Label Profile – SST Records

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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!

1986              VA                         The Seven-Inch Wonders Of The World

1987              Sonic Youth          Confusion Is Sex

1987              Meat Puppets       Mirage

1987              VA                        No Age – A Compilation Of SST Instrumental Music

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


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