Punk for Life
TKO Records head honcho Mark Rainey knows how good OC punks have it, even if they don't.
What's the label's story?
The label started in the spring of 1997 in San Francisco. Back then we were really focusing on a scene of bands that were primarily based in San Francisco. Through the bands touring and networking, we got in touch with bands from around the country. We had a run of about five or six years in SF. When that all petered out like most punk scenes do, I ended up moving my family and the label to Richmond, Virginia, for a few years. Around 2004, I was really dissatisfied with not being hooked up with a local scene anymore, because Richmond, Virginia, is not a super arts-friendly town, let alone punk-rock-friendly. All the while I'd been maintaining working relationships with bands like the Stitches and Smogtown. Then we started working with Broken Bottles and Smut Peddlers, and all of a sudden there was a concentration of bands in one place for us to work with, and it just made sense to come back to California. That brought us to Orange County. We got here in the fall of '04. We don't have plans to go anywhere else. We currently have about 25 active bands scattered all over.
What description sums up the TKO sound or a TKO band?
The TKO attitude now is abrasive punk rock typically appealing to and played by lifers—people who've been involved with this for 10-plus years.
Did you have any expectations about the area before moving to OC?
I tried to keep an open mind, because being out in Virginia, we were really out of touch. Southern California has probably the largest and longest sustained punk scene in the world, so it was kind of like coming back to the hub. It definitely was the right thing to do for the label.
How about being based in a more conservative area like OC, rather than LA?
It doesn't affect the label. It affects me living down here. It takes getting used to being in Reagan County and having the mayor of Costa Mesa spearheading the anti-immigration movement. It's like living in a bad science-fiction movie. But the scene down here is so strong. I think it's because so much money was made in the mid-'90s on punk. I haven't seen any problems with the police or local government trying to stop what we're doing.
Do you have any advice for people starting a bedroom record label?
TKO is really only one step away from that. We have an office, but it's an office/warehouse. We have to change how we're doing things every few months. We have to stay nimble and change with the times. We really have to hustle now—doing direct Web sales, licensing songs to TV, movies, action sports stuff. We're doing trade and distributing other labels' stuff now. One of the things we're planning to do in the next couple months is move the operation to a storefront. The first third would be a retail store, and we'd continue with the label and mail-order out of the back. We're hoping to have that going by June. As far as advice to startup labels . . . I want to salute anyone who's got the guts to try to start a record label now. We definitely started with the best of conditions—Clinton was in office, our fan base had disposable income, downloading hadn't wrecked CD sales yet, punk was the popular thing for a few years. Now it's a lot hairier. Times like this test who is committed and who's involved in this stuff for the right reasons.
Do you have any local favorites?
Vinyl Solution is an institution as far as record stores around here, and they're still sticking it out. I've been a fan of that store for years. The Stitches, Smogtown, Smut Peddlers, Broken Bottles, 46 Short—our home team down here, obviously they're all favorites of ours. There are a few new bands doing interesting stuff—Bad Reaction, Rabies, Tipper's Gore, Neon Maniacs. And the Crowd and the Gears—the old guard. Without them I doubt that any of us would be here. The Puke N Vomit Records label in Anaheim, that's a great operation. Radiation Records is another really great store.
What's in your future?
The future is really survival. We want to keep doing this while keeping our integrity and keeping it fun. For now we're good—if we can keep making the rent.
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