Feature / Music
Dirtnap Records: History 101

Words: Loren • September 20, 2020

Dirtnap Records: History 101
Dirtnap Records: History 101

People are going to remember 2020 – though maybe not the way we all imagined back on January 1.

Dirtnap Records had originally envisioned a big celebration of the label’s twentieth anniversary. They planned to gather notable bands from the roster of 150+ releases for a weekend-long celebration in Madison, WI. Looking back, we all know what happened. A pandemic, social distancing and lockdowns have made live music all but a memory. Dirtnap is still planning an anniversary party (now scheduled for 2021), but the incentive to celebrate is a little quieter right now.

For two decades the label has earned a reputation for quality, high-energy punk and more. While the Pacific Northwest and Denton, TX are home to many of the best known artists on the label, its reach goes much further with artists from Wisconsin, Canada, Europe and more.

Following Scene Point Blank’s “History 101” tradition, we’ve reached out to label founder Ken Cheppaikode to share some memories from the first 20 years. In this piece, Scene Point Blank choose five records from the label’s catalog (162 so far), and Cheppaikode choose another five.
Behold Dirtnap Records: The beginning, the present, the future.

The Dontcares 7"

(ZZZ-1, 2000)*

This is the one that started it all, ZZZ-01.

Since 1998, I had been doing an internet radio show called Dirtnap Radio, and had been wanting to expand it into a record label for a while. (I had the name Dirtnap Records picked out for years before I actually worked up the gumption to release a record!)

The radio show had been growing in popularity to the point where bands from all over the place had started sending in recordings for airplay consideration. I remember when these guys sent mp3s of what would become this single, I thought about it really hard over the course of a weekend, and wrote ‘em back on Monday morning, saying that if they wouldn’t mind being the guinea pigs for this new label I wanted to start, I’d be happy to get these songs pressed on vinyl. And the rest is…..History, I guess!

I think the whole process started in late ’98 or early ’99, but given the fact that I had absolutely NOOOOOO idea what I was doing at the time, this didn’t actually come out until very early January 2000. I guess a case could be made that this makes Dirtnap the first punk label of the new millennium?

The Briefs – Hit After Hit

(ZZZ-7, 2000)**

The first full-length!

Very early on in the label’s existence, my old friend Dave Eck (currently of Lucky Lacquers) approached me about putting out a series of records through Dirtnap, with him bringing the projects to the label, getting the records made, and me doing most of the sales/distribution. So for this album, [plus] the Spits 3rd (a lot of people forget that this was originally released on Dirtnap, but it was!), and 8 or so split 7”s over the next few years, Dave should get a lot of the credit! Thanks, Dave!!

Looking back, it was extremely fortunate that Dirtnap’s first two full-lengths were by this band and The Epoxies. Reason being, both of those bands toured hard following their respective releases. It wasn’t until a bit later, when I started working with more bands that didn’t tour hard, that I realized what a world of difference that can make.
[It’s a] great album that holds up really well today. Good to see these guys are back at it, their new album Platinum Rats is one of their best…

Various Artists – Dirtnap Across The Northwest.

(ZZZ-25, 2003)**

Pretty proud of this one, I think it’s a good snapshot of what was going on in the always musically-fertile Pacific Northwest at the time. People have asked me why this never came out on vinyl, and the reason is cause I couldn’t fit everything on 1 LP, and couldn’t afford to do a double. Hell, we had to cut a few bands to make it fit on 1 CD! (sorry to all the bands that got cut!)

Marked Men – On the Outside

(ZZZ-46, 2004)*

If I had to pick what was the most important Dirtnap release ever, it would probably be either this or Guitar Romantic by Exploding Hearts.

This album alone brought a couple dozen more into the Dirtnap fold. From On The Outside, Dirtnap went on to release 4 Marked Men LPs, a 7”, and a singles comp LP, 5 Mind Spiders LPs and a 7”, 3 High Tension Wires LPs, a Potential Johns 7”, 2 Low Culture LPs, 2 Radioactivity LPs and probably more that I’m forgetting. And that is just ones that directly had members of Marked Men playing on it. If we count releases that Mark Ryan or Jeff Burke had a hand in recording, the list gets much longer.

