SST Electronics became SST Records in late 1978 when Greg Ginn required an outlet to release Nervous Breakdown EP. The EP had been recorded in 1978, and Ginn shopped it around to various labels. Only Bomp! was interested, but Ginn thought they were dragging their feet, so he decided to release the EP himself, as well as Black Flag’s 1980 EP Jealous Again. Embracing a DIY (“Do It Yourself”) ethic, SST’s employees/owners included Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski, their roadie Steve Corbin AKA Mugger, Joe Carducci (who also ran his own micro-label Thermidor Records), and The Minutemen’s Mike Watt.
The label was a prominent figure in the L.A. punk scene around 1980 and 1981, releasing more albums by Black Flag as well as The Minutemen, The Descendents, and The Stains.
After a few years, SST quickly branched to release albums by bands outside of the southern California area. The company was one of the key American independent record labels of the 1980s, releasing well-regarded albums, including a few undeniable classics, by Soundgarden, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Bad Brains, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Negativland and others. Also from the mid-1980s, albums were released from more experimental musicians or groups, including Elliott Sharp, Blind Idiot God, Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser.
In 1987, Ginn bought New Alliance Records from Mike Watt, who had founded the label with his best friend and Minutemen bandmate D. Boon. Ginn and SST proceeded to reissue some of New Alliance’s key releases - albums by The Descendents, Husker Du’s Land Speed Record, and all of The Minutemen’s non-SST releases - on SST. He then converted New Alliance to a label based around unusual jazz, rock, and spoken word releases.
In the early 90’s, Ginn started two SST-distributed sub-labels. The first, Cruz Records, released three solo records by Ginn in the space of a year, and also released records by All, Big Drill Car, Chemical People. The second, the short-lived Issues Records, concentrated on spoken-word releases, including a double album by basketball player Bill Walton with music by Ray Manzarek.
With the rise of alternative rock in the early 1990s, SST might have greatly benefitted by presenting themselves as godfathers of the scene, somewhat like Sub Pop did. However, a series of draining legal troubles nixed this possibility.
One of the earliest signs of trouble was not due to lawsuits, but due to what might have been a poor business decision. In the late 1980s, SST began releasing jazz records by several southern California ensembles. Some of it was quite good (Bazooka and Brother Weasel) while others were of dubious quality (Hotel X). This new direction was generally of little interest to fans expecting more punk rock from SST, while jazz fans were unlikely to look to a punk rock label, and those who did might have been put off by some of the middling records.
SST began to suffer an exodus of much of its classic back catalog because of disputes with some of the artists who charged that SST had not paid them proper royalties; several artists had to regain their masters from SST after pursuing legal action. The Meat Puppets were the first to sue; their albums were rereleased by Rykodisc. Sonic Youth claimed back their SST masters and sold them to Geffen Records, the major label they have been signed to since 1990. Dinosaur Jr’s SST releases have been reissued on Merge Records, and in 2005, Husker Du made similar claims of accounting irregularities, and are pursuing legal action against SST because they claim that they are owed large sums of money and do not know the sales numbers of their records released on the label.
In the most agonizing (and expensive) trial for SST, Negativland fought a long legal battle with SST in the wake of their sampling lawsuit over their notorious U2 single. The case was settled when Ginn and SST agreed to fully release most of Negativland’s masters (mainly their Over The Edge cassettes) in exchange for completing work on a live album that had been planned long before their legal battles began, and keeping Negativland’s three SST releases on the label for a short period (the copyright in those has since reverted to Negativland).
SST went into near-hibernation in the mid-90s, deleting much of their jazz output, and not releasing much in the way of new material, but still keeping the catalogs of Black Flag, The Minutemen, fIREHOSE, Husker Du, Soundgarden, The Descendents, and Bad Brains in print.
In 2002, Ginn signed a new distribution deal with Koch Records and promised that new material by his various musical projects was forthcoming, but these releases have yet to materialize.
On January 11, 2006, Independent digital music distributor The Orchard announced that 94 titles from SST’s back catalog would become available on digital services like eMusic and the iTunes Music Store.
Edited by ThadEnouf on 23 Jun 2006, 16:18
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