January 29, 2003

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Thrashamundo
Local punk label owners band together for the "Super Sabado Gigante" music fest.

By George Chen

LIKE MICHAEL CORLEONE , Max Ward of the label 625 Thrashcore keeps trying to get out of the business, but they keep pulling him back in. This week, they is Tokyo band Breakfast, and the "business" is driving the group down the west coast after they play the inaugural "Super Sabado Gigante" festival this weekend.

"Bands on my label or bands that just want to come to California will write me, and I'll lay it out," Ward says. " 'OK, it's different from Japan for these reasons: One, you're gonna probably lose your ass. Two, we're going to have to do a lot of shows, the drives are long, the shows might be small.' " It's what Ward calls a crash course in the American hardcore experience. "Maybe two or three times a year I do it, and then at the end of those I go, 'God, I'm never doing that again.' And then three months later, somehow ..."

As it is for the fictional Corleone, the business is in Ward's blood, only he isn't really trying to get out. Neither is Athena Kautsch of Six Weeks Records or Ken Sanderson of Prank. The three have collectively been involved in punk for longer than the genre's 25 years of existence, running labels, playing in bands, writing for zines, and booking shows. Their latest brainchild is "Super Sabado Gigante," which is bringing bands like Breakfast and Scotland's Shank to California.

Deep roots

It may be surprising that a first-time music festival could draw international bands, but the lineup for "Super Sabado Gigante" can be accounted for through its organizers' deep roots in the Bay Area underground. Menlo Park native Ward has played in bands since the late 1980s, most notably Plutocracy, Spazz, Capitalist Casualties, What Happens Next?, and Scholastic Deth. Kautsch, now a high school teacher in Cotati, recalls her band the Dread playing with one of Ward's bands at the Pony Express in Redwood City 13 years ago. A former Mordam Records employee, Sanderson knew the musicians and everyone involved in their scene when he moved to the Bay Area in 1992 from Auburn, Ala.

As a booker at 924 Gilman during the '90s, Sanderson had a hand in "Super Sabado" 's predecessor, the annual "Fiesta Grande," which was first put on in 1992 by Slap a Ham label head Chris Dodge, who also played in Spazz. Slap a Ham and "Fiesta Grande" had a reputation for promoting bands full of speed, aggression, and obtuse humor, spawning the generic nickname "power violence." By the last "Fiesta Grande" in 2000 (also the last show for Spazz), crowds were starting to overwhelm the 500-person-capacity Gilman. With its popularity outgrowing its humble origins, Dodge retired the festival and Slap a Ham, moving to southern California and continuing musical projects in the punk and noise realms.

The scene that Slap a Ham spawned has taken on a life of its own since Dodge's first releases at the end of the 1980s. "At the time, especially for the area and the U.S., it was such an unusual time in punk," Ward says. "A lot of people got away from the more aggressive and fast stuff, so when he started releasing some of this stuff, he just happened to be getting demos from new bands or releasing records from bands that were kind of overlooked. When the pendulum swung back in, like, '91, '92, Chris had all these bands that ... holy shit, defined the whole scene." Alumni from the first five "Fiesta Grande" festivals are documented on 1997's Fiesta Comes Alive compilation, which includes such seminal groups as Crossed Out, Man Is the Bastard, and Locust.

As the world of aggressive hardcore had once turned to the Bay Area as a home base, events like "Fiesta Grande" started popping up in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Sanderson decided it was time to revive the tradition in the Bay Area. The Alabama native had been organizing a festival for Prank Records bands in Atlanta, because of his connection with South Carolina's Guyana Punch Line and Georgia's Kylesa, among others. "It was kind of a drag, 'cause it got to be like there was one sound – there were eight bands that all had a similar sound," Sanderson says.

Sanderson feels that the advantage of collaborating with Kautsch and Ward is that "even though people would look on the face of it and go, 'Oh, it's all hardcore punk labels,' I think there's some really distinct differences between each of our labels and sounds." Six Weeks, for instance, is a partnership between Kautsch and her husband, Jeff Robinson, that also handles some of the back catalog for Capitalist Casualties. Prank recently licensed the vinyl catalog of the label Born Against from Vermiform and has continued to keep scene favorites such as Dead and Gone, Grimple, and Dropdead in print. Lately 625 has become a conduit for Ward to release records by Malaysian and Indonesian bands, none of whom could afford to fly out for the festival.

Taking its name from a Telemundo variety show, "Super Sabado Gigante" remains something of a family affair. Kautsch's band Voetsek is playing, as is Dodge's new band Burn Your Bridges. Ward has the distinction of having performed at every single "Fiesta Grande," so he welcomes the relative respite of only being responsible for organizing the fest and driving Breakfast around California. The busy trio take pains to make collective decisions, even choosing to be interviewed as a group. They also try not to play favorites with their artists: rather than making booking decisions based on popularity or scene hierarchy, they took the egalitarian approach of letting bands play in order of distance traveled to attend the festival.

Loud, fast rules

Those who have made it this far and can't differentiate "grindcore" or "crustcore" from "math metal" need not fear the unknown. It doesn't take much more than an enthusiasm for the loud and fast to enjoy the propulsive snottiness of Reagan SS or the juvenile humor of Pennsylvania's Crucial Unit. Admirers of San Francisco's art-damaged scene should be at home with the absurdist manifestos of Guyana Punch Line, who are more about skating than about scatology. Breakfast sound more like the Minutemen than like their noisier, crazier Japanese contemporaries, and Reno, Nev.'s Iron Lung make a hellacious grind out of the guitar-and-drum-duo setup. Kylesa's sludgy metal approach puts me more in mind of grunge lords than their scary skeletal record art would indicate. That aside, "Super Sabado Gigante" captures a staunchly underground scene that receives little press outside of fanzines and the Internet, and an anticorporate, self-sufficient festival is a refreshing rarity in the day of large events dependent on sponsorship money.

The three labels pooled their money to make a one-sided compilation EP of "Super Sabado Gigante" bands to be sold only to festival attendees. Their goal is solely to make back their initial manufacturing costs and give the profits to the bands, softening the financial blow of making the trip to California. Although the compilation will doubtlessly help its contributors, there are plenty of opportunists within the ranks. A test pressing of the 12-inch made its way to eBay more than two weeks before the show. Perhaps it's the nature of the scene's status and its overwhelmingly male audience that leads to a fanboy/collector mentality similar to that of the comic book world.

Despite the spoilers, the trio are hyped to have a festival with international acts and attendees and $5 all-ages shows. It's an extension of the DIY philosophy that keeps their label endeavors afloat. As Ward says he explains to his CPA at the end of every fiscal year, " 'Well, I made it by a few hundred dollars this year.' Go explaining that to the IRS, they're probably like, "What the fuck are you doing? You're horrible at this!' " "Super Sabado Gigante" 's glass of energy drink may look more than half empty to an accountant, but for the fans and the labels, there's more than enough left over to keep the scene afloat and buzzed.

'Super Sabado Gigante'

Municipal Waste, Guyana Punch Line, Born Dead, Kylesa, Iron Lung, Voetsek, and Case of Emergency play Thurs/30, 7:30 p.m., Burnt Ramen Studios, 21st St. at Chanslor Ave., Richmond. Kungfu Rick, Breakfast, Crucial Unit, Guyana Punch Line, and Artimus Pyle play Fri/31, 8 p.m., 924 Gilman, Berk. Shank, Municipal Waste, Kylesa, Holier Than Thou, Reagan SS, and Burn Your Bridges play Sat/1, 8 p.m., 924 Gilman, Berk. For more information and other shows, go to www.625thrash.com/supersabado.shtml.