Label Me / No Idea Records

Words by Ricky

OK, you’ve probably noticed a slight lack of updates lately. I can’t speak for the whole DUL staff, but yeah, I’M BUSY. I mean…just swamped with work, band stuff, and life in general. I’m in the process of starting my own music blog called “Label Me.” Nah it’s not meant to compete with this or any other local blog. It’ll continue this ultra-nerdy concept of gushing about the best indie and punk record labels ever. You’ll love it–probably. Hopefully DUL content will resume again (if you’re interested in writing, you should contact Brendan). For now check out this little punk history lesson. You’re probably familiar with No Idea even if the name doesn’t ring a bell.

Florida gets a bad rep. They fucked up presidential elections, they passed laws written with the probable intention of jailing minorities, and they’re responsible for some of the most nauseating musicians ever. I know–give’em a break–just a bunch of lonely knitting grandmas, racist grandpas, and cartoon characters. OR IS IT? Just like Texas’ saving grace (Austin), Florida has a magical town where things make sense…it’s called Gainesville. The normally- tranquil college town breaks loose for a few days every November when flannel-clad punk rockers from around the world infect the town with their Black Flag tattoos, impressive iPod playlists, and endless cases of PBR. Hundreds of incredible bands will overtake the town’s venues, art spaces, bars, and clubs for the 12th annual Fest this week. The Fest, a D.I.Y. music festival, is noted for its deep ties with one of the greatest punk record labels of the past few decades: No Idea Records.

Before we continue, take the quiz…

No Idea Records is a label crowded with band dudes in love with
a) Growing beards
b) Drinking beer
c) Playing gigs with no shirts on
d) The film Repo Man
e) All the above

Hopefully No Idea fans will appreciate the douchy sarcasm. But yeah, answers a, b, and c, make a bit of sense, and then everyone loves Repo Man, so it’s ‘All the above!’

Oddly enough, like many independent labels, the founders’ original plan wasn’t to release music at all. In 1985, Var Thelin and comic artist Ken Coffelt started a local fanzine. They had “no idea” what to call it…so, yep…there’s the zine title. Smart asses. Thelin soon wrote to Dischord, Destroy Records, and some other underground record labels (who actually mattered) and asked them how one prints and promotes records. With the new knowledge, Thelin switched focus from writing about music to releasing music. No Idea’s first 7,” a single by Gainesville hardcore act Doldrums, was tucked into the zine’s sixth issue.

By the early 90s, hoards of 7”s by killer acts like Radon, Jawbreaker, and Samiam spewed buzzing bar chords and lightning-fast drum beats far outside the confines of Gainesville. No Idea’s next idea? Full-length CDs (hell it was the 90s…why not)! Spoke’s Done came out in ’93, and since then the label has pummeled young underground music dorks with albums that generally fall in line with the best hardcore, post-hardcore, or “emocore” out there. Familiar names like Less Than Jake, Hot Water Music, Against Me!, Defiance, Ohio, and Atom and His Package all joined the growing No Idea family through the years.

So even the greatest indie labels sometimes sold out (for lack of a better phrase) and fucked over bands or fans over tactless decisions (see SST Records) or charged steep prices or succumbed to major label d-bags. It happens…hell it’s ambitious to start a label with the intention of doing things the “Dischord way” and remaining 100% independent anymore.

No Idea has, for 28 years, done it the right way.

For example, Thelin & company favored handshakes over record contracts (paper’s wasteful anyways). Thelin also hated bar codes printed on bands’ releases. It wasn’t because some of weird anti-capitalistic stance…he just thought it looked ugly and messed with the album’s visual aesthetic. FAIR POINT. So no bar codes printed on No Idea releases (a few larger releases have BCs taped to the outer plastic, but that won’t change unless folks quit shopping at Best Buy or Walmart).

They also dug the look of the physical records themselves. Each No Idea album surprises the buyer with a beguiling color. It’s pretty rad when you spin an album and your friend walks up to the turntable and says, “ooooh that looks so pretty!”

OK, so how does The Fest fit into this whole thing?

In 2002, inspired by other smaller D.I.Y. music fests, No Idea publicist Tony Weinbender organized the first Fest. The Fest wasn’t for music critics, or industry snobs, or asshats at music fests who talk through your favorite band’s set. Its remained an event for the real music fans…fans who already let most of the bands sleep on their couches or play in their basements on tour or fans who wear out each band’s t-shirts until they’re rags. I’ve never been to a Fest, so hopefully next year will be my first. You can discover more Fest info below, but unless you’re already in Gainesville, you’ll probably have to wait till next year bro…things are starting today.

Looking back, No Idea dropped over 300 releases. Their roster now includes classic acts like Lifetime, Seaweed, and Leatherface, and they’ve kept that connection with fans by keeping their classic albums in print and sponsoring a new Fest each year. And yes, the label’s still alive doing its thing in Gainesville today.

