About K

Have a question about K or want to learn more about K History? This page is for you! On this page you will find answers to common questions such as:

  • What is K?
  • How did K start?
  • Who is Calvin Johnson?
  • What is K's connection to Sup/Pop?
  • What was the first release on K?
  • What is the International Pop Underground?
  • What is Dub Narcotic Studio?
  • Does K accept demos?

Interested in finding out what year an album or 7-inch was released? Check out the K Discography: a list of every K release!

Want to learn more about shipping & ordering through the K Mail Order Dept.? Have a question about a product or something you purchased? View F.A.Q.s and learn more about our online shop.

More questions? Contact us.

What is K?

K: a conspiracy of gravediggers, spies, swim instructors and international pop stars. There are hangmen and there are saints. K as a label has released cassettes, phonograph records and compact discs documenting the audio works of over 150 artists. The main focus K of has been artists working in and around Olympia, Washington, where K is based, but has included comrades from across the U.S.A. and as far away as Japan, Scotland, Australia, Canada, Germany and England. Yes, K explodes the teenage underground into passionate revolt against the corporate ogre world-wide.

Colleagues in the International Pop Underground collide at the K vanishing point. The sounds cross back and forth through a number of genres, some known and some less so: punk, hip hop, atom-powered folk-pop, haunted garage, restless singer songwright, epic soul shock, noise exp., blurred-eye visionary psychedelica, roadhouse mod and the silent film soundtracks composed by Timothy Brock, as performed by the Olympia Chamber Orchestra.

How Did K Start?

Calvin Johnson formed K in Summer, 1982. The impetus to start such a label is complex. At the time he lived in the Capitol Theater Building in downtown, Olympia, next door to Stella Marrs' studio, the original Girl City. Together they played in a band, 003 Legion. The project of the summer was the Sub/Pop fanzine #8. Calvin had been working on the Sub/Pop fanzine with it's founder, Bruce Pavitt, since 1980; important tasks assigned to Calvin included "late-night peanut butter and jelly sandwiches". At this time, Bruce was on tour as Road Manager with Pell Mell, and Calvin was left to mind the front.

The motto of Sub/Pop was "Decentralize Pop Culture". It drew a lot of inspiration from the Olympia music magazine Op (founded by John Foster), which focused on music available through independent and artist owned labels, and the Olympia community radio station KAOS-FM, which had a music policy that prioritized such independent and do-it-yourself music. Both Calvin and Bruce worked with Op magazine and hosted radio shows on KAOS. Two issues of Sub/Pop were released as cassettes compiling underground music, mainly originating from Sub/Pop's focus regions, the Northwestern and Midwestern United States.

This concept of cassette fanzine was inspired by two radio DJs at 3RRR in Melbourne, Australia who founded a cassette fanzine, Fast Forward, in 1980. The cassette was just beginning to make sense as a format; up to this point, LPs dominated the music consumer landscape. The walkman and ghettoblaster were just emerging, as cassette technology made giant advances in audio fidelity. Building on these ideas, K began as a cassette-only label, focusing on Olympia's embryonic downtown music scene. Prior to this, there had been one label in Olympia, Mr. Brown, which released four singles and two compilations. The K releases were on a much more modest scale. Another advantage of the cassette format: you could manufacture titles at a reasonable cost per piece in much lower quantities. The usual run of a K release was around 100 copies. 

K soon took on a life outside of downtown Olympia. Calvin was once quoted on the subject thusly in a well respected journal of popular underground culture: Let's skip the well crafted puff piece and redirect the center of gravity because it bears repeating:

  1. I care about tummys
  2. I care about art
  3. Sonic Medusa, please break my heart

We are not in the entertainment biz. K is a library card for the culturally deadpan... hometaping is a required course. Johnny Appleseed had the right idea: homegrown tastes best, decentralize the means and distribution of your sustenance, cultivate strains outside the petridish of corporate culture. Decentralize your tastebuds. The emperor has some new clothes but guess what? They fall apart after the third washing. Why wait? Turn the hoses on them and street party scenic. We've already got Lady Godiva on a Trojan Horse and nobody's looking. So check it out, the overdue fines have been paid.

Click here to view information about Sub/Pop Fanzines and Northwest Bands from the '80s.

What was the first release on K?

The cassette-only release by the Olympia trio the Supreme Cool Beings was the first release on K. Entitled Survival of the Coolest, it debuted in 1982. Comprised of Heather Lewis, Gary Allen May and Doug Monaghan, the Supreme Cool Beings played around Olympia and Tacoma for about six months before Survival of the Coolest was recorded during a live broadcast the band performed on Calvin Johnson’s Boy Meets Girl radio show on KAOS-FM, Olympia’s community radio station. The Supreme Cool Beings were seminally Olympian in a number of ways: they often did not use a bass guitar, had both male and female vocals, a female drummer, and played in multiple bands at the same time. Though now commonplace, these features were quite unusual in 1982. The cover of Survival of the Coolest was designed by Heather and each was hand-painted by the band.

The following year, Heather Lewis began playing with Laura Carter and Calvin Johnson in Laura, Heather and Calvin, which became Beat Happening when Bret Lunsford joined in August, 1983.

During the year 1983, K released it’s first compilation, Danger Is Their Business: an a cappella collection collated by Calvin Johnson and Rich Jensen that featured Olympia area artists such as John Foster, Heidi Drucker, Twin Diet, Robin James, Lorraine Tong; Calvin and Rich also each contributed a song. The cover was a white spray-painted cassette box hand stamped with a carved linoleum block design.

In 1984 K released several more cassettes:

  • Rich Jensen The Animal Box (a cappella songs and found sounds with hand spray-painted covers)
  • Two five song collections by Beat Happening: Beat Happening (produced by Greg Sage of the Wipers) and Three Tea Breakfast (recorded on their trip to Japan that year)
  • Let’s Together, a compilation collated by Bret Lunsford and Calvin Johnson, which documented the emerging Olympia underground (Beat Happening, Young Pioneers, Wimps, Wild, Wild, Wild Spoons, John Fosters Pop Philosophers), artists from around Washington state such as Melvins (Montesano) and the Public Service (Anacortes), all-female hardcore band the Wrecks from Reno, Nv., two pop rockin’ combos from Tucson, Az. (Rotte Kapelle, Seldoms) and two punk bands from Tokyo, Japan’s Rebel Beat Factory label, the Loods (featuring Nissie) and Kyah (an all-female band that Beat Happening met while living in Tokyo).
  • Also released that year was a sixty-minute cassette by John Foster’s Pop Philosophers, which featured an electronic epic “The Kennedy Saga”, a thirty minute exploration of the Kennedy family, adapted from a paperback biography. “The Kennedy Saga” was also the K debut by frequent artist and producer Steve Fisk.
  • 1984 was capped by the release of the first record on K, the Beat Happening 45 “Our Secret” b/w “What’s Important”, two Greg Sage produced songs which had been included on the Beat Happening cassette release earlier in the year. The cover was a Bongo and Maraca design by Heather, hand coloured by the band.
What is the International Pop Underground?

In 1987, K launched a series of 7-inch singles called the International Pop Underground. This series features artists emanating from pop rockin’ catacombs around the globe. To date there are over 140 volumes in the series.

Some of the artists included in the International Pop Underground are closely allied with K artists and are making a guest appearance on the label, such as: Gigi, Chromatics, the VibrariansGenerifus, Unrest, Versus, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planetthe GossipPork, the Pastels, Melody Dog, Bonfire Madigan, Teenage Fanclub, and Seaweed.

Others are artists who have released albums on K such as LAKEPine Hill HaintsMecca NormalChain & the GangAngelo SpencerLoisSome Velvet SidewalkMirah, Microphones, Make-Up, Beat Happening, Thee Headcoats, Heavenly, KARP, the Crabs, Built to Spill, and Selector Dub Narcotic.

Releases in the International Pop Underground series are denoted with a catalog number that begins with "IPU".

K has released two compilations of material from the International Pop Underground series on compact disc: International Hip Swing [KLP016] and Project: Echo [KLP055]. 

What is Dub Narcotic Studio?

Dub Narcotic Studio was created in the basement of the house of K's founder, Calvin Johnson, in 1993. It has been a place for K musicians and friends to record, and has hosted such names as MirahThe Microphones (Phil Elverum)BeckModest Mouse and Lois. After outgrowing Calvin's basement, the studio was relocated to the K offices in the Olympia Knitting Mills building. In 2005, it was moved to an old synagogue. Dub Narcotic Studio was well known for its unique and relaxed recording environment and its arsenal of beautiful vintage tube gear.

Click here to learn more about Dub Narcotic Studio's history.

Does K Accept Demos?

The easy answer is “no”. Unsolicited demos sent to our address via physical or electronic mail are not played. We encourage you to send your music to sources that are actively seeking submissions and that will be excited to hear your project.