Punk label packs a political punch

July 21, 2012
Pee Records makes a point of giving away freebies with each order it receives. Artwork: Pete of Pee Records

Pee Records
PO Box 238, Marden,
South Australia 5070

"Pretty much all of our bands write songs about social, political and personal issues," says Pete Harding, the founder of South Australian hardcore punk label Pee Records.

"With 16 or 17 active bands on the label, we have a lot of different acts covering different issues.

"Most of our bands have a few songs on their records that cover political issues, most notably Aussie bands The Decline, Local Resident Failure, Patriarchal Death Machine and Damn The Empire, covering topics such as racism, gambling and alcohol laws, immigration and refugee issues.

"Patriarchal Death Machine feel so strongly about getting their message heard and understood that singer-songwriter Eddie has written a footnote at the end of each song's lyrics printed in their EP’s booklet, explaining what each song is about. Pick up a copy."

It sounds like a hard sell, but Pete is not one for hype. He had to be cajoled into doing an interview for Green Left Weekly to promote his Adelaide-based label.

Pee Records refuses to sign any artist with an ego and Pete is equally modest and self-deprecating. The label boss goes by his first name only, perhaps even feeling surnames betray too much self-importance.

A former photographer for the local paper in his home town of Mildura, Victoria, Pete is also a talented graphic designer. He produces the artwork for many of the bands on his label and others, yet he charges characteristically modest rates of only $30 an hour, much to his spouse's dismay.

"Yeah, my wife thinks I don’t charge enough for the work I do," he laughs. "I do graphic art design and posters for loads of Aussie punk bands, promoters and labels. But it’s usually for a punk band and, hey, we’re all poor in this business.

"Anyone who’s ever tried to put a price on artwork they’ve done will agree it’s not an easy thing to do, especially if you enjoy the work and helping out bands."

Pete clearly runs his label for the love of the music and says anyone who does it for money or prestige simply won't last long. In that vein, one of the most appealing things about his label is the amount of "free shit" given away with each order. Buy a Pee Records CD and it usually arrives with a stack of beautifully-designed freebies like fridge magnets, stickers, postcards and badges. So what's the weirdest thing he's given away?

"Um, maybe condoms with a band member's photo on the wrapper," he laughs. "Anyone familiar with The Decline boys won’t be surprised about that, though."

The giveaways even go so far as encouraging people to send a stamped self-addressed envelope to get something for absolutely nothing.

It's a well-used marketing tactic. French anthropologist Marcel Mauss describes the social pressures surrounding the gift-giving process in human culture: “There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay.”

But there appears nothing calculated in Pete's gift-giving. He says he just copied the practice from Spiral Objective, the label that inspired him to start Pee Records, because he thought it was cool.

"Both Pee Records and Spiral Objective are DIY punk and hardcore mail order distros and labels, but I’d say Spiral Objective has a lot more history and cred," says Pete.

"Greg Spiral worked in a record store here in Adelaide that is no more called Thrash Grind Grunge long before I moved here and he did more for the local hardcore scene than I could ever hope to. I used to buy a lot of punk and hardcore records off Spiral Objective to play on my weekly Community FM radio show. That seems so long ago now."

Pete started that radio show as a precursor to his label after being hooked into hardcore by its political edge.

"I was into hip hop like the Beastie Boys and more dance-orientated music, until I was introduced to a band called NOFX in the early 1990s, that triggered my love affair with punk.

"I remember first hearing the NOFX song 'Don't Call Me White' and thinking how awesome it was that a band could write such an awesome and catchy song about such an important topic - racism and prejudice. This band drew me into the world of punk rock firstly because they wrote catchy as hell tunes, but also because they wrote lyrics that questioned and make you think.

"They also write a shitload of funny nonsense songs. I instantly loved that part of punk and hardcore, that old school ethos of not judging a book by its cover so to speak - or a person by their look or skin colour or haircut - and the way the genre would openly question what I'd been fed by mainstream media all my life.

"From then on, I just loved punk rock and would buy any punk compilation that I could get my hands on to discover other bands."

He smiles.

"We have the internet for that these days."

Pete also makes his Pee Records compilations available as free downloads on the internet.

The showcase collections are part of the other aspect to the label - the independent punk fanzine Pee Zine that he produces to promote his artists and others.

"After August we’ll probably be looking at printing another issue of that crappy zine we do," he says.

"We already have a few more releases scheduled for this second half of this year, the first of which is the debut album from New Zealand’s Out Cold AD coming out at the beginning of August.

“As for the future, who knows? Providing the Mayan calendar is wrong and there will be a 2013, I’d like to think that I’ll still be enjoying what I do, continuing an active role in the Aussie punk and hardcore scene for a few years yet."

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