Alternative Tentacles Records was established in June of 1979 and is most likely the longest lasting (and still active) underground record label around. Although it is perceived by many as a “punk” label, having released records by Dead Kennedys and others, it is actually best known for its impact on the world of underground culture.
In the early years the label gained international attention by introducing the world to artists such as : Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, D.O.A., 7 Seconds, Winston Smith, NoMeansNo, Neurosis and Voice Farm. The label has continued to remain vital in its lengthy history by refusing to adhere to a formula for an easily identifiable ‘Alternative Tentacles Sound.’ Rather, the label has released many political spoken word releases; as well as releasing: Brazilian hardcore, bent pop, faux-country, twisted twang, and assorted rock & roll. Of late, the label is also known for its “Re-Issues Of Necessity Series”.
The label is also well known due to its outspoken provocateur owner, talent scout and recording artist, Jello Biafra. Many may recall his run for mayor of San Francisco in 1979 at the age of 21; as well as his trial for “distributing harmful matter” – which stemmed from including an H.R. Giger poster in a Dead Kennedy’s album; to his 2000 nomination as Green party candidate for President of the United States. Since the parting of Dead Kennedys, Jello has released many spoken word releases as well as collaborating with other musicians and bands such as DOA, Nomeansno, Mojo Nixon, and stand-alone projects like Tumor Circus (with Steelpole Bathtub), No WTO Combo (with Krist Novoselic), Lard (with Al Jourgensen), Jello Biafra with the Melvins, and his latest project with members of Victim’s Family, Faith No More, and Sharkbait!
Alternative Tentacles Records employs two people in Emeryville , California. (The label has always been based in San Francisco, but in October 2002 the label moved here.) The company is a sole proprietorship owned by Jello Biafra. Aside from being a label, it is also a mailorder company selling its own wares, as well as a ton of underground t-shirts, books, dvds, music, and other merchandise.
1958 – Biafra born and raised in Boulder, CO , six blocks from the JonBenet Ramsey murder site. So far, he has not been named as a suspect.
November 1963 – JFK assassinated on a day Biafra remembers well. Biafra sees Oswald get shot live on the living room TV. (See last track, Beyond the Valley of the Gift Police)
Fall 1965 – Biafra hears rock and roll for the first time when his parents tune in a rock station by mistake. He is immediately hooked, and knows what he wants to be when he grows up.
1966 – Biafra encounters his first rock star. Bob Demmon, leader of the surf-garage legends The Astronauts , shows the second grade class his Alaskan malamute dog.(Bob’s mother worked in the school office)
1966-68 – Biafra idolizes Batman villains while his classmates want to be baseball players, nurses and policemen.
1969-72 – The Vietnam war, Chicago 7 trial, Kent State massacre and the Denver smog problem convince Biafra that corrupt, violent governments and corporations should be fought, not trusted.
1970 – Fall of the Republic of Biafra – Ibo people’s war for independence is crushed by the Nigerian army. With British and some American help, all Biafran food supplies had been cut off for months. Horrific, jarring images of skeletal Biafran children dying from hunger make “Biafra” the universal symbol of starvation and genocide until the Ethiopian famine 15 years later.
January, 1977 – Biafra sees the Ramones horrify an audience of the pre-yuppies he loathes at Ebbets Field night club in Denver. He decides there must be more to life than listening to Judas Priest and committing suicide. He roadies for the first Colorado punk band, The Ravers, who would later move to New York and become The Nails (of “88 lines About 44 Women” fame).
Fall, 1977 – Biafra enrolls in University of California at Santa Cruz , where he studies acting and history of Paraguay. After seeing very early gigs of The Saints and Wire , among others in London that summer, Biafra discovers that the early San Francisco punk scene (Avengers, Dils, Zeros, etc. ) is far more raw and primal than anything he has seen so far. Its epicenter is Mabuhay Gardens , an all ages venue run by Dirk Dirksen . Biafra leaves school after one quarter.
February 28, 1978 – Biafra returns to San Francisco after saving money doing laundry in a nursing home in Boulder, Colorado.
July 19, 1978 – Dead Kennedys live debut performance after rehearsing for one week. After first calling himself Occupant , Jello Biafra picks his name at random out of a notebook . Years later, he says he chose it because he “likes the way the two images collide in people’s minds.”
June 1979 – Dead Kennedys release first single, California Uber Alles on their own label, Alternative Tentacles . An east coast tour follows, almost unheard of in those days for a west coast underground band.
Compared to the primal pogo frenzy of the west coast, the scene there is almost comatose, largely due to the lack of all ages venues. Audiences expecting to sit quietly and clap find themselves showered with their own beer as their tables and chairs are knocked away. Max’s Kansas City looks like a tornado went through it. At the Rat in Boston, MA, people line up as far away from the band as they can against the back wall but don’t leave. This may be Biafra’s favorite Dead Kennedys show of all time.
Fall 1979 – Biafra runs for mayor of San Francisco. He finishes fourth out of ten candidates with 6,591 votes, 3 1/2% of the total; helping force a run-off. Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s supporters are aghast. (For the full story, see Biafra’s third spoken word album,I Blow Minds for a Living.) Biafra also performs nude before 3000 Clash fans and an infuriated Bill Graham. DK never play for Bill Graham Presents again.
California Uber Alles is re-released in England on the hot label-of-the-moment Fast Product (Gang of Four, Mekons, Human League ). By sheer luck a band barely known in their own back yard is an overnight sensation in the U.K.