CP sat down with label runner and ANTIfest organizer Chris Stowe in advance of the festival to talk about the history and potential future of ANTIfest and A-F Records.
20 years is a long time for a label to exist. Why do you think A-F Records has been able to thrive for so long?
I don’t know! It’s weird. Music business is a terrible thing anyways, really unpredictable. Anti-Flag started [A-F Records] forever ago to put out—I think the first thing they technically put out was a sampler for free, but then they put out a split with Bad Genes. It lived, and as it grew, they signed a ton of bands, but it kind of went away in the early 2000s and went dormant when the CD crash happened.
And the way that I’ve been running it [in the last six years] it comes from the fact that my only experience with labels is never having been on one before. I’ve always been an independent musician and needed to scrape by, so I’ve been running it like a mirror image of what I would have wanted a record label to do for me when I was doing that.
What’s the A-F Records office like?
We have an office and warehouse space in Glenshaw, and the studio is out there also. The [Anti-Flag] guys have been up there forever, they’ve been in that space one way or another for 15 years. The label started in Justin’s garage, his parents' garage, and that is up the street from where our office is now.
When did ANTIfest start?
ANTIfest has existed for a few years, but not in America. This is the fourth one. Anti-Flag started it in the UK five years ago. It featured the Bouncing Souls and The Menzingers, and it was a similar set-up. They had PETA come and Sea Shepard and Amnesty International, and I’m bringing in that element as well, except with PAAR and Persad Center. They had one in France and one in Germany.
Why did you select Mr. Smalls Funhouse and Mr. Roboto as the locations for the event?
Smalls and Roboto are two rooms that are small enough that I wouldn’t feel weird if I only sold 50 tickets. [Laughs] So it was a safety thing. But I wanted there to be a drinking show and a non-drinking show. Both are all ages, but you can’t drink at Roboto. I wanted a mix of both of those things.
Were you worried about anyone not being willing to reunite?
I knew that The Code would do it because I see him all the time, he’s the guitar tech for Anti-Flag, so I’ve been poking him about it forever, and I’ve made them get back together before. Tabula Rasa was also easy because I’m in a band with Rob [Spagiare], so I’ve been poking him about that too. Rob’s big thing is like, “No one’s gonna care!” but I’m like, “You dumb idiot, yes they will, just do it!”
The Ma Jolie reunion happened by accident. They broke up and hadn’t really talked to each other, and I wanted Neshaminy Creek Brewing to be one of the beer sponsors. Jeff, Ma Jolie’s drummer, helps run Neshaminy Creek with his brother Jeremy. He was like, “I wish Ma Jolie could play this,” and I was like, “They can!” So I told him to just ask them and it was confirmed in like an hour.
Why did A-F Records pick the Persad Center and PAAR as the causes for this event?
I like the Persad Center a lot, and I’ve given to them in the past. We worked with Wax Mage in Cleveland to press the ashes of a burnt American Flag into a few live Anti-Flag records last year, and then we auctioned them off for charity.
So I sent the money from that to the Persad Center, and they wrote me up and thanked me and asked if I wanted to see what they do. They do such amazing outreach and have been doing important work for the LGBTQ community since the ‘70s. These are people that have been living in the most unpopular world possible for a long time. Can you imagine running an LGBTQ outreach center in the ‘80s? That’s fucking crazy. You set yourself up to be a target, and the fact they’ve been doing it for this long is rad.
And same with PAAR. It’s important. We’re all in a world and a time right now where we need to look at our behavior and how we treat each other, and PAAR does a lot of good education with that, and the more education we can have in our scene, the less likely shitty things will happen, because these kids will know how to treat each other and understand consent and learn how to not be assholes to each other.
The other reason I chose PAAR and the Persad Center is because one of the ways I’ve been trying to cope [with the current political climate] is by doing as much local shit as I can. If we can affect something right next to us, it’s a lot more impactful spiritually.
What do you hope to see happen with A-F Records and ANTIfest?
My ultimate goal with A-F Records is to turn it into what Sub City Records was forever ago, and that’s always been my favorite label. I love their charity aspects and that’s what I’m drawn to do anyway, so I love incorporating that. Hopefully we can grow ANTIfest into an event where people will come from out of town to be a part of it.