In the City
Ruth Schwartz: Epicenter [Zone] was a record shop, but Tim was trying to make it into a community center.
Danny Norwood: I was involved in helping start Epicenter. They had the record store going there and Blacklist Mailorder was in the back.
Jello Biafra: I was glad Tim got Epicenter off the ground. I knew it would work out okay because he would actually get it done and there would be a record store. Instead of people just yakking about it. And he sold me all of the cool records out of his closet that he didn’t think were punk.
Matt Wobensmith: Epicenter was this enormous space, especially by today’s standards, with tons and tons of bins full of records. The prices were absolutely dirt cheap.
A.C. Thompson: It was in a huge, second-floor walk-up on Valencia Street and 16th Street. There was a back room where all the records were kept, because punks would just steal them. So the record racks were filled with sleeves. Then there was a bunch of couches, a pool table, bulletin boards for people to post their various things, and an area for bands to play. There was a ‘zine library that I helped oversee and curate to some extent. For awhile there was a switchboard. If you came to town and you needed to get connected with some kind of service, whether you needed housing, a ride, or an STD test, we had this list of references for people.
Matt Wobensmith: I had dropped out of school and I had nothing, pretty much friendless. I was trying to get clean really bad. I could barely find enough money for food. But I did wind up in a kind of a flophouse full of surfers and artists, including Barry McGee, the artist Twist. Epicenter had just opened. I knew that it was somehow connected with Gilman through Maximum RocknRoll, but I wasn’t sure how or why. Within a month of Epicenter opening, I was working there. I just walked in the door, and I was given a shift. Suddenly, I was brought into the fold of this giant social group that I needed really badly at that point in my life. And it kept me sane.
Martin Sprouse: They were buying all these collectible records to sell at the shop. The great argument about that place was, of course, how much to sell the records for. Should we sell it for a dollar ‘cause it’s just a 7-inch? When it’s actually worth $40 ’cause it’s an old collectible? This whole big fight. “Don’t give in to the collector prices!” People were saying that we should sell a collectible record for $3. I remember that one going on for hours and hours.
A.C. Thompson: Epicenter was never really about being a business. It was about having a place for people in that scene to hang out. The project was not as important as getting to know people. There were so many smart, crazy people there all the time.
Danny Norwood: Me and the woman I was with at that time, we started the zine library. It stayed there the entire length of Epicenter.
Matt Wobensmith: I met Tim Yohannan and Clay and Honey, the two main people in charge of the space. Obviously, they had planned the store out. There was always music playing, dogs running around. That’s where MRR recruited a lot of people.
A.C. Thompson: You could go to Epicenter, see a show, play pool, watch a movie. I did a movie series there. We posted the flyers all over the Mission. We did one that was about police torturing suspects in Chicago — it was called The End of the Nightstick — and SFPD did not like that. They told us if we kept posting flyers they were going to start fining us. So the movie night died off.
Bill Schneider: Epicenter opened after the closing of Gilman. There were a lot of house shows in the Mission at that time, storefront shows.
Kelly Kegger: We used to go to Epicenter to cruise Q-TiP — Queers Together in Punkness. It was Matt’s thing. They used to put on a lot of queer shows at Epicenter in the early ‘90s. Leslie Mah from Tribe 8 and Toni from Harum Scarum were involved with Epicenter. I was too much of a wasted kid to get involved with cool shit like that. I would just go to the shows.
Greg Valencia: Epicenter banned Grimple at one time. It was totally justified. Me and Pat were at some show and we were drinking Night Train, getting totally shitfaced. There was a bunch of uptight vegan hippie-whatever-you wanna-to-call-‘ems. And they were shunning us ‘cause we were drunk and having fun. They had a pool table — I was already kind of blacked out at this time — and we were bowling the balls, chucking them on the floor as hard as we could at these people. So they threw us out.
Me and Pat went around to the back of the alley and started climbing up the side of the building to try to get back in. All of a sudden, a crate of Grimple records came out the window. Me and Pat were hanging on this two-story building, laughing our asses off, trying to throw a TV back through the window. People inside were screaming at us, “Get the fuck out of here!!” It was understandable.
Gordon Edgar: Ben Weasel came in one day and got all aggro about a less than positive review on his latest album. In retrospect, I can’t really blame him, but at least he didn’t see the one that said simply, “Hey, the Ramones weren’t jocks, okay?”
Matt Wobensmith: One time we realized two punk rock nannies in the store were actually taking care of Frances Bean Cobain. As an infant, little Frances ended up crawling on our floor and playing with a bunch of crusty punks and their pit bulls. We were so terrified, thinking of the potential headline: “Nirvana Baby Mauled by Pit Bull in Punk Record Store!”
