NEW YORK (Billboard) - "Hopelessly Devoted to You Too," the
1998 compilation from Van Nuys, Calif.-based indie label
Hopeless Records, had the sort of cheeky, smirking title
typical of classic punk rock. It plugged the label's name while
lifting its title from Olivia Newton-John's schmaltzy 1978 hit
Perhaps by coincidence, it also nicely summed up the future
plans of Louis Posen, the label's founder/president, even if he
didn't know it at the time.
A year later, that compilation surpassed the 100,000 mark
in sales, according to Posen. With a new milestone reached,
Posen recognized that he could do something more than just
release recordings by some of his favorite underground bands.
He could start another label devoted to helping those in need.
"We realized at that point we were reaching a lot of people
and that there was a unique opportunity to do something
positive with that reach," Posen recalls. "There's some revenue
being generated here. This is great for the artists, this is
great for music and the fans, but there could be something
great also for people that are in need and don't have the
opportunities that we do or our artists do."
Out of that thought, Hopeless sister label Sub City was
born. Its name is a play on words incorporating its mission
statement of subsidizing nonprofit organizations along with a
nod to the underground scene that spawned its artists.
Fast-forward eight years and Hopeless/Sub City has reached
another milestone. It has donated more than $1 million to more
than 50 nonprofit organizations with proceeds generated by Sub
City's releases and the label's annual Take Action tour, all
while continuing to thrive in the recording industry's unstable
environment. Not bad for a scrappy company with 10 employees
that makes its home in one of the least glamorous parts of the
San Fernando Valley.
The label will celebrate that feat August 26 at the
Troubadour in West Hollywood, with performances by Hopeless/Sub
City acts Amber Pacific and All Time Low, as well as a special
performance by students from Project MuszEd, the charity
benefiting from the event's proceeds.
To fully grasp Sub City's philanthropic roots, it's
necessary to trace Posen's own story. After growing up in an
exclusive neighborhood in the hills of Los Angeles, he moved to
the Valley to attend film school at California State
University-Northridge. At the age of 19, the aspiring filmmaker
was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare disease in
which the retina of the eye progressively degenerates resulting
in eventual blindness. Undaunted, Posen continued his studies
and pursuit of a film career and branched out into music
videos. He directed seven clips in all for acts including
veteran punks NOFX and Guttermouth.
When the latter act was between labels, Posen offered to
release a seven-inch single for the band from his Van Nuys
garage. "I guess they felt the video shoot was organized enough
that they trusted me to release those songs for them," he says.
Since those humble beginnings, Hopeless and Sub City have
released more than 130 titles by more than 20 acts with sales
exceeding 3 million units, and they've spawned such major-label
bands as Thrice, Avenged Sevenfold and Melee. All the while,
Posen's condition hasn't gotten in the way.
"To me, not having eyesight does not mean that you don't
have vision," 36-year-old Posen says. "In some weird way it has
enabled me to be more focused and not be distracted visually by
With each Sub City release the artist chooses the
benefiting charity, an arrangement that Posen believes allows
that act to "be intimately involved" with the concept and
spreading the message about the organization. The label picks
the charities for its compilations and events.
"We wanted it to be clear to the fans that when they buy a
release, 5 percent of the suggested retail list price is going
the charity they see on the back of the record and in the
literature in the insert and they know that's coming from the
label and the artist and it's based on gross, not on profits,"
Posen says. "So they can be very clear what the donation is,
where it's going and who's giving it."
Punk rock's roots are often associated with nihilism and
anarchy. As Johnny Rotten famously whined in the Sex Pistols'
"God Save the Queen," there is "no future for you." Yet the
breed of bands signed to Sub City have a different take on the
"When I started getting into punk rock, with Bad Religion,
Strung Out, NOFX, Pennywise and the Offspring in the early
days, it was so much about community," Thrice drummer Riley
Breckenridge says. "Even at shows, you'd hear Greg Graffin from
Bad Religion say, 'If you see somebody fall down in the mosh
pit, pick them up.' I guess that's kind of what the charity
thing is, picking someone up off the floor that needs your