Walking into SideOneDummy Records' new retail space feels like being let in on a secret. The L.A. record label decided to have a soft opening for its soon-to-open pop-up shop on Thursday night with a room full of family and friends, a punk-rock guest list of Side One Dummy bands including indie-pop singer-songwriter Allison Weiss and Chris Farren’s guitarist Casey Lee. It extends outside the label’s roster, too: Tim Kasher of emo legends Cursive was in attendance, as was guitarist Tyler Szalkowski of popular pop-punk band State Champs. Employees and musicians alike enjoyed beer and snacks atop converted desks — the shop’s space doubles as the label’s new office.
There are many telltale signs of a successful independent record label. The most obvious is so transparent it often feels hidden in plain view: The underground record companies we tend to love the most exude their own ineffable identity, one that inspires loyalty in both artists and fans. In the past, a specific sound that felt revelatory at a specific time was the main part of the equation. In the modern era, it's more complicated. When the internet provides access to everything that’s happened before, specificity comes not just from a certain sound but from human interaction — hence SideOneDummy's move to create a singular, centralized space for its community to share.
It’s been an interesting road to get here. SideOneDummy is a Los Angeles label through and through; its owners, Bill Armstrong and Joe Sib, built a label in this city with the understanding that Los Angeles’ relationship with punk is canonical. The 1970s brought X, The Germs, Bad Religion, The Bags and The Runaways. The ’80s birthed hardcore like Youth Brigade and the feminist stylings of L7 and Hole. The ’90s were dominated by pop-punk sounds, the deviant delinquency defined by acts like NOFX.
Armstrong and Sib's approach to punk was as DIY as their forebears — they did it because they had to. “When we were starting out, no one gave us any opportunity, and that’s why we started SideOne,” Sib says at their opening party. “No one wanted to hire us.” He’s dedicated to allowing his team to enjoy privileges he did not have access to. “We’re asking, ‘This is your time,’ and giving them the opportunity to do what they want to do.”
For many years, SideOneDummy’s office was in Hollywood Heights. A few months ago the label decided to move to an Atwater-adjacent section of Glendale, downsizing its space dramatically but opening a retail spot to inspire fans of its bands to come in when it’s open to the public once a month.
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“The storefront came out of an initial meeting [with our staff that] was like, ‘What is something that you would like to do that we’ve never done before?’ Everyone said, ‘We want to be more in touch with the people of Los Angeles, in touch with the music community,’” Sib explains.
“We want to have a space where people can come in if they want to buy the new AJJ record. ... If they want to find an old Gaslight Anthem 7-inch, they can," Sib adds. "We have the store but it’s not going to be open seven days a week. It’s a store where if we have the release of a record, an artist plays in here. If someone’s in town, they can do a reading at the space.” It means you’ll have to pay attention to SideOneDummy’s social media to get the lowdown on what’s happening and when, but those most invested in the label tend to do that already.
SideOneDummy marketing director Jamie Coletta is one of the younger voices on the team who rallied for the storefront space. “The future of SideOneDummy is unlimited in my eyes,” she says. “I see our role as a ‘record label’ continue to exist further and further beyond the scope of the term itself. Record labels, as they were, are a thing of the past. SideOneDummy is, instead, a community of talented musicians, people that believe in them, and fans that contribute just as much to the growth as any of us do.” Judging by the positive response at the new space's opening night, that vision doesn’t seem out of the question.