Lookout! Records, the seminal Berkeley punk rock record label, is officially no more. You can pack up and go home now, the ’90s have finally ended.
Some people think about the Free Speech Movement, the university or annoying hippies when they think about the East Bay. These people deserve pity, because they don’t know they should be thinking about Lookout! and all its artists — they surely know Green Day, right? — 924 Gilman Street, Cometbus, Maximumrocknroll, and Jawbreaker. Lookout! is the East Bay. Punk rockers of a certain age remember being shocked when Tim Yo stripped Lookout! founder Larry Livermore (yes) of his MRR column, only to ensure Larry would forever take shots at Tim once he began residency in Punk Planet — to say nothing of the feuding in print with Ben Weasel, leader of Lookout!’s most successful non-Green Day (and non-Berkeley) band, Screeching Weasel. For my teenaged self, it was like reading mythology. Berkeley was a mecca, although a wise man from the Bay Area once taught me that this ain’t no mecca, maaaaaan, this place is fucked.
Lookout! was also part of an important experiment in indie culture: it was one of several punk labels that proved it build and maintain a promotion and distribution network independent of the corporate music industry while paying their artists something resembling livable wages. Sort of. The truth was more complicated, since a great deal of Lookout!’s financial decisionmaking was possible because of the torrent of revenue it got from owning Green Day’s back catalogue. My understanding is the Operation Ivy guys were dissatisfied with their residuals, prompting Tim Armstrong to eventually buy the catalogue back from Lookout!. To talk about shit I don’t really know about, it’s hard to imagine any record label with national distribution is truly independent of the music industry. And of course, when the music industry restructures itself, the independent labels are particularly vulnerable.
So goodbye to Lookout!, and thanks for the second Ted Leo record; for My Brain Hurts and Boogadaboogadaboogada; for the Avail trilogy of Dixie, 4 a.m. Friday and even poor underappreciated Over The James; for the early Donnas material; for the best (Young) Pioneers EP; for Pinhead Gunpowder, the band Fifteen and Green Day should have been #shotsfired; for Filth, because I made myself like them out of a sense of completism; for the Criminals 10″, even though I bought it mistakingly thinking a different Jesse from Berkeley was the singer; for the queercore pioneers of Pansy Division, who redefined the world of punning with their Nine Inch Males EP, ironically released on a 7″; for the Blatz/Filth split EP; for the Screeching Weasel/Born Against split EP which I believe started the trend of bands that sound different covering each other’s songs on splits; for the legendary Bratmobile, who, aside from their more enduring contributions, produced my favorite “Where Eagles Dare” cover; and on and on. (Neurosis! They were on Lookout! too, right?)