The founders of the newly launched Blank City Records aren't quitting their day jobs, but they do have a couple of creative ideas for keeping the small, Echo Park–based label afloat. The label is renting out three fully equipped stalls to visiting tattoo artists, so they'll have a place to schedule client appointments when visiting L.A. And Blank City is banking on the novelty and exclusivity of releasing its music on flexi discs (in addition to digitally).
These “flexis” are constructed from thin, flexible sheets of vinyl composite and are significantly cheaper to make than standard vinyl pressings. You can play them on your turntable, but they also have a limited shelf life —they'll deteriorate and become un-listenable over the course of about 20 plays.
“It’s like a Snapchat," Blank City co-founder Marc Sallis says. "You can only play this thing so many times and it’s done.”
But you might not want to toss them when they're played out; some of these flexis are printed on X-rays — actual photographic images of people’s insides.
This practice originated in the Soviet Union, Sallis explains, where residents restricted by communist rule were desperate to get their hands on illegal jazz and Beatles records. Bootleggers in Soviet countries figured out how to transfer albums onto X-rays to make for easier smuggling across the country, Sallis says.
When people get an X-ray edition from Blank City, he continues, they can keep it as a work of art or relic of history even after it’s unplayable.
Blank City sourced the X-rays from eBay, family members and friends, and even solicited donations via its website. Break your leg last year? Fracture a rib? Send in your own X-ray and Blank City will print a release for you personally.
Co-owner Brandon Lloyd Burkart has one of his band’s songs imprinted on an X-ray of his grandmother’s intestines.
“That’s where I got my guts from — grandma,” he says.
Located a few blocks from Dodger Stadium, tucked between a house and a sandwich shop (full disclosure: the label rents from my husband and his business partner), Blank City took two and a half years to launch, according to Burkart, and came together with the help of Sallis and third co-founder Kawika Campbell. Like Burkart, Sallis is a professional musician, whose lengthy resume includes the London-born band Duke Spirit and, currently, The Bulls, a band he formed with Airborne Toxic Event’s Anna Bulbrook.
Campbell, a furniture and interior designer with a woodworking shop near USC, helped envision and build out the headquarters. He says he plays the roles of “outside listener" and "fan” at the label.
“One, I can bring a different perspective," he says. "And two, if they ever go completely off the reservation with something they want to put on the label I can be like, alright, veto power.”
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Blank City Records doesn’t intend to specialize in one specific genre but instead to release “music with integrity,” according Burkart. He says this can mean “tough and nasty, to delicate and cinematic,” and that the label’s first year or so will see releases that range from rock ’n’ roll to hip-hop to spacey electronic to garage.
“It has a lot less to do with the sound than it does the heart of the person putting it out,” Burkart says. “Essentially, we kind of agreed that we wouldn’t put anything out anything by anyone we wouldn’t sit down and have a beer with. You could be writing hits, but if you’re a dick I don’t want anything to do with it.”
The self-described “long hair” has the heart of a hippie and the aesthetic of a punk rock Johnny Cash, which pretty much sums up Blank City’s sensibilities as well. Burkart has played in bands that include The Cathedral Club, Pair of Arrows and The Saint James Society (two of the three which are currently on Blank City) while also serving as general manager and talent buyer of Los Feliz’s Bigfoot Lodge. It’s through these two social circles that Blank City has connected with many of their artists.
“The thing about bands and bars is, we are each other’s type,” he says with a laugh.