Alternative Tentacles

Alternative Tentacles is an independent record label established in 1979 in San Francisco, California. It was used by the Dead Kennedys for the self-produced single "California Über Alles". After realizing the potential for an independent label, they released records for other bands as well. Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray and vocalist Jello Biafra formed Alternative Tentacles, but Biafra became the owner in the mid-1980s.[1] Alternative Tentacles no longer owns the rights to Dead Kennedys recordings after a 2000 lawsuit.

Alternative Tentacles
Founded1979 (1979)
FounderJello Biafra
East Bay Ray
Distributor(s)Revolver USA
GenrePunk rock
Alternative rock
Spoken word
Hardcore punk
Heavy metal
Country of originU.S.
LocationEmeryville, California (current)
San Francisco, California (historic)


Alternative Tentacles subsequently released records of other bands of the alternative/punk scene including releasing records (which were later released by other labels) by bands including The Dicks, 7 Seconds, and the Butthole Surfers. In 1981, Alternative Tentacles released the compilation Let Them Eat Jellybeans!.[2]

Some of the best known bands that have released albums through Alternative Tentacles are Dead Kennedys, NoMeansNo, D.O.A. and Alice Donut.[2]

In addition to musical acts, Alternative Tentacles also publishes spoken word albums, many by Jello Biafra himself. Another common theme of Alternative Tentacles records over the years has been the artwork of Winston Smith, which has appeared on many of their records, catalogs, posters and shirts. Smith also designed the Alternative Tentacles logo.[2]

United Kingdom branchEdit

In the early 1980s Alternative Tentacles opened an office in the UK with its final base being 64 Mountgrove Road in London to release special editions of American punk records that were unavailable in Europe, many of which were licensed from other independent U.S. labels. Among these were releases by SST Records' groups Black Flag and Hüsker Dü, the Dischord Records compilation Flex Your Head, and an EP of tracks from the Bad Brains eponymous 1982 album, as well as U.K. pressings of all American Dead Kennedys releases. The arrangement was sadly short-lived as it was certainly a really good place to visit.

It was also a distribution hub for Elemental Records

Legal troubleEdit

In 1985, Los Angeles prosecutors charged Biafra with "distributing harmful matter to minors" for artwork contained in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. The artwork was a poster reproduction of the painting "Work 219: Landscape XX", also known as "Penis Landscape" by H.R. Giger. The case ended in a hung jury and charges were not re-filed. A detailed account of the trial is presented by Biafra on his second spoken word album, High Priest of Harmful Matter − Tales from the Trial.

In early 2000, the label and Biafra were named in a lawsuit brought by his former Dead Kennedys bandmates. The suit claimed that Biafra had failed to pay the band's members a decade's worth of royalties on the band's albums, totaling some $76,000.[3] All sides agreed the initial underpayment of royalties was due to an accounting error. However, the jury ultimately ruled that Alternative Tentacles and Biafra were "guilty of malice, oppression and fraud" by not promptly informing his former bandmates of the matter and instead withholding the information during subsequent discussions and contractual negotiations. The other Dead Kennedys members only learned of the royalty underpayment from a whistle blower at the record label. A 2003 appeal upheld the verdict and judgment against Biafra and the record label of $200,000 in compensation and punitive damages. The end result of the case saw the rights to the Dead Kennedys albums turned over to the other band members, who licensed them to Manifesto Records in the United States (and to other labels in the rest of the world). Dead Kennedys albums accounted for about half of all sales by Alternative Tentacles, leading to financial uncertainty for the label.[4]

In October 2002, the label moved to Emeryville, California.


Current artistsEdit

Former artistsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ “Dead Kennedys v. Jello Biafra” Archived 2007-03-11 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c A Crash Course in Alternative Tentacles. Archived 2011-06-22 at the Wayback Machine Alternative Tentacles. 2004. Web.
  3. ^ Dead Kennedys v. Biafra, 46 F.Supp.2d 1028 (1999)
  4. ^ JELLO BIAFRA Gets Shot Down By DEAD KENNEDYS, accessed 2017-01-03
  5. ^ "DeLorean: Sheer Smegma (Teddy and the Frat Girls) - "Clubnite" (1980)". Retrieved 6 April 2018.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit