Who the Hell Is Dennis Smith?
RÉSUMÉ: Co-founder of OC indie microchain Bionic Records. Only good music is sold here, none of that Celine Dion bullpuckey.
SECRET SORDID HISTORY: Smith, 35, came from Peer Records, which at one time, we're told, was the place in OC to buy underground music (that's what "alternative" used to be called, kids). Looking to do a few things differently, like concentrating less on hits-which are almost always worthless, anyway-and more on punk and hard-to-find records, he opened the first Bionic Records in Cypress in 1989. The Huntington Beach store followed in '91, and a Fullerton one bowed in '93.
HELP YOU FIND ANYTHING? He stole a lot of his clerking crew from rival stores. They're all sharp music junkies who actually seem to know what they're talking about and don't stare at you with heroin-shot eyes and ask, "What's a Sex Pistol?" as they practice picking their noses (or some other body cavity). The Bionic payroll has ballooned to 25, and Smith won't hire someone unless he feels that person can tell him something he doesn't already know about music. When it's time to place new orders, everyone has a say-they know what will sell and what will stiff.
MY FART WILL GO ON: Actually, Bionic does occasionally carry gruesome turd like Dion. Usually, though, they just wind up putting it in the used section, in case kids come in looking for a cheap gift for their parents.
LAME CRAP THAT CUSTOMERS TRY TO SELL FOR RENT/DRUG MONEY:A lot of used K-TEL stuff. People are embarrassed to bring in stuff that's totally bad. But Bionic does take Disney stuff, which Smith always brings home to his 3-year-old.
FREAKY CUSTOMER TALES: There was this guy who used to come into the Cypress store every afternoon saying he was the Rainbow Man. He'd play with his mustache and start going off about how he was "the source"; the conversation never seemed to go much deeper. Then there was the lady who said she was Danny Elfman's girlfriend. Every time she was in the store, she'd walk into the windows or posters. When she tried to pee in a backroom, the clerks called the cops.
FREE ADVERTISING PAYS: When the Offspring were blowing up back in 1994-'95, Bionic stores got calls from people around the country wanting the same $10 Bionic shirts the band wore in their videos and photos. They wound up selling around 1,000 of them. Better that than some silly B.U.M. Equipment T-shirt.
VIVA VINYL! Vinyl records are moving well and getting better, but Smith has no clue where people are finding the turntables to spin them on.
"COLLECTIBLES" AND "IMPORTS": They used to carry a lot of bootlegs. It was great for a while-but not worth getting raided over, so they dropped them.
WHY THOSE STUPID PARENTAL-WARNING STICKERS DON'T WORK: He doesn't have a problem selling stickered stuff to kids, who've heard all those naughty words on the playground at school by the time they hit third grade, anyway. Ironically, when parents come back upset because their kid bought something with an F-bomb on it, frequently, the CD wasn't labeled in the first place.
CURRENTLY BLOWING OUT THE DOOR: The Long Beach Dub All Stars, but-shameless cross-promotion-one of the guys in the band works at Bionic. Zebrahead and the Kottonmouth Kings are the hot local titles, proof that even indie-store shoppers have incredibly bad taste. Neo-swing things like the Brian Setzer Orchestra and the Royal Crown Revue are also going strong-oh, the humanity!
OLD SCHOOL: Garden Grove native Smith is a recovering OC punker from back in the day. He used to hang out a lot at Fender's Ballroom in the LBC, and he remembers a particularly rowdy GBH/Circle Jerks show where he and a buddy were chased through the streets of downtown Long Beach by an angry mob. He doesn't remember why.
EVOLUTION OR DE-EVOLUTION? Fifteen years ago, Smith was into Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. Now he's into the Cherry Poppin' Daddies and a lot of retro-swing bands. Hmmm. . . .
BAD COP-NO DOUGHNUT: Bionic used to do in-store appearances with bands, but they kept getting shut down by the Man. The Fullerton store hosted a No Doubt in-store when Tragic Kingdom was released. Fans stuffed the parking lot, and the cops came down wanting to arrest everybody, even though there was no fighting or anything arrest-worthy going down. No Doubt got through six songs before the plug got yanked.
THERE'S A RIOT (NOT) GOIN' ON: A few months ago, the Cypress Bionic staged a huge in-store with break dancers, skate demos and One Hit Wonder. A thousand people showed, and because nothing even remotely interesting like that ever happens in Cypress, so did the cops, who arrived to model the latest in riot-gear fashions. Once again, there was no brawling, just a bunch of kids having fun. But then some people flipped a prop car over to skate on, and the cops flipped out. Thinking it was LA Riot: The Sequel, they whipped out their bean-bag shotguns and pointed them at Bionic staffers, including Smith. Everyone was pissed-even the parents, who were complaining and yelling, trying to convince the police that everything was under control. Eventually, heads cooled, and things turned out okay, but it'll be a while before Bionic does anything like that again.
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