It’s pretty crazy that On The Outside came out over 16 years ago, and has never been out of print for any appreciable length of time.

Modern Machines – Take It, Somebody

(ZZZ-65, 2006)*

I met these guys on a trip home to Wisconsin circa 2004. At a show in Milwaukee, I went up to the band before their set and complimented Nato Coles on his Radio Birdman tattoo, and he complimented me on my Knockout Pills t-shirt. A bit later I booked them a show in Seattle, and them and a bunch of their friends crashed at my apartment. I think it was there, at like 3 in the morning, that I had the wherewithal to propose putting out their next record. (Well, CD, Recess already had committed to putting out the vinyl. Hey, back in those days you could actually get away with things like that!)

I’ve always admired the Modern Machines music and work ethic, and am glad I got a chance to work with ‘em.

Mean Jeans – Are You Serious

(ZZZ-80, 2009)*

This has always been a personal favorite of mine. I had been a fan of the band since they had first moved to Portland as a 2-piece a year or two earlier. I had considered approaching them to do a record for a bit, but wasn’t 100% sure if the 2-piece sound was going to translate on vinyl. I was at their first show they played as a 3-piece, and immediately after the show I told ‘em we should talk about doing a record.
In addition to recording what I think is one of the very best Dirtnap release ever, I feel like the release of Are You Serious in 2009 represented a new beginning for the label. In the next couple of years, Dirtnap also started working with bands like The White Wires, Sonic Avenues, Bad Sports, Steve Adamyk Band, and so many more. It was probably my personal favorite era of the label, and Are You Serious kicked it all off!

It’s also worth mentioning that Are You Serious is 11 years old and has never been out-of-print.

Night Birds 7"

(ZZZ-96, 2010)*

After The Ergs! broke up following their classic (and only) full-length on Dirtnap, I was eager to continue releasing stuff by the members’ new bands. I quickly did a Psyched To Die 7” (Mikey Erg goes hardcore) and co-released this one with Grave Mistake.
Don’t really know what to say about this one, other than it’s my favorite Night Birds EP, and one of the best 7”s Dirtnap’s ever put out. Always faintly regretted that we never did anything else by this band, but hey, they’re still around, some maybe someday…

White Wires – WWII

(ZZZ-98, 2010)**

Another transformative release for the label. Stumbled across a review of their self-released first album in MRR. Listened to the songs they had posted on MySpace, and utterly flipped out. I started buying up copies of the album to sell at my record store in Portland, and pretty much everyone I played it for also flipped out. I promptly offered to reissue the record on Dirtnap, but Atlanta’s fantastic Douchemaster Records had just beaten me to it. Glad to band gave me a second shot when it came time to do their next record. I went on to do several more Canada-centric releases in the wake of this one (Several LPs each from Steve Adamyk Band and Sonic Avenues, singles from Tranzmitors and Career Suicide) and many of these friendships endure to this day.

Various Artists – American Noise Volume 2 LP

(ZZZ-157, 2019)**

The 2nd volume of a soundtrack to The Smart Studios documentary, done by Wendy Schneider. Wendy pretty much did everything for this release, I just paid for the LP pressing and slapped my name on it. Still, it never fails to amuse me that a record with Killdozer, Crucifucks, The Laughing Hyenas and TAD (among many more!) has the Dirtnap logo on the back. It’s also an honor to be a part of a project that documents such an important time in Madison, WI (my hometown) musical history.

Personality Cult – New Arrows

(ZZZ-162, 2020)**

Come on, there is no way I wasn’t going to include our newest band on this list. Jeff Burke has done so much for the label over the last couple of decades, not least of which is bringing this band/album to my attention. Really, this is the epitome of what a Dirtnap release should sound like, with still retaining a very distinct personality (get it!). Very excited to have a hand in this one. It is also the only release on Dirtnap in 2020, which is just crazy to me, considering how active we’ve been in previous years.


* Chosen for discussion by Dirtnap
** Chosen for discussion by Scene Point Blank

Loren • September 20, 2020

Dirtnap Records: History 101
Dirtnap Records: History 101

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