Along with the likes of Touch & Go and Sub Pop, SST were perhaps one of the best 80s labels specializing in all forms of punk, hardcore and noise. By the late 80s, however, the label decided to change direction and concentrate on jazzy/ arty/instrumental projects, which forced many to question the motives behind all the signings that the label did.
The label was started by Greg Ginn – future Panic / Black Flag founder, while he was still in his teens. At the age of 12, Ginn created Solid State Transmitters, a company that sold modified radio equipment. Due to his strong interest in punk rock, however, he eventually transformed SST into a record label.
His band Panic recorded eight songs in 1978 but no record labels aside from Bomp! Records were interested in releasing it. With no word from Bomp!, Ginn decided to release it by himself. The resulting “Nervous Breakdown” EP by the band (now named Black Flag) came out in January 1979.
The label’s second release was another EP – “Paranoid Time” by San Pedro trio Minutemen. Songs for the record were mixed in one night for $300. Both Black Flag and Minutemen went on to playing wherever they could – mainly in house parties & basements, with SST house record producer Spot always being present at the label-related events.
The label also got into a lot of trouble due to Los Angeles Police Department activity (related to violence surrounding Black Flag shows) and legal issues associated with Unicorn Records, a sublabel of MCA, which was supposed to release Black Flag’s 1982 album “Damaged”. However, MCA decided not to release the album due to its “anti-parent” subject matter” and SST attempted to sue Unicorn Records for not paying royalties and expenses for the album.
Countersuit from Unicorn Records prevented SST from releasing any material until the case was settled. However, SST did released compilation of Black Flag material called “Everything Went Black” in 1983 and more legal action from Unicorn ensued, resulting both Ginn and Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski (who became a co-owner of SST) spending few days in jail. By late 1983 Unicorn went bankrupt and the label was free to release material once again.
SST went on to produce more records by the likes of Minutemen, Saccharine Trust and Meat Puppets and in the early 80s Minneapolis band Husker Du joined the label’s roster and became SST’s first non-west coast signing.
After the Unicorn’s dissolution, SST produced four Black Flag albums in 1984, as well as double releases by Minutemen and Husker Du (“Double Nickels On The Dime” and “Zen Arcade”, respectively). The label felt that “Zen Arcade” is going to be a hit, but since the label never made pressings of more than 5,000 copies of any releases, they printed no more than that number in initial pressing. As a result, the album remained out of print for a very long time.
By the mid 80s, Husker Du became on the label’s biggest stars, but the tension between SST and the label finally forced Husker Du to switch to a major. Their last record for SST was “New Day Rising” and all of their subsequent albums (1985 “Flip Your Wig” and 1987 “Warehouse: Songs And Stories”) came out on Warner Bros.
The band’s problems intensified with the tragic death of Minutemen’s lead singer D. Boon and breakup of both Minutemen and Black Flag. In their place, the label signed Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and Bad Brains with Gerard Cosloy (the owner of Dinosaur Jr’s previous label Homestead Records) commenting that “SST was the label everyone wanted to be on.”
In 1986 Ginn bought New Alliance – label that was run by Minutemen’s Mike Watt, which resulted in reissues of some of the label’s material by SST. Late 80s / early 90s also saw Ginn creating two sublabels for SST – one was Cruz Records, which released Ginn’s solo material, as well as records by ALL, Big Drill Car and Chemical People. The other one was short-lived Issues Records that was focused on spoken-word releases.
By the late 80s, SST started to decline in prominence as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. both left the label with former band signing with Enigma Records and latter signing with Blanco Y Negro label. 1991 brought a lawsuit against SST based on Negativland’s single “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” based on U2 song of the same name. The battle later became a basis for Negativland’s book “Fair Use: The Story Of The Letter U And The Numeral 2”.
By the mid 90s, SST deleted much of its jazz output and occasionally produced material by Ginn’s project. However, they still kept material by Black Flag, Minutement, fIREHOSE and many of label’s key bands in print. Few artists including Sonic Youth and Meat Puppets sued the label in order to reclaim their master recordings.
2002 saw Ginn signing a distribution deal with Koch Records and he also promised to release a number of new material by his projects. In 2006, the digital music distributor Orchard announced that 94 titles from SST back catalog will be available on services like EMusic and ITunes Music Store.
