A Small Czech Village Is At The Heart Of The Global Vinyl Record Revival

Having steered through communism and revolution to lead the global comeback of the vinyl record, Czechia’s GZ Media is now confronting pandemic, populism and war, as Tim Gosling reports from Lodenice.

Lodenice doesn’t look very much like the heart of rock ‘n’ roll. But the small Czech village, peering over the motorway linking the capital Prague with Germany, is home to the biggest vinyl record producer in the world.

The vinyl revival of recent years has driven GZ Media to heights that owner and President Zdenek Pelc could barely have imagined as he steered the company through the tumultuous days of communism, revolution and transition to a capitalist system.

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“It was like the Wild West at times,” said Pelc, who joined state enterprise Gramofonove Zavody as a manager in 1983. He smiled as he remembered steering the privatized company through the unruly 1990s. The decade witnessed the birth of the Czech Republic out of the ruins of former communist Czechoslovakia, but also the near death of vinyl.

As the arrival of CDs all but throttled the older technology, GZ Media’s vinyl presses ground nearly to a halt. By 1994, the company was producing just 350,000 records annually, the vinyl presses kept going by punk and metal bands seeking cheap production and tiny batches.

“Now we turn out the same amount in one day,” said CEO Michal Sterba.

The vinyl revival has driven an expansion that, aside from the sprawling site in Lodenice, sees the company operating six plants in four different countries. Last year, GZ Media pressed 56.5 million records by the likes of The Rolling Stones, Nat King Cole, Black Sabbath, and Ariana Grande. It hopes by 2024 to be turning out 140 million.

Hence, history did not end in the 1990s after all. But that cuts both ways.

This leaves 71-year-old Pelc — who, since “stepping back” from running the day-to-day operations is only in the office for four days a week — and CEO Sterba not navigating vinyl’s boom but also the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, populism, and war.

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