Punk USA: The Rise and Downfall of Lookout! Records (2014)

Kevin Prested

Lookout Records was situated in a unique position as pop/punk saw a post-grunge boom in the mid-nineties. The label held the release rights to Green Day’s pre-major-label back catalogue as well as the Operation Ivy releases (by pre-Rancid members). The millions in revenue that these releases generated annually for the label meant, essentially, that they were free to do as they wanted with the many other bands they released and were not bound by the usual financial restrictions of an independent label. Despite this the label would come to fall behind on it’s royalty payments to most of its bands, including Green Day, all of whom would eventually take back ownership of their releases leaving the label destitute.

The rise and fall is told as a series of feature articles about key label releases as well as a chronological oral history. Oral histories collate excerpts from interviews to provide a narrative through many different perspectives. Music histories are often told through oral history because, I guess, so much about the experience of music relates to its interaction with and experience by a fan base. This leads to the inevitable cliché in music documentaries of well-known musicians describing how they felt about a band when they were younger… usually worst personified in obligatory load of drivel from Bono. I don’t think there is a comparative use of oral history in other mediums (i.e. film, art) as it seems it is only music where there are so many shared group experiences.

The obvious problem with oral histories is that it is all necessarily subjective, a patchwork of opinions and recollections which need not necessarily be verified. I’d love to declaratively state that oral histories are awful, lazy and a cop-out but unfortunately, I must admit, at least to an extent they are sometimes necessary. Even the best books about music scenes are often decried as biased, subjective, or marginalising. Even Please Kill Me: The Oral history of Punk, which seems to insulate itself in its title as being subjective and prone to error, was accused of being too subjective and prone to error.

So, while I wish that this book, like all oral histories, used interviews as sources and wrote with a consistent narrative voice I understand too that it would be inviting an unholy amount of criticism to do so. Prested writes that as the label grew out of the same time and place as the venue Gilman St and adjacent to the magazine Maximumrocknroll there was a sense of ownership throughout the local scene. Furthermore, the casual and friendly nature of the recording contracts with the many bands the label released also promoted a sense of camaraderie and ownership. There are a lot of people, many represented in the book, who felt that Lookout did wrong. Meanwhile, though Lookout records was at its peak a multi-million-dollar business it only ever employed a few handfuls of people. The label was never so large that there were enough people on the inside who could objectively piece together the path to disaster.

With such a delicate subject where many people felt different kinds of personal connection to and, in turn, betrayal by the label and its owners it was bound to be difficult to try and chart the labels history and the points which lead to its failure. In his introduction Prested is self-aware enough to attempt to explain why he is simultaneously the best person to write the history and rise of the label but perhaps not so well-suited to tackle the decline.

Prested’s unabashed fandom leads to a high level of detail on the signing and key releases of the labels bigger bands. He also does a great job explaining the origins of Green Day and Operation Ivy The book provides more detail than I’d ever come across and fills in a lot of gaps in my knowledge about pre-Green Day bands and the many bands Operation Ivy members took part in before Rancid. I now also understand and appreciate the importance and standing of other pivotal Lookout bands like Screeching Weasel, Tilt, Avail, and The Queers as Prested writes comprehensive biographies of these and many more bands. I would happily recommend this book to anyone with an interested in 90’s pop/punk because of this level of information, trivia, and care for the subject(s). There are also often larger stories hidden in the side mentions of venues/people/bands/magazines which have renewed by interest in revisiting issues of Punk Plant as well as finally cracking the Gilman St book.

It’s unfortunate in a way that Prested must go on to detail the fall of the label. Time seems to have blunted many interviewee’s sense of anger and outrage. The attitude is predominantly ‘so it goes’ with occasional allegations of negligence and improper conduct which are never substantiated or explored. There is no real ending, summation or moral to take from any of the events as they are portrayed. There is no passing of judgment or clear damnation. There are points, where the book allows people to contend what, ultimately, was the downfall of Lookout but they also mere straws piled on mountains of mistake.

The story of the label reflects the fall of the music industry in general. A gigantic amount of hubris and lack of planning for leaner times. Mass riches squandered in a way that seems incomprehensible in a post internet/streaming world. A more objective investigative book could be written about the mismanagement and fall of Lookout Records and its peers. This is what I initially thought I wanted when I finished it. With time though I’ve realised that Prested’s book is successful because of the chosen focus. A witch-hunt wouldn’t have proven anything other than what we know. The entertainment business squandered money at its peak. Lookout was more foolish than some and as bad as many. The witch-hunt would rake bitter fuel over dying coals, but an exploration of the labels highlights, success and legacy shows not only why it was so important but the reason so many were heartbroken at its failure.

