In Mike Park’s mom’s garage, a plethora of vinyls from different artists lean against one another, with minimal space between them to walk along. Empty boxes, once full of more records and other merchandise, lay scattered across the concrete ground and an off-white folding table.
For the past 25 years, this is where Mike Park has been running Asian Man Records — a record label shedding light on local rock bands in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of Park’s overarching goals is to sign local bands, many coming from the ska or punk scenes, and help them gain recognition from other labels and a wider audience.
Ska is a style of popular Jamaican music that gained traction in the anglosphere throughout the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s. Its sound is characterized by a melodic bass riffs and, in more contemporary styles, the guitar tones of hard rock and punk.
“I don’t want to compete with bigger labels. I’ve always wanted this to just be a garage label where I could just do things myself,” Park said. “I never want to outgrow that. I guess it’s the opposite of what most companies want to do, but I feel like ‘Man, this has worked for me for a quarter of a century,’ so I keep going.”
Being a small label allows Park to have a personal relationship with the bands, and also make sure the goals of Asian Man Records never turn toward the capitalistic gain typical of the music industry.
Falyn Walsh, bass guitarist and vocalist for Grumpster, a punk band under Asian Man Records, shares Park’s dedication to keeping the record label focused on the music rather than the money.
“A lot of labels will stay quiet because they know they can just profit off of their bands, and then pocket [the money], but Mike is always putting his resources toward organizations,” Walsh said. “So it’s really cool to be a part of that, and how all of the bands that he has on his roster stand behind the same beliefs.”
Park focuses events for Asian Man Records around his community, primarily organizing benefits and local small concerts to raise money for various charities and promote peace through music. Park also uses his platform — along with his own outfit, the Bruce Lee Band — in this regard, primarily discussing election fraud and anti-Asian hate.
When looking for bands to sign to his label, Park seeks artists who are involved with their communities and actively uplift other bands. While he finds many artists through word-of-mouth, Park also attends shows to scout and meet bands.
“When I saw Fishbone, which was six African American gentlemen, play the music that I liked, they had a simple logo on their shirt that said ‘fuck racism.’ And that was really powerful to see,” Park said. “You can have a message and you can still have a concert where it’s fun and energetic, but at the same time have some sort of substance behind it rather than sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.”
For Small Crush, another band within Asian Man Records, Park heard their EP through a mutual friend and quickly reached out to produce their first album.
Unlike many record companies, Asian Man Records is independently run and does not make bands sign contracts, which Hammon admires about the label. Without contracts and time constraints, artists and bands within Asian Man Records can create content freely and when they choose.
“Mike is pretty much doing it the best way I think anyone can at this point,” said Logan Hammon, guitarist and vocalist of Small Crush. “I hope that the music industry looks more at building communities, and bringing it back to the real joy and light heartedness of music and just creating better spaces for people to get together.”