Despite the fact that the record store has been open since 2007, Thrillhouse remains a relative secret in this city. It started out as a local punk label, featuring releases from Bobby Joe Ebola, RoboCop 3, and Black Rainbow, and is now a shop-cum-clubhouse deeply entrenched in San Francisco’s music scene.
Thrillhouse is the kind of place you can sit around and drink beer with the all-volunteer staff while flipping through Crass records and talking about the Wipers. Over the three or so years that I’ve been going there as a customer, I’ve engaged in numerous discussions with the staff that travel so far down trivia wormholes that I end up learning gobs of the most unsanitary information about rock and roll’s dirtiest heroes.
The vinyl carried in the shop varies wildly in genre and you can generally count on leaving with some unexpected finds. On one particular visit, I scored a long lost Black Sabbath album I’d been looking for, a collection of classic country LPs, and a couple 45s by local bands that have since broken up. The house stereo is just as eclectic. I’ve heard “God Save the Queen” followed by a Billy Idol hit and a Billy Childish ballad. This wide cultural smattering extends to the name of the shop itself – which was taken from a segment of a Simpsons Christmas episode in which Bart is caught shoplifting. Sounds pretty punk to me.
On a recent trip to Thrillhouse, founder Fred Schrunk invited me to come down and help prepare a feast for a potluck he was attending. As usual, I ventured in with a case of beer and no idea what to expect next. I arrived a bit after the agreed meeting time only to find an empty store and some half-asleep punks at the counter. Fred isn’t a slave to punctuality, but when he finally arrived, we eased into a conversation about the ethos and mission of running a subversive punk record store in a city with ever-changing taste.
Fred explained that Thrillhouse embraces a lifestyle that goes beyond punk. It fosters a true rock ’n’ roll ethic that incites people to share their tastes and influences. The store is designed to be a not-for-profit, which means that the records aren’t marked up at insane dollar amounts. They’re priced just high enough to cover overhead and keep the electricity on.
While we prepared food for the potluck, Fred introduced me to members of the staff who’d just slogged their way into Thrillhouse after a late night of anarchy and debauchery. We caramelized apples that were to be wrapped in bacon while the volunteers talked about Star Wars and Richard Hell. Later we played Super Mario Brothers 3 while dissecting a Gary Glitter album and drinking Coors.
Fred showed me the basement where shows were held before the fire department deemed the space too risky for those sorts of events. The space isn’t exactly fit for the vertically inclined, and getting it up to code would’ve been an architectural conundrum. What remains are tiny remnants of better days: guitar strings strewn on the dirt floor mixed with shards of glass from bottles long emptied. On the way back up from the basement, we passed by a wall covered with laser discs.
Thrillhouse has had an effervescent presence in San Francisco’s music community since its start. From curating and promoting the 2010 San Francisco Is Doomed Fest to putting together a library of collected and donated zines, there are always murmurs of something new going on at the shop.
The city’s liveliest underground movements and communities are rarely recognized while they’re happening. Usually it’s only upon reflection after their demise that we realize what a good thing we had going. Thrillhouse offers a unique opportunity to be part of something great and progressive right now.
Dust off your parent’s record player and head down to Thrillhouse for records you might not even realize you’ve been missing. Check out the zine selection, bring a zine to trade in, or leaf through the newest issue of Maximum Rocknroll.
Sign up for Thrillhouse’s monthly newsletter of what’s what in the store at firstname.lastname@example.org.