Alternative Tentacles is an independent record label established in 1979 in San Francisco, California. It was used by 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 sole 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
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]

In April 2019 Kerrang ran a long form feature called "An Oral History of Alternative Tentacles".[3] Within that article were quotes on the modern political stance of the label:

"Alternative Tentacles has a long history of making political statements. Two of their biggest selling T-shirts since America's 2016 election are the 'Nazi Trumps Fuck Off' and 'Trump Hates Me' designs. Anti-Trump sentiments have also been expressed on the A.T Batcast podcast. So it came as a surprise to the staff to find out that there are Trump supporters who are also fans of A.T. "They think that Trump is punk," Chris sighs. "He's the chaos factor, so they see him as someone who's fucking up the government. It's amazing to me that people are surprised Jello is anti-Trump. Like, where have you been?!"
This label has questioned every single president – including Obama – since 1979," adds Dominic, "and we will continue to do so. We support questioning everything, we are feminists, we like to challenge norms, and we aren't afraid to take a side. I'll say it again: If you support Trump, fuck you. That shaking things up you love so much is destroying people's lives."

In March 2020, Bandcamp ran a feature on their site entitled "The Lesser-Known Classics of Alternative Tentacles Records" as part of their label profile series.[4]

United Kingdom branch


In the early 1980s, Alternative Tentacles opened an office in the UK (eventually settling at 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. It was also a distribution hub for Elemental Records.


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. Biafra presented a detailed account of the trial 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.[5] 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 whistleblower 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 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.[6]

In October 2002, the label moved to Emeryville, California.[citation needed]



Current artists


Former artists





See also



  1. ^ “Dead Kennedys v. Jello Biafra” Archived March 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c A Crash Course in Alternative Tentacles. Archived June 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Alternative Tentacles. 2004. Web.
  3. ^ "An Oral History of Alternative Tentacles". April 8, 2019. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  4. ^ "The Lesser-Known Classics of Alternative Tentacles Records". March 18, 2020. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  5. ^ Dead Kennedys v. Biafra, 46 F.Supp.2d 1028 (1999)
  6. ^ JELLO BIAFRA Gets Shot Down By DEAD KENNEDYS, accessed January 3, 2017
  7. ^ "DeLorean: Sheer Smegma (Teddy and the Frat Girls) - "Clubnite" (1980)". Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  8. ^ "Artists - Alternative Tentacles". Alternative Tentacles. Retrieved July 23, 2020.

Further reading