Formed in the summer of 1982 in Olympia, Wash. by Calvin Johnson, K Records still embodies much of what it did when it began nearly 30 years ago as an independent label dedicated to releasing underground artists from the Northwestern and Midwestern U.S.
The bands on K Records – like underground music itself – are difficult to categorize and diverse in their sounds.
Modest Mouse, the popular rock band who found mainstream success with their 2005 single “Float On,” originally released their first EP Blue Cadet-3, Do You Connect? on K-Records in 1994. Kimya Dawson, another K Records artist, attained widespread popularity with her prominent featuring on the soundtrack for the 2007 film Juno. Artists like Beck and Built to Spill were also launched by the label early in their careers. Even Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain – perhaps the most well-known icon ever produced by the northwestern U.S. music scene – had the K Records logo tattooed on his forearm.
On the other hand, many of the artists on K Records remain relatively underground. The label is widely known for an aesthetic mission that embraces the do-it-yourself attitudes of punk music and home recordings. Perhaps the K Records motto sums it up best: “Exploding the teenage underground into passionate revolt against the corporate ogre since 1982.“
Johnson has said himself that he will always be interested in the “weird guy in his bedroom making a record on his own no matter what is going on in the mainstream or what is successful.” That might, in fact, be part of the reason that K Records is still around today, even as the major labels struggle to survive. After all, those people in their bedrooms never actually go away – and with today’s affordable recording technology, they probably never will. In other words, K Records is protected from today’s whirlwind economics, not because it has insurmountable wealth, but because K Records has its roots in a place that is unfailingly sheltered from mainstream forces – the underground.
Recent releases from K Records:
Arrington De Dionyso, I See Beyond the Black Sun
De Dionyso uses Tuvan throat singing and various other eclectic instruments to craft bizarre compositions that sound something like elephants, didgeridoos and jungle birds packed together in a dorm room.
Kimya Dawson, Remember That I Love You
As with her work on the Juno soundtrack, Dawson’s music is cutesy, simple folk that can hold listeners‘ attention with its distinctive style. It’s perfect for those times when you want a musical throwback to the days of your youth, when money and school didn’t matter.
The Blow, Paper Television
Paper Television is pure lo-fi electro pop. It’s catchy, warm and worth a listen.
Calvin Johnson, Calvin Johnson And The Sons of the Soil
Johnson is not only co-founder and operator of K Records but also an accomplished musician. Known for his droning, deep voice this album is no exception. It’s also the only release on this list to capture the lo-fi punk and underground sounds that have made K Records famous. On “Tummy Hop,” Johnson’s voice booms over heavily distorted guitar and crashing, tinny drums. If you told me this album was in fact recorded physically underground, I wouldn’t be surprised.
ZACK FREDERICK can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.