local musicians that stopped by.

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In 1978 Ted Thomas decided on an ambitious plan: to launch the Quintessence label, to document the small but burgeoning local music scene. The first release was by Tim Ray’s band, A.V. The four-song 7-inch A.V.E.P. was recorded at Ocean Sound Studio. The second release was the Pointed Sticks debut single What Do You Want Me To Do, recorded at Little Mountain Sound by producer Bob Rock and engineer Ron Obvious. From then on, most Quintessence projects were recorded at Little Mountain, including signature releases by DOA, the Subhumans, Young Canadians, and Modernettes. Early in 1981 Quintessence announced it was closing its label division and confining operations to the retail store. They were a little too ambitious (and optimistic), confounding earlier successes by releasing too many poor-selling records in quick succession.

Even before the Quintessence label folded, in 1980 DOA and the Subhumans jumped ship to cross-town rival Friends Records, which also launched a label. Owned and operated by Roy Atkinson, Friends released albums by DOA and the Subhumans, and also released the 1980 compilation album Vancouver Independence. By the end of 1981, Quintessence’s problems had degenerated to the point of bankruptcy. In December, store employees stepped in to acquire its assets, and Zulu Records opened in the same location. In 1983, owner Grant McDonagh launched the Zulu Records label; their inaugural release was The Phil Smith Album. Over the next few years Zulu would release several Vancouver records representing the period, including the Actionauts, Enigmas, Go Four 3, Brilliant Orange, and Slow. However, overextension led Zulu to close its label (like Quintessence before it), but it was able to maintain its retail outlet. In the 1990’s Zulu released a series of CD collections that helped resurrect interest in the old scene. Starting with 1991 CD compilation Last Call: Vancouver Independent Music 1977-1988, Zulu followed that up in 1995 with three CD retrospectives of the Pointed Sticks, Young Canadians, and Modernettes.