Selected label’s discography:
Year Band Album
1978 Black Flag Nervous Breakdown
1980 Minutemen Paranoid Time
1980 Black Flag Jealous Again
1981 Black Flag Thirsty And Miserable / Life Of Pain
1981 Minutemen The Punch Line
1981 Black Flag Six Pack
1981 Black Flag Damaged
1981 VA The Future Looks Bright
1982 Meat Puppets Meat Puppets
1982 Black Flag TV Party
1982 Minutemen What Makes A Men Start Fires?
1982 Black Flag Everything Went Black
1983 VA The Blasting Concept
1983 Minutemen Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat
1983 Dicks Kill From The Heart
1983 Subhumans No Wishes, No Prayers
1983 Husker Du Metal Circus
1983 Black Flag The First Four Years
1984 Meat Puppets Meat Puppets ||
1984 Saint Vitus Saint Vitus
1984 Black Flag My War
1984 Husker Du Eight Miles High
1984 Black Flag Family Man
1984 Husker Du Zen Arcade
1984 Minutemen Double Nickels On The Dime
1984 Black Flag Slip It In
1984 Black Flag Keep It In The Family
1984 Black Flag Loose Nut
1984 Minutemen The Politics Of Time
1985 Saint Vitus War Is Our Destiny
1985 Minutemen Courage
1985 Husker Du New Day Rising
1985 Minutemen My First Bells 1980-1983
1985 Minutemen Project Mersh
1985 Black Flag The Process Of Weeding Out
1985 Meat Puppets Up On The Sun
1985 Meat Puppets In A Car
1985 Black Flag In My Head
1985 Husker Du Makes No Sense At All / Love Is All Around
1985 Husker Du Flip Your Wig
1985 Minutemen 3-Way Tie (For Last)
1985 Descendents I Don’t Want To Grow Up
1986 VA Desperate Teenage Lovedolls
1986 VA The Blasting Concept Volume ||
1986 Meat Puppets Out My Way
1986 Minuteflag Minuteflag
1986 Sonic Youth EVOL
1986 Black Flag Who’s Got The 10 1/2?
1986 VA Lovedolls Superstar
1986 Bad Brains I Against I
1986 VA Program: Annihilator
1986 Minutemen Ballot Result
1986 fIREHOSE Ragin’ Full-On
1986 Sonic Youth Starpower
1986 Black Flag Annihilate This Week
1986 Saint Vitus Born Too Late
1986 Descendents Enjoy!
1987 Sonic Youth Confusion Is Sex
1987 Meat Puppets Mirage
1987 Blind Idiot God Blind Idiot God
1987 Descendents All
1987 Lee Ranaldo From Here To Infinity
1987 fIREHOSE If’n
1987 Henry Kaiser Devil In The Drain
1987 Saint Vitus Thirsty And Miserable
1987 Dinosaur Jr. You’re Living All Over Me
1987 Screaming Trees Even If And Especially When
1987 Negativland Escape From Noise
1987 Sonic Youth Sister
1987 Descendents Milo Goes To College
1987 Descendents Bonus Fat
1987 Descendents Two Things At Once
1987 Meat Puppets Huevos
1987 Dinosaur Jr. Little Fury Things
1987 Sonic Youth Master Dik / Beat On The Brat
1987 Descendents LiveAge!
1987 Black Flag Wasted Again
1987 Black Flag Louie Louie
1987 Husker Du Land Speed Record
1987 Minutemen Joy
1987 Minutemen Post-Mersh, Vol. 1
1987 Minutemen Post-Mersh, Vol. 2
1987 Minutemen Post-Mersh, Vol. 3
1988 Screaming Trees Invisible Lantern
1988 Soundgarden Ultramega O.K.
1988 Descendents Hallraker
1988 Volcano Suns Farced
1988 Dinosaur Jr. Bug
1988 Grant Hart 2541
1988 Dinosaur Jr. Freak Scene
1988 VA The Melting Plot
1988 Buffalo Tom Buffalo Tom
1988 Sonic Youth Sonic Death
1988 Trotsky Icepick Baby
1989 Grant Hart Intolerance
1989 Soundgarden Flower
1989 fIREHOSE fROMOHIO
1989 Trotsky Icepick Poison Summer
1989 No Man Win Instantly!
1989 Dinosaur Jr. Just Like Heaven
1989 Trotsky Icepick El Kabong
1989 Screaming Trees Buzz Factory
1989 Negativland Helter Stupid
1989 Meat Puppets Monsters
1989 Trotsky Icepick Danny And The Doorknobs
1989 Volcano Suns Thing Of Beauty
1989 Black Flag I Can See You
1990 VA Duck And Cover
1991 No Man How The West Was Won
1991 Negativland Guns
1991 Dinosaur Jr. Fossils
1991 Saint Vitus Heavier Than Thou