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Rancid's success on Epitaph suggests the band certainly wasn't hurting for cash, but jumping to a major then probably would've greatly enhanced the band's popularity and bottom line. The band, however, publicly reveled in its refusal to do that. In a 2001 Spin article celebrating the 25th anniversary of punk rock, singer/guitarist Lars Frederiksen spelled it out: "The one good thing about Rancid is that we never signed to a major label. We stayed indie our whole career ... we've shown that you don't need some fucking big major label who you'll end up taking it in the ass from, eventually, to make music."
Now, evidently, it's time to take it up the ass. And nearly a decade after the will-Rancid-go-major debate first surfaced, fans and foes alike are still battling it out.
"For a lot of people, it's a big deal," says Aubin, whose Web site PunkNews.org -- a five-year-old independent outpost for rumors, press releases, interviews, and show reviews -- first officially reported Rancid's major-label signing. "We reported the news because we knew it would be something people cared about, and the wealth of comments that that story generated within such a short amount of time showed that a lot of people really did take it seriously."
Aubin (who declined to state his last name) independently verified the rumor through the band's management, and posted the news on June 14. Within two days, nearly one thousand comments about the signing had been posted to the site's message board.
"Signings are usually the biggest and most controversial stories we report on," Aubin explains. "It's usually not what someone does, or even if a band switches genres completely, it wouldn't bother people as much, but major labels, for some bands, seem to be a big deal."
This ideology and fear of major labels isn't unique to Rancid or its fans, but it does point back to the lessons learned at the Bay Area's punk rock mothership.
On New Year's Eve in 1986, the Gilman Street Warehouse Project threw open its doors, beginning an all-ages co-op experiment that continues to this day. The 3,000-square-foot warehouse at the corner of Eighth and Gilman streets was run by a committee of volunteers, promoters, and contributors to local punk zine MAXIMUMROCKNROLL, considered the authentic voice of underground punk. Everyone involved helped bring the warehouse back up to city standards, including soundproofing and plumbing. No one got paid. Gilman didn't advertise. Weekly meetings were, and continue to be, run as democratically as possible: "We vote on literally everything, from how much toilet paper to buy to which bands should play here," head coordinator David Hall Reuter told the Express in July.
While Friday nights generally featured a mix of bands, poets, or performance artists, and Saturdays were reserved solely for punk, Gilman's overarching theory was that if audiences never knew exactly what to expect, the club's atmosphere would remain fresh and spontaneous. Though touring acts rolled through, many bands were homegrown, and none came from a major label -- a rule that still exists today. As a nonprofit community space, Gilman's attendees doubled as club members, obeying the rules and paying a two-dollar annual fee to help keep the club afloat.
Soup was the first band to play at the Gilman Street Warehouse Project. Rancid's Tim Armstrong stood in the crowd that night.
"It's not just entertainment," explains Mike Thorn, currently a coordinating editor of MAXIMUMROCKNROLL. "You can take an active role and you can help determine what's going on in your community, with the Bay Area punk community, through your involvement through Gilman."
As Gilman's indie punk rock ethos slowly crept around the East Bay in the mid-'80s, two young kids from Albany -- Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman -- began playing together in the band Basic Radio. When that fizzled out, the pair formed the punk-ska quintet Operation Ivy.
By the late '80s, Crimpshrine and Operation Ivy had provided Bay Area punk's musical blueprint, the latter's energetic style destined to be simulated by a thousand So-Cal pop-punk bands throughout the '90s. Based on ska -- particularly the hurried yet staggered beats of English band the Specials -- as well as street punk like the early Clash, Op Ivy wore its influences on its sleeves, most notably by incorporating the Specials' rude boy emblem into its own logo. But the band maintained a raw, unpolished edge, uniquely young and altogether its own. Frontman Jesse Michaels wrote socially conscious lyrics that were more Zen Buddhist than nihilist: As he screamed on "Knowledge," the band's manifesto, "Wide open road to the future now/It's looking fucking narrow/All I know is that I don't know/All I know is that I don't know nothing." Armstrong -- who then went by the nickname Lint --worked up a tight rhythm section with bassist Freeman and drummer Dave Mello, best appreciated on the group's instrumental ska-boogie "Bankshot." The music was jagged but accessible, and quickly drew sell-out crowds. Without Op Ivy ever leaving the Bay Area, word of its high-energy shows shot across the country, commanding a huge influence coast to coast. Future Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, to cite perhaps the most famous example, was an upfront admirer of the band.
Lawrence Livermore, founder of Lookout!, once ventured to say that Op Ivy was the most important band to come out of Gilman: "How important was Operation Ivy to Lookout! Records and the whole East Bay scene? I kind of doubt we'd be here without them."