On Thursday Milwaukee Record ran my feature article on Latest Flame Records closing up shop after nearly 13 years of kickass releases. It was really difficult to write that piece without injecting lots of personal asides and, admittedly, sour grapes and snarky butthurt feelings about Dan's decision to close up shop, which is why i'm hopping over here to do that, naturally. Make no mistake--i fully support Dan's decision to stop setting his personal income on fire in order to allow his favorite bands to have something to sell at shows. But the day i got the email from Mr. Hanke breaking the news, i felt like a family member had died.
To me, Latest Flame Records and the bands that recorded for it during its noisy second act were family. Having become aware of punk rock and independent record labels beginning with a mind-expanding summer between my senior year of high school and the onset of college in the early 90s, i was immediately drawn to the romantic notion of record label as symbol of quality and community. If i bought a Touch & Go Records release in the 1990s, i had a pretty good idea of what it sounded like before breaking the shrinkwrap--it was going to be loud, it was going to be abrasive, and it wasn't going to sound exactly like anything else available. And i was probably going to love it. Just as importantly, i had a pretty good notion that each of those bands were likely to play shows together, tour together, hang out together. Eli Janney of Girls Against Boys recorded Brainiac's Hissing Prigs in Static Couture. Blond Redhead opened for Shellac at the Congress Theatre. And so on. It quickly became a dream of mine to be a part of something like that. Dan shared that dream and made it happen with a stacked roster of aggressive and off-the-beaten-path-yet-completely-accessible-if-you-give-it-a-chance rock tunes from the likes of Police Teeth, Waxeater, Trophy Wives, Nervous Curtains, his Like Like The The The Death, and my own IfIHadAHiFi and Body Futures.
Music, like any art, is deeply personal and subjective, of course, and that the Latest Flame roster never exactly set the world on fire is by no means an indictment of its quality....of course. It's the same story that scores of labels that have come and gone have endured over the years. But when you're sinking the amount of money that it takes to release a record or a CD into something in which you believe, it's hard to not be frustrated when those efforts aren't validated by the outside world. We are only human beings, after all, and human beings are inherently social creatures seeking outside validation. But make no mistake: almost every time i get on stage with Body Futures or IfIHadAHiFi, and every time i throw on one of our records, i feel completely validated in that we've produced music that i would want to listen to and would be stoked about even if i wasn't in the band, and that's all anyone can realistically hope for. As my friend John Dykstra has often said to me, we should all be thankful for living in a time where we are able to make music and press records with our pals in the first place; should anyone else actually enjoy it, that's a bonus.
Still, being able to cover costs would have been a nice bonus.
In the spirit of celebrating the diverse Latest Flame catalog, here are ten Latest Flame releases that everyone should hear. Dan was kind enough to document it, so dammit, it should be heard. This stuff is all over the map, from new-wavy power-pop to wiry post-punk to brutal riffage, and it all deserves to be remembered. I hope you take some time to check them out if you don't know about them already. And thanks, Dan, for helping all of us live that dream of being part of a musical family with a sense of real community and belonging, just like those indie labels of lore. What a gift.
In more-or-less chronological order: