Detail from 'Can of Pork,' an early Lookout Records compilation. Illustration: Chris Appelgren
Detail from 'Can of Pork,' an early Lookout Records compilation. (Illustration: Chris Appelgren)

A Celebration of Lookout Records' Weirder, More Obscure Roots

A Celebration of Lookout Records' Weirder, More Obscure Roots

Ask Alex Botkin which band from Lookout Records' roster he most wishes would get back together, and you won't hear familiar names like Operation Ivy, Crimpshrine, or the Donnas.

"This band Eyeball," Botkin says, "I love them so much. It's just really humorous, great early punk stuff. 'No Ugly People,' that song, when I first heard it, I thought, 'OK, there can't be anything better on this label than this.'"

Eyeball -- a band so obscure they broke up before their only 7" was released, in 1989 -- is a pretty good indicator of the lineup Botkin has assembled for The Lookouting, a 30th-anniversary celebration of the all-ages venue 924 Gilman.

Outside 924 Gilman in Berkeley.
Outside 924 Gilman in Berkeley. (Wikipedia)

With over 22 bands from Lookout Records' catalog, most of which disbanded years ago and are reuniting for the event, the four-day festival at Gilman is an apt one: for a roughly five-year period between 1988-1993, Gilman was closely linked with the label, which later enjoyed mainstream fame with bands like Green Day and Screeching Weasel.

Those aren't the bands Botkin is interested in.

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"It would take the focus away from the celebration of the label, the celebration of Gilman, and it becomes, 'Oh! Green Day's playing,'” says the 19-year-old booker. "It was really driven by the fact that I never got to see a lot of these bands back in the day... I thought, 'What if I could see Monsula play? What if I could see the Smugglers play? Let me try to do it.' So I just started sending out emails.”

To that end, The Lookouting (running Jan. 1, 6, 7 and 8; tickets go on sale Oct. 9) features a four-day lineup of bands that, though important to the early years of both Gilman and Lookout, have no massive, widespread demand to reunite. Perhaps only a select handful of fans will salivate, Botkin admits, at the prospect of seeing Brent's T.V., Kamala and the Karnivores, Jüke, or Surrogate Brains. That seems to be the point.

"Even though a lot of this stuff is relatively obscure, I think if you follow the punk scene, or are interested in the ongoing story of Gilman and the community around the club, you're eventually going to find this heritage of bands and interesting personalities," says Chris Appelgren, who ran Lookout from 1997 to its official closure in 2012. "The bands like Corrupted Morals, who I haven't seen since 1992, that weren't the biggest bands outside the scene here... there are a few gems that were maybe overlooked, or too early for their own good."

SevenInches.Lookouting

For Appelgren, the festival represents a reconciliation of sorts between Gilman and the Lookout name, with relations strained after Green Day became famous and the club, along with its original founding entity MaximumRockNRoll, reacted with more stringent demands over what constituted punk as both a music and movement. But the lineup also serves as a reminder of the oft-overlooked genius of the small bands that fertilized the tight-knit wildly varying community from which Lookout sprung.

"When there is something that has cultural relevance and significance," Appelgren says, "years and years later the interesting or archival-oriented person is going to want to dig into the weirder parts."

One of Lookout's "weirder parts" was Brent's T.V., formed in Arcata by John Denery and his friends at Humboldt State University. The band only played Gilman once, opting instead to perform in laundromats, alleyways, and living rooms. But with a 7", Lumberjack Days, released in 1990, Brent's T.V. not only symbolized Lookout's connection to Northern California's Emerald Triangle (the label was founded in Laytonville; Appelgren was raised in Garberville; the excellent band Nuisance, also reuniting for the Lookouting, hailed from Fortuna), but perhaps a combination of innocence and silliness that escaped the label in later years.

"When I think of Lookout, I don't think of Green Day or OpIvy," says Denery, now living in Alameda. "My favorite bands were Soup, Sweet Baby, and Crimpshrine."

Denery himself has not performed with a band since 2004, a striking statistic considering his many years touring and recording in later bands like the Hi-Fives and the Bomb Bassets. But the charismatic singer's enthusiasm to get back on stage is enhanced by the fact that he'll be doing it with a nearly forgotten band that broke up over 25 years ago.

"I just never in my life thought Brent's T.V. would play again," he says. "Just no way, not a possibility. And everyone wanted to do it!"

That same surprise has been a running theme for Botkin as he's assembled the festival's final lineup, tracking down far-flung band members who, he's learned, are now far removed from their days hanging around the warehouse at 8th and Gilman. Some are now millionaires. Some are in jail. Still others have passed away -- like Sewer Trout's Jim MacLean and Cringer's Lance Hahn, both of whom will be memorialized at the Lookouting by tribute bands.

Botkin's naïveté, in fact, appears to have been an asset, as some bands famously bore public grudges that might have prevented other bookers from even considering asking. But “I didn't know a lot of the drama behind why bands broke up," Botkin says. "Other people might say, 'Oh, they'll never get back together, because this thing happened.' I never knew that stuff, so I just went ahead anyway. And it's been surprising the amount of bands that were like, 'We've been waiting for people to ask us.'”

As for Eyeball, Botkin's dream band?

"No one really knows where they are," he says, sounding dejected. "They just kind of disappeared."

Q.Logo.Break

The Lookouting runs Jan. 1, 6, 7, and 8 at 924 Gilman as a benefit for the all-ages collective. Full festival passes run $75; single-day tickets are $20. A full lineup, ticket info. and more details can be found here.

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