I’ve always sort of imagined the birth of Lookout Records and the opening of the Gilman Street Project as the birth of the sound I think of when I think of East Bay/Berkeley/pop punk. I know there were things happening before that, (um…this entire post is about those things) but when I think of pop punk’s origin story, that time and that place is pretty much the starting point.
All of the bands on this tape predate Lookout and Gilman. A lot of them went on to release records on Lookout. Some or most of them played at Gilman. One of them was the first band to ever play the venue. Altho they’re not directly related in terms of who put them out or what label they were on, I tend to think of this tape almost as the Reservoir Dogs to The Thing That Ate Floyd’s Pulp Fiction. Less well known, less money spent on production, less polished. Some of the same actors, some of the same or related characters.
I first learned of this tape a few years ago online somewhere. A few weeks later, it popped up on ebay. There’s no way I was letting this one go, but either it flew under everyone’s radar, the seller didn’t list it very well, no one gave a shit, or some combination of the above, because I got it for way less than I was expecting to pay. From what I understand from the internet and the liner notes, it’s a tape comp released on Aaron Cometbus’s tape label, with songs from other tapes and records, including some released via his own BBT Tapes. (Anyone know what BBT stands for?) Between low/no budget recording, and 30 years of magnetic tape storage, sound quality on some of these tracks is obviously less than a stellar vinyl/CD rip of a studio recording. Some of them almost painfully so. But considering that a lot of these bands had no other official recorded release, I’m happy to have this. It’s by no means a complete history, but it is a great sample of what was happening musically in Berkeley prior to the pop punk/punk explosion of the late 80’s/early 90’s.
This tape (for me) is sort of a look back at what led directly into that time. I’ve thought a lot about what the East Bay must have been like. There are a few bands on here that you’ll recognize, (Crimpshrine, Sweet Baby Jesus, Kamala And The Karnivores*, Soup, Spent, the Vagrants, and two songs by pre-Op Ivy’s Basic Radio), and a ton you won’t. But thankfully, Aaron’s ability and desire to get this stuff out includes a pretty good writeup of which bands are who and how they’re connected to each other in the liner notes. Are there hits? Goes without saying, doesn’t it? Are there misses? Certainly, but it’s tough to classify anything as a “miss” if you’re looking at this as more of a document of a time and a place than of a killer album. It’s definitely not something I put on all the time. I don’t even put it on regularly. I’ve probably listened to this 6 or 7 times since I got it and ripped it. That said, it’s sort of like looking at baby pictures of your friends. I dare you to listen to Basic Radio and not think of a teenage Tim and Matt writing songs, not knowing they’d go on to be in Operation Ivy and then Rancid for the next 30 years. I grew up listening to a lot of music that bands on this tape inspired or turned into.