Gordon Edgar: I don’t remember why we decided to have a Punk Prom but the idea really took off. The Make-Up were already scheduled to play. They were good sports about us turning their show into a theme event. We had a prom committee who decorated the space like a high school, except with little doily circle-As. Everyone showed up in style. I remember bow ties, a lot of drag, and fresh liberty spikes. I was disappointed that there was no pig’s blood like in Carrie.
We were using all that energy on something for fun instead of something important and political. The Epicenter Pool Tournament was near the beginning, back before anyone was hating on each other. This totally warped and fucked-up table was said to have been salvaged from the Verbal Abuse house.
Every time someone sank a shot, people would applaud quietly and politely like it was a golf tournament. This drove Tim Yo crazy. He kept growling every time it happened, which of course just encouraged us.
Matt Wobensmith: This straightedge kid from Atherton worked there. I think it was Jim Pitts. Apparently, Tim busted him stealing a bunch of records. That infuriated Tim to the point where he took a picture of this kid and put a circle around his face and wrote, “Jim Pitts. Banned from the scene.” He made T-shirts, flyers, and published it in Maximum RocknRoll. Who could ban somebody from the scene?
Jeff Heerman: I had just moved to the big city from the cultural backwater that is Modesto, California. I’d read about the opening of Epicenter in the pages of Maximum RocknRoll, in an article that featured photos of Tim Yohannan playing ping-pong. I figured that volunteering there would be a good means of meeting people and insinuating myself into a scene.
The first store meeting that I attended could have been mistaken for a particularly unruly 12-step get-together. Plenty of arguing and bad vibes, much of them surrounding a “politically motivated” after-hours vandalism of the space by ex-workers. Spiky-and-dyed 20somethings debated a long, complicated agenda. Eventually, Matt Wobensmith of Outpunk zine turned to me and asked, “Are you alienated yet?” I stuck around anyway, and started working a couple of five-hour shifts a week.
A.C. Thompson: Epicenter had even more amazing meetings than Gilman because Epicenter was run by people who were a little more politically sophisticated. There was a debate at Epicenter about a NOFX record called Heavy Petting Zoo, which had a cartoon on the cover of a person petting a sheep in a suggestive way. There was a sense that this was offensive to both women and sheep, and the vegans on staff were not going to stand for this.
My point was, there are no women in the picture so how could this be offensive to women? If you can’t make fun of sheep, then you really can’t make fun of anything. I mean, the sheep are not going to fucking complain. They’re not even going to know that you’re making fun of them.
There was another issue where a woman came to a meeting and she was mad that there was a blue light in the Epicenter bathroom. It was designed to deter people from shooting drugs in the bathroom and dying onsite. Theoretically, making it harder to find a vein.
She said, “There are a lot of sex workers in this neighborhood and you need to open up your space to them and let them use your bathroom however they want to. You guys are oppressing women and sex workers because you’re not open to them. They should be able to come in here and turn a trick or change their clothes, or shoot drugs, whatever they want to do.” Suddenly we are oppressing this persecuted class of people because we don’t want people to die in our bathroom?
Gordon Edgar: We played a great April Fool’s Day joke one year that got a little out of hand. This wasn’t too long after Chumbawamba’s Shhh came out, and they had released one of the songs as a 12″ single. This was way before Tubthumper but still a radical change from their peace-punk Crass-derivative days. There was a certain humorless anarcho-vegan, straightedger person at Epicenter, who was a little hard to take sometimes. So “someone” sent a fax to Chumbawamba’s label that read:
I don’t like your new record. As you know, dance music promotes fascism and that is wrong. Can you send me Crass’s phone number? I want to stay with them when my band tours England next summer.
(Humorless anarcho-vegan, straight-edger’s name)
We circled all the “A”s too. The next morning, as soon as people were awake in England, we started getting phone calls. From Chumbawamba, from ex-Crass members, from their record label, all demanding to talk to the letter writer. Even Tim from MRR called with his typical greeting of “What the fuck is going on over there?” Who knew England didn’t celebrate April Fool’s Day?
Kegger: They started getting bands like Team Dresch and Fifth Column to come play, all these random queer bands. Those were fun times until Epicenter got flooded. That night, Assfort from Japan was playing. Everyone was getting rowdy and this young punk kid jumped up and grabbed on to the sprinkler system and it broke. Me and my friends tried to save the library by throwing the fanzines up on top of the shelves.
Floyd: After Blacklist Mailorder folded, Epicenter was never able to find a suitable tenant. We couldn’t operate as a show space after the flood. That really shot a lot of the enthusiasm. There was a small loyal core to the end, but not the manpower to keep it going.
# # #