Alright, so that was some basic info…now time to put my money where the ole’ mouth is…here are ten favorite No Idea albums.

Spoke, Done (1993)
So I was writing this blog post and thought, “I should check out the first album released on the label, since I’d never heard it before.” Ya know…research. So I jam Done, and holy shit. Picture your favorite early-90’s underground indie rock band, but FASTER and LOUDER–with a bit more Bob Mould-like SCREAMING. Holy CAPS LOCK why haven’t I heard this before?!

1. Spoke / Mareado Dark/City Sister

Hot Water Music, Fuel for the Hate Game (1997)
Drop a metalhead, a straight edge dude, and random punk rockers in a room until they create some rhythmically and melodically intense songs raw enough to boot you in the ass and leave some marks. Then slap on a Bukowski-influenced band name, and then release seven albums and a buttload of EPs/singles, and eventually, yeah, you get it. Thousands of high school sub-par suburban punk bands tried to imitate them, but you can’t fuck with Hot Water Music.

2. Hot Water Music / Freightliner

I Hate Myself, 10 Songs (1997)
Soooo these guys might be my fave on No Idea…which makes sense…the label wouldn’t be the same without the Marburger brothers (they played on at least 15 other No Idea releases). Minimal artwork/album credits. No album/EP titles (and often no song titles). Some say the trio was poking fun at the overly-sentimental “emo” bands of the time (their sarcastic name alone should settle that assumption). Listen to this, and then seek out Love Songs; it’s the album by one of the Marburger bro’s post-IHM bands, Die Hoffnung.

3. I Hate Myself / And Keep Reaching for Those Stars

Radon, 28 (1998)
It’s ok…you can chuck most of those pop punk albums in your collection…you probably won’t listen to them for awhile…but not this one! Take a listen to “Grandma’s Cootie” for a lesson in how to write a real rock song. Classic band. Great album.

4. Radon / Grandma’s Cootie

Fracture, Discography (1999)
I planned to include Against Me! on this list because, well, they revitalized the label in the early 00′s, plus they’re probably the most well known current No Idea band at the moment. Then I remembered a much better band: Fracture. Their blasts of screaming hardcore capture the soundtrack of fucked up punky kids growing up everywhere (maybe not on the Descendents-level, but still), and this anthology combines all their recorded music, so, you know, if you are/were a fucked up kid growing up, here you go.

5. Fracture / Because I’m Fucking Invisible

Small Brown Bike, Our Own Wars (1999)
These Michigan guys grew up fixing bikes. Then they formed a band and became one of the label’s best kept secrets. Super accessible post-hardcore with booming vocals and melodic guitar lines. Even their newest (more “mature”) album from a year or two ago raised the hairs on the back of my neck (until I shaved and took care of that). Our Own Wars remains their best.

6. Small Brown Bike / Running, Swimming & Sinking

Twelve Hour Turn, The Victory of Flight (1999)
They’re like if Small Brown Bike played a tribute set of Unwound songs. Much more discordant and weirder than the other bands on this list. Just my style!

7. Twelve Hour Turn / How To Build

Planes Mistaken for Stars, Fuck with Fire (2001)
I’m a sucker for sweaty, hair-flying, brutal bands with duel guitarists who both melodically shred. I’d say more, but we’re nearing the end of the list, and I’m getting lazy.

8. Planes Mistaken for Stars / Funeral for a Friend

Floor, Floor (2002)
Other bands on the label played faster or screamed louder—but no one’s HEAVIER than Floor. Two low-tuned guitars and some roaring drums are all it takes to shake your pretty little face right off that skull. They’re also probably the only stoner metal band with a song called “Twink,” so they get points for that.

9. Floor / Night Full of Kicks

The Bomb, Speed is Everything (2009)
Any fans of Naked Raygun (Chicago’s all-time greatest punk band)’s more melodic tendencies will shit bricks for The Bomb–Jeff Pezzati’s post-Raygun band. They even keep all the “oohhs” and “aaahs” backing vocals. The great Steve Albini produced–I MEAN–recorded their early stuff, but J. Robbins (Jawbox) helmed the studio for this one–the songs are a bit stronger and THE ENTIRE ALBUM (seriously every song) rules. If only the album cover didn’t look like a poster for a new Paul Haggis movie, this would be perfect.

10. The Bomb / Spaceman

That’s it for now, but chime in with some comments, and definitely check out the other No Idea/Fest-related info below!

More Info on No Idea/The Fest:
No Idea Records
The Fest
Tony Weinbender Interview
Pitt Bands Playing this Year’s Fest

6 Responses to “Label Me / No Idea Records”

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  6. thanks for the words Rick.

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