 

 

The netflix and import tax – looming or dead in the water?

Below is a short article I wrote about the upcoming low value import tax in Australia. It is similar to the Netflix tax which calls for GST on digital services. It may sound a bit dry and in many ways it is but how the tax is handled could fundamentally change how Australian’s buy goods and services through online marketplaces such as Ebay and Amazon. When I originally wrote the article it was unclear as whether the bill would be passed. A senate hearing had recommended a delay. With only two weeks until the imposition date it is still unclear though both Ebay and Netflix are making preparations. Ebay had threatened to reduce activity in Australia if the bill was passed.

Netflix has announced a price rise to pass the cost of the tax onto consumers. Ebay has sent two emails to account users advising them that as of July 1 GST will be charged on any sales  by all users on Australia ebay unless the seller has an ABN. GST does not apply to businesses that have a turnover of less than $75,000 per year. Therefore the average ebay seller could apply for an ABN and not have GST imposed on goods that they sell. A minor inconvenience but worthwhile if you just happen to sell some second hand goods here and there on the platform.

The bill had also called for resellers such as Ebay to collect GST on goods sold to Australians from overseas sellers. Ebay argued it is a reseller and not responsible for collecting taxes within its platform. Foreign Ebay websites do not yet appear to carry any information for international users selling to Australia.

In researching the issue I found the retail sectors were often basing their arguments on incorrect, exagerated or biased figures in arguing for the tax. On the other hand those against the tax such as EBay and the Australian Taxpayers alliance had vested self-interested and/or unclear motives.

The same arguments about protectionism of industry have risen before in respect to the CD industry and book publishing and each time it felt to me that the calls for protectionism were designed to protect retail sectors unwilling to adapt of change their business models. This is reflected to in that Angus Robertson are one of the very few Australian book chains to utilise Ebay as a point of sale. Meanwhile the vast majority of the Australian retail industry rely on poorly built web portals and for whatever reason chose not to also utilise marketplaces such as Ebay.

A tax may help Australia’s retail sector. Some sort of incentive to maximise web presence would probably be more useful.

 

 

Here is the original article with information correct on 12 May 2017:

A senate hearing report has recommended a delay on imposing GST on low value imports into Australia. The GST Low Value Goods bill calls for GST to be charged on all imports under $1000. The bill is currently set to be enacted on 1 July 2017 and focus primary on consumer goods purchased on online marketplaces such as EBay and Amazon.

The bill was introduced by former treasurer Joe Hockey in 2015. It has since been championed by the current Federal treasurer Scott Morrison.

Currently only imports of over $1000 in value are charged GST. These imports are assessed and charged by border forces.

The Senate Hearing Report found that projected revenue from GST on low value imports is expected to amount to $300 million over three years. According to the hearing this revenue would not meet the costs associated with border inspection of low value imports.

Other countries impose a similar GST on low value imports. Both Canada and B

#CHINA-ECONOMY-IMPORTS & EXPORTS-RISE (CN)

ritain charge GST and import duties.

Part of the criticism of the current bill is that it calls for online marketplaces to collect the GST on imports. EBay had stated that this may not be feasible and could lead restrictions on some sales to Australia.

Australian retail sectors have argued that the bill is necessary

and will help level the playing field and make Australian business more competitive against online marketplaces.

Leesa Lambert is a member of the board of the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) and owner of The Little Book Room in Carlton North.

“It’s necessary to help the local industry compete. Without GST on imports overseas marketplaces can offer a ten per cent discount relative to our price points. It’s an unfair advantage.”

Tom Bradford, it eh co-owner of Lulu’s record store and Cool Death Records.

“We don’t expect much to change. The bill could make us marginally more competitive against buying online but we’d still be more expensive. We’ve alway

s sought to make out point of difference our physical presence rather than price point.”

The Australian Taxpayers Alliance condemned the bill in an advertisement in The Australian as bad for Australian businesses and shoppers.

Representatives of the ATA and others undersigned did not reply for request to comment. The GST Low Value Import bill is expected to be enacted in its current form on 1 July 2017.