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A CRASH COURSE IN ALTERNATIVE TENTACLES
What do Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, D.O.A., 7 Seconds, Winston Smith, NoMeansNo, Neurosis and Voice Farm have in common? They all came to the public's attention through early debut and other releases on Alternative Tentacles. A.T.'s impact on the world of underground culture is often underestimated and not easily measured, due to a long history of refusing to do the obvious rather than concentrate on an easily identifiable 'Alternative Tentacles Sound.' The diversity in releases has strayed as far afield as the debut album of Evan Johns and The H-Bombs, the Beatnigs (with the founding members of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Spearhead), bent pop of Wesley Willis and Half Japanese, rapper Chill EB, to XXX-funk/rap pioneer Blowfly.
Established in June of 1979, the name Alternative Tentacles was used as the label name on Dead Kennedys self-produced debut single, "California Uber Alles." In true independent spirit, the band saved their gig money for a year to produce their own record instead of waiting for an established label to sign them. By a stroke of luck the single did better than the bands' wildest dream, garnering considerable attention throughout the U.S. and Europe. Lead singer Jello Biafra's 1979 mayoral campaign in San Francisco helped kick-start interest from the British music press that culminated in a very successful British and European tour in the fall of 1980, upon the release of their full length debut, "Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables".
Speaking with the people from the audience after the gigs, Biafra found that the actual fans who liked the music were far more interested in the American underground than the overseas labels and press were. Back then, it was very unusual for there to be interest in an American underground band in Europe at all, let alone a tour.
The original idea was for Alternative Tentacles to be based in Europe only, and concentrate on European released and exposure for then-unknown American Bands. The result was the "Let Them Eat Jellybeans" compilation album. "Let Them Eat Jellybeans" was quickly followed with singles by D.O.A., Bad Brains, Black Flag, Flipper, TSOL, Voice Farm and more. But the impact of "Jellybeans" and Alternative Tentacles turned out to be even greater outside Great Britain. "Jellybeans" and Dead Kennedys' follow-up '81 European tour is credited with breaking open the still strong underground scenes in Finland, Italy, Germany, and even behind the Iron Curtain.
Meanwhile, "Jellybeans" was also gaining steam in America. Many Americans were picking up import copies as a way of tuning in to the ongoing underground explosion in the States. Alternative Tentacles U.S. was off and running with domestic releases of new albums by D.O.A., TSOL, Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, the Dicks, the Crucifucks and many more. At the same time a friend in San Francisco, Ruth Schwartz, was starting Mordam Records label and distribution, known locally as the label where Faith No More and Victims Family got their start. An alliance was formed and distribution continues to this day.
The label has been the perfect outlet for Jello Biafra's work including his six spoken word releases and musical collaborations with friends like D.O.A., NoMeansNo, Steel Pole Bath Tub (Tumor Circus), Ministry (Lard), Mojo Nixon, and most recently the No WTO Combo. From the begining, A.T. has treated their artists the way Biafra and Dead Kennedys wanted to be treated. They are given complete control over all aspects of their recordings and are not to sign multi-album contracts. Bands are free to leave and work with other labels if they so choose, and return whenever they like.
The label's small, hardworking staff of four considers the artists very good friends and family and it is this relationship that motivates the staff and bands to work together and respect each other.
Through 2006, the label has released over 350 recordings and pride themselves on the fact that, in addition to CD and, formerly, cassette, almost every release is issued on vinyl. Sometimes we release special limited editions of vinyl and cds- the Skate Rock series is limited to 1000 copies on vinyl, while the Sermon "Volume" is available as a 500-copy cd tin as well as a standard cd and vinyl release. The label has made its music available in the MP3 format as well, both on our site and on on-line sites including Audio Lunchbox, Download Punk, eMusic, and iTunes.
The label has also raided its vaults and has re-released some classic early 80's recordings in its "Re-issues Of Necessity" series by the likes of JFA, The Dicks, BGK, The Fartz, Los Olvidados, Drunk Injuns, Free Beer, False Prophets, Amebix, MIA, Nausea, Mentally Ill, and the classic compilation "Not So Quiet on the Western Front."
Today, Alternative Tentacles still upholds the same ideals under which it was created. With current artists such as Jello Biafra with the Melvins, Leftover Crack, Pansy Division, Nardwuar The Human Serviette, Akimbo, Arundhati Roy, Zolar X, Skarp, Michael Parenti, Knights of the New Crusade, eX-Girl, 16 Horsepower, Nausea, Blowfly, F-Minus, Report Suspicious Activity, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Wesley Willis, and Fleshies, A.T. manages to bring an eclectic array of music to an industry sadly lacking in originality.
Alternative Tentacles Records turned 25 years old in 2004; our late twenties are going great!