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WESTSIDE / VALLEY : Littlest Music 'Superstore' Thrives in Shadow of Giants

July 18, 1993|STEVE APPLEFORD | Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times.

All the fanfare was down the boulevard, with invited guests and news media celebrating the opening of the massive Virgin Superstore, under bright lights and tight security. So perhaps it was only natural for the folks at the less-than-massive SST Superstore to send their own goodwill ambassador to the party down the Sunset Strip.

After all, the SST Superstore also was marking its grand opening that same night in December, and was just as ready to peddle records and tapes and CDs and T-shirts and the rest. All of which somehow explains why Virgin founder Richard Branson was interrupted on his way into the party by the sight of a man in a dress passing out SST Superstore flyers.

"He got whisked away by security officers after only about a half-hour," says SST label manager Ron Coleman.

Not that the 400-square-foot SST Superstore is really out to compete with Virgin, or nearby Tower Records, in any significant way. For one thing, the store sells nothing more than the alternative rock, punk, jazz and spoken-word products of SST Records and its associated labels: Cruz and New Alliance.

"Everyone has their own idea of what super is," Coleman says.

There was, however, some early concern about the new SST store on the part of other record outlets selling SST product, Coleman says. Mainly, that was "because nobody knew what the hell it was. I don't think there's any cause for alarm."

Only about half of the merchandise sold at the SST store is actually music recordings, he says. The rest is miscellaneous fan items: T-shirts, hats, shorts and the like.

"The basic clientele seems to be a spillover from that section of the strip," says label spokesman Andy Dunkley. "There are also people abroad who know about the place, and while they're in L. A., they do come and check it out."

Launched in 1978 with Black Flag's debut single, "Wasted," SST was instrumental in introducing to rock audiences such aggressively independent rock acts as the Minutemen, Firehose, Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr. and the Screaming Trees.

The Los Alamitos label's success ultimately convinced label owner Greg Ginn, founding guitarist of the defunct Black Flag, to create the store to act as a "live, breathing billboard" on the Sunset Strip, Coleman says. The store is at 8847 Sunset Blvd., about halfway between Tower Records and Whisky a Go Go. There are plans to open SST Superstores in London and Tokyo in the coming years.

"All the records that SST has put out were made because we really wanted to, not because we should have. So we're quite proud of everything we've ever done, no matter how many it sells," Coleman explains. "We didn't go in there expecting to have the cash register ringing day and night. It's like any business. You have to start somewhere and build it up. We're very long-term-oriented in our plans."

The SST label releases about 10 albums a year, including those by artists Trotsky Icepick and Leaving Trains. New Alliance focuses largely on spoken-word recordings and will soon release an album by Julie Ritter of the rock act Mary's Danish.

"We're not a hit factory, we're not out to fabricate any kind of new flavor for everyone to jump on. We're trying to sell the records that we like and see how far that would go."

In that same spirit, SST launches its own radio program today on Santa Ana-based KWIZ (96.7 FM). Titled "Screw Radio," the program will be "a Superstore of the airwaves," focusing on SST artists. Coleman says the company is hoping to soon hear the show broadcast in other cities.

"This is a good way to get on the street and see what kind of people come in," Coleman says. "We have a pretty good idea about the people we sell our records to, because we've always maintained that attitude of not forgetting how everything started. The bottom line is, it's easy to get caught up in all the hyperbole and glitter of being in the entertainment industry, but we like to think of ourselves as being in the music business, as opposed to a record label in the widget business."

CLASSIC CONCERTS: The free "Sundays at Four" chamber music series presented each week at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art continues at 4 p.m. today with a performance by the Los Angeles Composers Guild presenting a series of new works. And July 25, the performance is by California Trio--Karen Elaine on viola, Marcus Eley on clarinet and pianist Mark Newirth.

The weekly concerts are performed in the museum's Leo S. Bing Theater, 5905 Wilshire Blvd. They are also broadcast live at 4 p.m. on KUSC (91.5 FM).

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