S.F.'s Prank Records Is Only Getting More Hardcore With Age
Name: Prank Records
Owner: Ken Sanderson
Headquarters: Richmond District, San Francisco
Label one-sheet: Prank Records is a prolific hardcore punk label based in San Francisco that boasts 136 releases from bands worldwide since its inception 1995. Bay Area bands play a pivotal role in the label's development, and owner Ken Sanderson has been deeply entrenched in the local punk scene since he arrived in 1992. As a longtime contributor to Maximumrocknroll and busy booking agent of DIY shows for both touring and local bands, punk ideology is heavily engrained in his work.
Creation story: As a college radio DJ in remote Auburn, Alabama, Sanderson hosted Oakland's seminal Neurosis and suddenly found himself as a booking agent in a small town with no proper punk venues. Following the Bay Area connection he accidentally established, Sanderson moved here in 1992 and quickly became heavily involved in the local punk scene as an employee of Mordam Distribution, a booking agent at 924 Gilman St., and Maximumrocknroll columnist. Despite such involvement, Sanderson still felt the urge to embark upon a project of his own founding and decided upon a record label.
First release: TV Baby, the first album from Oakland's Dead and Gone was Prank's first release in 1995. It combines the dark hardcore aspects of Bay Area groups like Christ on Parade and Neurosis with particularly wretched vocals. Impressively, bleakness and maladjustment has been a consistent thread in Prank's discography since. Over the year, the label built and maintained relationships with many bands and musicians. For instance, members of Dead and Gone would later form Talk Is Poison, whose releases Prank arranged as well.
Musical focus: Simply put, Prank is focused on hardcore punk, but beneath that moniker is a variety of disparate styles. Prank's catalog nearly runs the gamut of what could be considered hardcore punk since the mid-'90s. Early on, Prank released two albums by His Hero Is Gone, a group that seamlessly encapsulated the 90's zeitgeist of blending of depressive, slow, and sludgy metal with assertive blast-beats. Prank has released fiercely political anarcho-punk from the likes of Antischism, cheeky hardcore by Born Against, crust punk from Grimple, Swedish D-beat from Totalitar, Japanese noisecore from Gauze and Assfort, and even power-violence. The micro-genres within hardcore punk carry on ad infinitum, and Prank has done more than dabble in most. Regarding the consistently bleak and aggressive nature of Prank's releases, Sanderson says his taste for negative music actually intensifies with age. He even goes so far as to quip, "Don't like thrash? Better hope to not get the room next to me in the nursing home!"
Punk ideology: Sanderson says punk ideology is nearly as crucial to the label as the music itself. Without wavering, Sanderson qualifies Prank's punk ethos as, "no corporate interference or investment, anti-authoritarian, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic intent [and] pro-vegetarian." While not all of the groups on Prank's roster are overtly political in their lyrics, they operate within the framework of the fiercely independent and politically conscious punk community.
As a label founded before the proliferation of digital downloading, Sanderson recalls being told he needed a new "business plan" around the turn of the century. While such suggestions were well-intended, an exclusively punk record label isn't subject to quite the same ailments as the larger music industry. Or as Sanderson explains, "It's fucking punk rock, man. There is no business plan. The business plan is fighting the man and destroying the system!"
Recent activity: Sanderson's role in the punk community extends beyond simply releasing records. He organized a series of festivals in Austin called Prankfest that evolved into the now gargantuan punk festival Chaos in Tejas. Although the financial overhead is significantly greater and city policy is less lenient regarding live music, Sanderson is continuing Prankfest this year in the Bay Area. Headliners for the weekend of Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 include the reformed Dropdead, Iron Lung, Citizens Arrest, and a slew of locals including Replica, Hunting Party, No Statik, and Effluxus.
Most recent release: The debut full-length of local act No Statik, entitled Everywhere You Aren't Looking is one of Prank's most recent releases. The group's unpredictable song structures and chaotic but proficient instrumental performances deftly recall the strongest aspects of noisy '90s hardcore, but it's the feral and harsh female vocals that make No Statik one of the Bay Area's most intense punk bands both live and on record.