Voltalab Sound Studios is a boutique recording studio housed in the iconic Cargo building in Rochdale, with a fascinating back story. This infamous and impressive recording space is renowned and revered amongst music fans and recording industry professionals alike, and synonymous with the seventies and eighties Manchester music scene.
Cargo Recording Studios opened in 1978 under the direction of owner engineer John Brierley, who built the sixteen track studio from the ground up after leaving his job at Granada. His vision from the outset; to build a recording space that produced a brand new sound, the likes of which hadn’t been created anywhere else. Artists rapidly discovered that Cargo captured a much sought after live energy within a recording studio setting.
With bands like Gang of Four recording critically acclaimed debut single Damaged Goods at Cargo and Tony Wilson introducing Joy Division to the space, Cargo quickly gained credibility as a studio for adventurous music makers. Factory producer Martin Hannett became a fan, favouring the grassroots feel of the place. Subsequently, he recorded Joy Division and OMD, with Brierley and his right hand engineer Colin Richardson.
Open 24/7 for three months straight at its peak, they had a constant stream of UK indie bands through their doors, cultivating quite a reputation for creating outstanding records. Bands travelled from all over the UK and Europe to record in Cargo – a revolving door of one band leaving as the other arrived.
The building was front and centre in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People. Fans of the film may particularly recall a pivotal scene where Hannett had Joy Division drummer Stephen Morris record the drums for 1979 record She’s Lost Control on the roof of the studio. This scene sums up the entire essence of Cargo; anything goes to achieve the perfect sounds that artists and producers are looking for.
In 2008, Voltalab founders Jamie Alsop and Marc Lewis met and just a year later launched their first studio; an old machine room in a neglected textile mill near Rochdale. The pair, bonded by a shared love of traditional recording techniques, decided on the space for their passion project purely due to its unique acoustics. Together, they converted the mill, running it for three years as a commercial studio, before spotting an opportunity that they couldn’t resist.
In 2009 a blue plaque was placed on the Cargo building, in recognition of the role the studio played in the music scene not only in the North West but throughout the UK and into Europe too. Well-versed on the history of the space, Alsop and Lewis set their sights on leasing the Cargo building and begun planning on how to preserve its legacy during the next iteration of Voltalab.
Loaded with musical heritage, the building re-opened as Voltalab Sound Studios in 2013, following a year-long build and substantial reinvestment in the space and its kit. Lessons learned from the first Voltalab studio build helped make the most thoughtful use of the space, whilst being mindful of its laudable legacy. Installation of parts of the old studio into the new space bring a little piece of Voltalab history into the Cargo Building. In 2014, Alsop took sole ownership of the studio, with Lewis relocating to the Midlands to launch a new Events Production company.
Under Alsop’s expertise, the building that housed all of this incredible history has been lovingly rebuilt, with every custom-designed feature considered thoughtfully and with an astounding attention to detail. Alsop’s vision to preserve the fascinating Cargo history, whilst respectfully reinvigorating and refreshing the studio for future generations of music makers, has been achieved. Brand new sounds are being created here, whilst fondly respecting the fascinating heritage of the space.
Now making records for over a decade, Voltalab - like Cargo Studios before it - help artists and musicians create incredible music. We’d love to talk to you about your next project.
For more information on Cargo Studios’ history, bands and releases, visit their website.