I remember being out in Southern California during the summer of 1991 and making a pilgrimage to the epicenter of all things hardcore/punk/metal related: the famous emporium known as Zed Records. This is back in a time when record stores served as information centers, network centers, and general meeting places for like-minded connoisseurs. At Zed, all roads led to a large, heavily-tattooed man behind the counter named Big Frank. His easygoing manner put newcomers immediately at ease and scenesters like Katon from Hirax were always around. Not sure if he worked there or just hung out, but he was a hell of a nice guy, just like Frank.
I'd heard Frank was responsible for the Nemesis Records label, which had put out some really cool records, and was a legend around those parts. The thing I loved about Nemesis was its widely diverse roster. One release could be a straight edge band, then a post-hardcore one, followed by a NYHC-styled stomper, some straightforward punk rock, and then a metal-prog instrumental affair. Big Frank didn't follow trends, he put out friends' bands or just stuff he liked, not giving a care if they were "marketable" or if it would offend purists that saw his label as only one type of music. The records he put out by Insted, Vision, Brujeria, The Offspring, Uniform Choice, Final Conflict, Olivelawn, and others reflect his eclectic tastes.
His new book, The History of Nemesis Records, released on the Reaper label, is a wonderful tribute to the big man's singular vision and goes a long way in cementing Nemesis' rightful place in the pantheon of American hardcore record labels. There are currently several well-written chronicles that document the first record labels that championed this music in the early 1980s, but scant mention of the ones that picked up the baton in the late '80s and early '90s, in which Nemesis played a huge role. Inside this glossy, full-color 200-plus pages you'll find lovingly curated flyers/photos/artwork related to the Nemesis universe, as well as recollections by contemporaries and people whose records Big Frank put out. All of them giving heartfelt commentary on how the label impacted them and the scene at large.
There is also a cool release-by-release commentary by the man himself. Some will be butt-hurt by the comments, but they are like Frank himself: honest, direct, and pulling no punches. I especially agree on Chain of Strength's overrated status and The Offspring's wise beyond their years approach to signing contracts. Speaking of The Offspring, I booked them at ABC No Rio based solely on the record they put out on Nemesis (which I dug). Who knew they'd go on to mega-nauseating status? Not Frank, and certainly not I.
Throughout the years I'd always wondered what became of Big Frank, and then in 2016 I saw a GoFundMe page dedicated to raising funds for a medical procedure. As I followed his progress, I am happy to report that he is well on his way to a healthy recovery.
I've gotta give props to longtime fan Patrick Kitzel from Reaper for doing an excellent job in shining a light onto one of his biggest influences. Kudos for the nice, clean layout done by Jonathan Buske. It's important to remember the roots and branches of our culture, not for nostalgia's sake, but as a way to inform and shape our current endeavors. As Patrick so eloquently puts it in the intro:
It's the present that matters, the future where we are headed to keep in mind, and the past from where we all come from to keep in our hearts.
Some of my favorite Nemesis releases include:
Killer, all instrumental metal-prog jams from their 1990 LP.
Crucial Bl'ast!/Black Flag sounds from ex-Half Off dudes.
Angular post-hardcore from future Drive Like Jehu/Rocket From the Crypt members.
One Step Ahead
The best records Verbal Assault never put out. Great band!
Reason to Believe
The first Nemesis release I ever bought, and it still rules. R.I.P. Jon Bunch.