If you had any part in the ‘90s alternative music scene, Amphetamine Reptile Records was no stranger to your collection. Much like other label revolutionaries of the time (Sub Pop, Wax Trax!, Alternative Tentacles, Lookout!, Merge, and Touch and Go, to name a few), Amphetamine Reptile Records (or AmRep) was one step apart from the bunch, showing an unequalled distinctness not just in the artists they represented, but also in their no bullshit business practices. The Color Of Noise is a two-hour journey detailing not just the genesis and life of this now legendary record label, but the culture and emotions of the time. No stone was unturned.
Links: Amphetamine Reptile Records
Owning and operating a zine in the midst of the 1990s zine revolution, that is when I caught wind of the label. It could have been a Maximum Rock and Roll or a Punk Planet that as a scenester, first illuminated the uniqueness of the label. While the climate at the time was pointing to faster or more melodic punk, dirtier grunge rock or the metal scene trying to hold on to its roots, out of left field came bands like The Cows, Unsane, Steel Pole Bathtub, The Melvins and Halo of Flies—founder Tom Hazelmeyer’s band— among others. The noisier the better.
Halo of Flies was the reason for the label’s incarnation back in 1986. While in the Marines and stationed in Seattle, Hazelmeyer tried to get Halo of Flies signed to a label like Touch and Go, Dischord, and Homestead. Unsuccessful, he ended up starting his own record label hoping to gain attention by others and expanding that way. The label gave birth to a name coming from the bastardization of the Motorhead song, “Love Me Like A Reptile.” Like many upstarts in the late ‘80s, after moving back to Minneapolis, he ran the label out of the trunk of his car, putting out a split seven inch of Halo of Flies (“Insecticide Stomp”), back with a band he met out in Seattle as The Thrown Ups that later became Mudhoney (“Twenty Four”). The release came during a time on the eve of Nirvana’s breakthrough and Mudhoney becoming trendy beyond their Seattle battleground. This single and the launch of AmRep’s compilation series Dope, Guns-N-Fucking in the Streets got every alt kid’s attention. It was fresh and different even within the stratosphere of the punk and hard rock underground. The music was noisy, breaking apart boundaries of what was becoming a punk rock stalemate. These bands although minor at the time, played a role of smashing the mold while sculpting a new wave in the Minneapolis scene, later being sucked up by major labels. After that, AmRep spiraled with some of the most amazing and thought-provoking punk you could find with the God Bullies’ “Fear & Pain” to the Cows’ “Daddy Has A Tail.”
What Eric Robel has done is tirelessly work with all facets of the scene from Hazelmeyer himself to the bands to the artists down to those who were influenced by the label’s ethic. You have Jello Biafra talking about the impression the label and the bands had on him and Coop describing his working relationship with AmRep and the creation of the now infamous smoking devil caricature to Mark Prindle from Mark’s Record Reviews talking about the label’s influence as a historical element. Robel has you following a timeline as flawless and interesting as any adventure story. The documentary does not just explore Hazelmeyer’s hard working ethic, but how the bands co-existed with the label and how the scene changed and morphed because of AmRep giving these bands a chance. It was to a point where the label could not hold on to acts like Boss Hog or Helmet as they went on to major labels. We follow all of these subplots in the film, like the emergence of Janitor Joe and Kristin Plaff’s rise to fame and into the band Hole only later succumbing to a drug overdose. You get interviews of anger recanting the loss of friends and family in the scene, as well as anger to the way major labels tried to abuse the situation with false promises and glamourous means. We see the rise of the Cows and how they became synonymous with the label forcing the label’s closure soon after the band broke up. We get to learn facts and trivia as well as be captivated to interesting stories that help accentuate the store of AmRep.
A brilliant documentary, for me to brought back flashbacks to see and hear bands I grew up with. For someone not familiar with the label, this is an excellent compendium to the history of the times. Either way, you will find Tom Hazelmeyer to simply be a hero, diggin through the fine print and giving all things a keen listen in order to give us some of the best alternative albums of our time. To see these bands on stage or performing their older songs makes you feel like you are apart of this scene no matter how old.