The turbulent history of influential independent label SST Records told

A wise man once said “it’s a long way to the top if you want rock n roll”. But once you get there, it’s also a long hard road.

In Corporate Rock Sucks, Jim Ruland provides a detailed account of how SST Records went from a selling point to releasing records by Black Flag and their South Bay pals to one of the biggest independent labels. 1980s before collapsing in on itself and, arguably, becoming just another cog in the corporate rock machine.

Corporate rock sucks


Corporate Rock Sucks

“For a while, SST Records was the most important label on the planet,” writes Ruland, a California-based journalist who cut his teeth in punk rock zines before co-writing Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion (with the band) and my damage with Keith Morris (of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and Off!). “Even those who criticize the label for its business practices (and its owner’s propensity to sue its artists) grudgingly acknowledge SST’s rich history.”

Founded by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn in 1979 to release the band’s first EP, Nervous breakdown, the label went on to release seminal underground records by the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Soundgarden, Bad Brains, and the Meat Puppets, among others. In the meantime, Ginn and his associates at SST, often punk and underground musicians themselves, paved the way for countless other independent musicians, bands and labels to follow in their wake, including Sub Pop Records and Nirvana (which SST notoriously decided not to sign).

SST, through Black Flag and other dedicated tours, also established a DIY network to get this music out there, though it wasn’t easy.

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<p>sound garden</p>
<p>“It took a special type of performer to leave everything on stage every night and still have the means to help run a small business – while traveling hundreds and thousands of miles in the company of people with whom you spend all your waking hours,” Ruland admits. “(But Ginn) didn’t create a record company to release music that suited his personal tastes; rather, he created a community that reflected his values. as his list grew, so did his influence.			</p>
<p>But all was not rosy.  Over time, as many of the early SST partners left (or were ousted) and the operation began to mirror many of the worst traits of the major labels it had originally planned to take on.  Ruland details a long list of complaints from various artists who once called SST home, from missed royalty payments to lackluster (or no effort at all) marketing efforts and worse, a number of artists ending their relationship with the label in court.			</p>
<p>“SST represented what a group of outsiders could accomplish when they believed in what they were doing and committed to the cause,” Ruland says.  “(But) not everyone on the label was drinking the Kool-Aid.  Some artists thought SST was simply beating corporate rock at its own game.”			</p>
<p>Using in-depth interviews, both original and archival, Ruland has both pieced together a narrative that can both be enjoyed by the casual reader and facilitate any further research into 1980s underground rock music. While readers of other writings on the subject – especially those of Henry Rollins <em>Get in the van</em>Michael Azeraad <em>Our band could be your life </em>or the memoirs of Mark Lanegan <em>Sing backwards and cry</em>for example – will find Ruland covering a lot of familiar ground, the author does a great job of tying together the various threads at play to tell the definitive story of SST Records, while also highlighting many works by lesser-known artists on the OHS List.			</p>
<p>Sheldon Birnie is a reporter for the Free Press Community Review and author of Missing Like Teeth: An oral history of Winnipeg underground rock 1990-2001.			</p>
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<p>Brantley Gutierrez / Fat Possum Records</p>
<p>Dinosaur Jr.</p>
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<p>Brantley Gutierrez / Fat Possum Records</p>
<p>Dinosaur Jr.</p>
<div class=
Sheldon Birnie

Sheldon Birnie
Community journalist

Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. Author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), her writing has been published in journals and online platforms across Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom Husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and recreational hockey when he finds the time. Email him at [email protected] Call him at 204-697-7112

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