On a bright Saturday afternoon, Mark Robinson hunches over a computer in his Arlington home, which doubles as headquarters for his record label, Teenbeat. Around him, the walls are plastered with Teenbeat albums and flyers. Boxes of LPs consume the entire floor. Robinson is transferring numbers from an inventory spreadsheet into a hand-held calculator. He’s computing the number of LPs, CDs, and singles he’ll have to lug out to comply with a recent eviction notice.
With each of the label’s 170 releases, the records have overwhelmed the basement to fill the bedrooms, the office, and the living room. Each bears the hallmarks of Robinson’s wry design sense, which might be tagged haut fromage: A pouty, heavily rouged fashion model stares out from one album jacket pinned to the wall. In another, a hirsute porn king wearing a wife-beater, and nothing else, slaves over a hot stove. Robinson himself, wearing polyester Bike-brand shorts, a neat part, and bright eyes, resembles some gym coach from a Pierre et Gilles photo fantasy.
The house, an unnatural green sun-bleached nearly white, hides behind untrimmed shrubs on a quiet block of Wakefield Street. For six-and-a-half years it has sheltered the label that, alongside the Dischord and Simple Machines labels, made the D.I.Y. rock ethic a reality and put Arlington on the musical map. Robinson, his roommate, and the records must be out by September 1. The house, like several others on the block, is coming down to make way for…more housing.
Neither historic nor charming, the house is, to be honest, pretty ugly; Robinson admits it’s ripe for clearing. “When we moved in here, we thought [the eviction notice] was going to come any day.” But it never came, leaving Robinson & Co. to watch their homey neighborhood, just outside the creeping shadow of Ballston’s tinted-glass grotesqueries, begin turning into cookie-cutter dystopia. Robinson, an Arlington lifer, knows he’ll find another house in the area. He’s more disturbed by the wrongheadedness of the Arlington County Board’s master zoning plan. “I can’t imagine if they took a vote of the homeowners in Arlington that they’d want to destroy the whole place and turn it into the next Jersey City.”
Robinson’s small indie-rock business has always kept a step ahead of the corporate steamrollers. But he and his four interns dread the task of finding new space and relocating, how many records?
“Thirty-three thousand, four hundred and ten,” he says, pushing the “=” key of his calculator. —Bob Massey