A fire-breathing dinosaur graces the sign above the entrance to Thrillhouse Records, a Bernal Heights hole-in-the-wall wonder of a record shop. Duck in the door and you’ll find several shelves of punk, garage-rock, and metal LPs; cassettes and seven-inch singles; a zine library and a sizeable rack of DIY publications for sale; a mixtape trading bin (make one, leave it, and take one); and an awe-inducing black and white Iron Maiden tapestry that hangs above a colorful array of flyers for local shows past and upcoming. Add to this the impassioned music wafting from the turntable in the corner, and you’re fully enveloped in a warm, curious niche of the Bay Area music scene.
The San Francisco underground punk-rock community has found much to celebrate in Thrillhouse, which evolved from a few friends’ drunken pipe dreams to a wood, wax, and plastic reality under the benevolent oversight of Fred Schrunk. He’s a lanky, meek 26-year-old who wore a black hoodie and a big grin when we met at a coffee shop in SoMa last week. Schrunk was excited about the package slated to show up at the shop that afternoon: a box containing vinyls of the new Black Rainbow single, the label’s 11th and newest release, which would hopefully be ready to be folded into seven-inch sleeves upon arrival. Just as exciting was talk of the upcoming Thrillfest, a store-sanctioned live music extravaganza in the dying days of August.
As Schrunk told it, Thrillhouse opened in January 2007 as a not-for-profit record store at 3422 Mission Street: all its proceeds go toward improving the shop and its contents, and it’s operated daily by local volunteers in the spirit of the late punk HQ Epicenter on Valencia Street. The label was conjured up mid-2007 by Schrunk and Shawn Mehrens, the vocalist for Thrillfest act Yankee Kamikaze, and store sales have funded the label’s new releases and reissues, which include a single by Onion Flavored Rings and a re-ish of Fleshies’ Baby LP. The Simpsons buffs will know the origins of the store’s name it’s Milhouse’s desired user name for the Bart-coveted video game Bonestorm and the handle speaks considerably to the enthusiasm of the volunteers who pop in and out of the storefront.
Radek Lecyk, a quiet, friendly young man from Poland who moved to San Francisco four years ago, was staffing a four-hour shift at the store one recent Tuesday afternoon. After selecting Fugazi’s terrific Margin Walker EP (Dischord, 1989) for play on the shop turntable, he explained how he "waited and waited" with anticipation for Thrillhouse’s opening after reading about its plans in a 2006 issue of Maximumrocknroll. For Lecyk and many others, the store has been a great meeting place for bands and show-goers of all ilks and ages. The shelves reflect the community’s generation-spanning nature: new label releases from Shotwell and the Reaction sit comfortably alongside releases from old-schoolers like Hickey, Sharp Knife, and Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits.
Idyllic as all this is, the ultimate get-together is still on the way. "Shitloads of people were in need of shows for summer," explained Schrunk, who earlier this year pleaded with his friends in San Pedro’s Toys That Kill and San Diego’s Tiltwheel to play SF, where the groups hadn’t been in some time. He came up with an incentive: if they made the trip, these outfits could play a super-rad, end-of-summer festival rather than the typical bar gig. Both bands thankfully agreed, although this meant actually having to deliver on the event. It was an intimidating prospect, but one that proved possible with the assistance of local venue bookers and the store’s newsletter, which reeled in enough performers to fill five nights.
Anybody wanting in on the bill needn’t worry about booking: there’ll be a free-for-all show at a secret city location Aug. 21. "Anybody that shows up with guitars and cymbals can play three songs," exclaimed Schrunk, who also highlighted the Aug. 24, Nor Cal vs. So Cal baseball game at Jackson Park across the street from Thee Parkside, which hosts the festival’s final show that night.
Thankfully, the fun won’t stop there: attendees can look forward to more label action this year with the release of the new LP by locals Surrender. Schrunk asked if I’ve ever seen them live before. I hadn’t, but it was nothing to be embarrassed about: he smiled and, in the sharing spirit of his label and store, sang their praises: "You should see them sometime they’re really great."
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