In the Board Room

Lookout! Records has come a long way from its bedroom-label beginnings. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

So far this year, Lookout! has released 11 records, while consistent best sellers -- like ska legends Operation Ivy -- serve as a testament to its roots. But as the label heads' tastes have changed, so has Lookout!'s output.

"What's commonly regarded as a Lookout! sound -- Green Day, Screeching Weasel, the Queers -- hasn't been the Lookout! sound for eight years," says Jesse Townley, a former employee and member of former Lookout! bands Blatz and the Criminals.

In addition, the label no longer represents a tightknit local scene. The upcoming anniversary blowout will bring together bands from far-off cities like Baltimore, D.C., and Vancouver, but while many of the groups don't know each other, they share common musical DNA.

Lookout Major Labels: Chris Appelgren, 
Molly Neuman, and Cathy Bauer.
Akim Aginsky
Lookout Major Labels: Chris Appelgren, Molly Neuman, and Cathy Bauer.
Lookout Major Labels: Chris Appelgren, 
Molly Neuman, and Cathy Bauer.
Akim Aginsky
Lookout Major Labels: Chris Appelgren, Molly Neuman, and Cathy Bauer.


The Queers, Mr. T Experience, the Smugglers, and the Enemies play Saturday, July 26; and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, the Pattern, the Oranges Band, and Communiqué play Sunday, July 27, at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $13



Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F.

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"A lot of people are like me, where Lookout! was the soundtrack to their teenage years," Appelgren says. "Now, we can bring together bands with different experiences with Lookout! at different time periods."

Perhaps the biggest change between then and now is Lookout!'s newfound marketing savvy. Whereas before, national press and record sales were a happy accident, today Lookout! is armed with a PR handler and an e-mail newsletter 17,000 strong, currently abuzz over the label's most recent breakthrough, the Donnas.

After four early releases on Lookout!, the Donnas recorded Spend the Night for Atlantic Records. With sales of 400,000 copies, constant airplay, and countless magazine articles, it's fair to say the band has generated some interest. And while big-time sales and the Donnas' perky sound don't exactly jell with the punk rock ethos, the band provides an edgy antidote to a musical climate dominated by teen pop and hip hop.

Still, Townley -- now head of mail order at legendary local punk label Alternative Tentacles -- suggests that since Green Day, Lookout! has been too concerned with its next big thing.

"I wish 'em the best, but I don't think they're going to find another Green Day, just like we can't count on another Dead Kennedys," says Townley, whose Blatz left Lookout! because the group was dissatisfied with the label's royalty structure and corporate distribution ties. "You can't force it. Their strength is local underground, and a lot of ex-Lookout! folks are frustrated with the potential that's not being reached. Lookout! should stop trying to be something that they're not."

Indeed, Lookout!'s big successes have forced Appelgren and Neuman to adopt a healthy dose of professionalism. But at the same time, the hits have allowed the label to take risks with more diverse bands. So while Lookout! has grown less punk in its sound, the fact remains that the hardcore music its employees grew up with simply isn't in demand now, and Lookout!'s adaptability has proven to be its biggest achievement.

"We know, as an independent label, that we're not going to change the industry," says Appelgren. "But we can affect its psychology by being smart and cool and interesting."

Punk rock has always been about changing the system, and Lookout! hasn't forgotten that. It's just that now, the label manages to do it from the inside out.

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