What does it mean to be a record label in 2016? For many small labels, the game plan is curation. Gone and forgotten are the days of mass financial gain, so imprints act like living galleries, showcasing exceptional and like-minded works. In Brooklyn, Captured Tracks supports jangly post-punk and pop bands composed of could-be models (and Mac DeMarco). In a strip mall in Fullerton, California, Burger Records puts out charismatic, yet simple rock 'n' rollers who can MacGyver a working bong out of any object.
Here in South Texas, the Yippee Ki Yay Records catalog reads like a passport, stamped with garage rock destinations from across the globe. With music from Argentina, Sweden, Waco and Spain, label head and San Anto native Ryan Smith treats his operation like a child spinning a globe, putting his finger on far-flung destinations to find out what's going down in the basements and dive bars of the world.
"I really wanted Yippee Ki Yay to be a vehicle, not only for local artists in San Antonio or in Texas, but to also help import things and expose people in Texas and the United States to music from abroad, too," Smith told the San Antonio Current.
Conveniently for Texans, the Lone Star State carries some import across the border. Smith named the label after the cowboy's yelp to "channel our Texan roots into something fun and quirky." And for branding, nothing works as well as the label's simple pennant of the iconic state.
"There's only about two or three states where you can say the name of the state and people will respond to that," said Smith. "If you show its shape to somebody in Japan, they'll say, 'Oh yeah, that's Texas.'"
Founded in January 2014, Yippee Ki Yay's first release was from Parisian fuzz rats Bacon Fudge, a tape of bad attitude, low fidelity and captivating punk energy. From this foundation, Smith brought it back home for a split tape with local troublemakers The Bolos and The Oblio's before branching out with strong efforts from Argentina's Las Piñas and Sweden's Baby Jesus.
Released last week, the latest of Yippee Ki Yay's dozen-strong catalog is No Fun Whatsoever, a 10-track effort from sloppy Australian trio Los Scallywags. Like the rest of the YKY catalog, the tape is welcome wherever hips are shaking, denim is well-worn and cheap whiskey is flowing like there's no tomorrow.
There's an uncanny resemblance between members of the Yippee Ki Yay family. Despite the distance between locales — 8,349 miles from San Antonio to Los Scallywag's home in New Castle, Australia — YKY bands maintain a strong commitment to the garage aesthetic.
"It doesn't really matter what language it's in, it's still communicating the same thing," said Smith. "You listen to Las Piñas and you get the same feeling from it that you get from La Luz, Best Coast or Hinds, even though it's in Spanish."
In America, the garage rock revival gets some flack for its sameness — that every Burger blondie and guitar trio sounds like the band that came before it in the set. But it speaks to the appeal of the music that garage is flourishing on six out of seven continents. (Who knows, maybe there's a garage combo of penguins and scientists playing "Louie Louie" in an Antarctic research center).
"It's very accessible, I like how accessible it is to people," said Smith. "You don't need a whole bunch of fancy moves, you can buy the cheapest guitar imaginable, a kid's guitar, a kid's drumset like the Coachwhips do, and it's incredible and fun and amazing."
Unfortunately, as accessible as the music is within each country, trying to export your music on tour is exceedingly difficult. In addition to the usual problems of securing a visa, federal taxes cut 30 percent of a band's show guarantee, to say nothing of state taxes and tariffs in a band's home country. Designed to get a cut of U2 and Muse's paycheck while touring through the States, the tax devastates the already dubious chances for a small band to come back from tour in the black.
"In terms of bringing an international artist to the United States, it is mind-blowingly difficult," said Smith. "It's not like they come here and soak up money and leave. They're spending money, they're going to restaurants, there's lots of different ways they're interacting with the economy."
So, like outfits in San Anto and South Texas, the best way to support an antipodal band is to buy their stuff. Yippee Ki Yay, motherfucker!