By Ben Scheffler
So goes the slogan of Plan-It-X records. Now based in Cairo, IN, this punk rock record label epitomizes the ideals of independence and DIY ethos. The label was started in 1994 as a joke by two friends who were hand producing the liner notes for their forthcoming cassette. Sixteen years later, Plan-It-X is still about friends, fun, and great music. On the label’s website, founder Chris Johnston says “We release music we love. Music that we want other people to hear. Plan-It-X Records is not about making money. We are about getting punk music heard. Punk rock is more than a business.” From the early days of releasing cassettes and 7”s, to the more recent switch to CDs, Plan-It-X steadfastly releases records for only $5, and bands on the label only play shows in all-ages, non-Clear Channel venues where the admission never exceeds $5, unless there are more than six bands playing.
In the early days, Plan-It-X records was based in Bloomington, IN, and centered around five bands: The Ted Dancin’ Machine, Instinct, the Latch Key Kids, the Dirtys, and Operation: Cliff Clavin. They operated as a non-profit label, releasing cassettes at cost for $1. Upon making the format switch to CDs, Johnston says “We decided 10$ was way too much for a CD and wasn’t punk at all. You see we were really “punk” back then (and now oi oi oi). We were gonna make a cd and it was gonna come with 2 stickers not just one, and a patch and have a lot of songs and only cost 5$ ppd. We did it. So that was the birth of the 5$ CD days.”
What is considered by many outsiders to be the Plan-It-X’s biggest success is seen by the label as their biggest disappointment. By far the most commercially successful and well known release by Plan-It-X is the 2001 release of Gainesville folk punk band Against Me!’s “Crime As Forgiven By” EP. Since then, Against Me! has rocketed to semi-stardom. They signed to Sire Records in 2005 and released two records which have garnered a fair amount commercial success. While these career moves were certainly theirs to make, Against Me! have alienated many old fans by their apparent abandonment of the DIY lifestyle.
The label does, however, have a strong roster of bands who continue to live by and thrive under the DIY lifestyle. Several of their flagship bands include This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, Defiance, Ohio, and Andrew Jackson Jihad. All three bands tour and release music steadily and have very dedicated followings. Additionally, label head Chris Johnston’s acoustic folk punk duo Ghost Mice continue to release material.
Over the years, Plan-It-X has moved around quite a bit. After their start in Georgetown, IN, They spent the bulk of their life in Bloomington. They then spent time in Olympia, WA and Gainesville, FL, before settling in the near-ghost town of Cairo, IN. Time Magazine recently published an article about the label’s curious move to a town that has been slowly dying for decades and seemingly lacks disposable income and interest or ability to support a local artistic community. Johnston and his compatriots opened a coffee shop and bookstore called Ace Of Cups, and are patiently waiting. According to TIME, “Business is slow…Cars lazily circle the block, their passengers peering in the windows, trying to understand the purpose of the incongruously cheery purple store front.”
But Johnston does have a purpose. He and the rest of the Plan-It-X family are on a mission to revitalize the struggling town and create some sort of small-town punk rock mecca. Whether their efforts will succeed remains to be seen, but Johnston has certainly proven his dedication to the DIY lifestyle, and if there is anyone up for the challenge, it’s him.