Indie rock's Chris Takino pioneered industry trends

Chris Takino was a modest hero of Northwest indie rock, a man who was built to nurture, loath to self-promote.

Mr. Takino, whose tiny Up Records launched such groups as Built to Spill and Modest Mouse, died Friday at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he was being treated for leukemia. He was 32 and had lived in Seattle since 1989.

Megan Jasper, Sub Pop Records general manager, was a close friend of Mr. Takino's for more than a decade. She watched him grow from just another music enthusiast with big dreams and empty pockets to the owner of a highly respected independent record label. Professionally, she admires Mr. Takino most as a brilliant talent scout.

"It was no secret major-record companies watched Up Records to see what they put out," Jasper says. "Chris had an incredible ear - he could listen to music, and he instantly knew if it was relevant, and how it was relevant."

"His sense of good music is just off the charts," says Cheryl Waters of KCMU-FM (90.3), the Seattle station that plays most of Up's acts.

In the mid-1990s, Mr. Takino's label offered a wonderful alternative to overhyped grunge. His best bands shared a love of rule-breaking, exploding with punk intensity one moment, retreating into introspective guitar meanderings the next.

Mr. Takino, who moved here from Los Angeles (where he briefly worked for the punk label SST), launched Up Records in 1994, with Sub Pop agreeing to produce and distribute for Up. In a few years, Mr. Takino built an extraordinary roster, releasing records by Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, Quasi and 764-HERO.

Mr. Takino gave artists half the profits (big record companies offer as low as 10 percent shares to artists) and often did handshake deals, "or really simple contracts," Jasper says.

"He signed bands that were people he liked, doing music he loved," says Britt Ury, one of Up's four employees.

Built to Spill and Modest Mouse went on to sign major record deals after building audiences and respect at Up Records. Olympia duo Quasi - singer Sam Coomes and Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss - went straight to the head of indie rock with its Up releases, which earned rave reviews around the country.

"I feel like we offer a place for bands to grow," Mr. Takino said to the Seattle Weekly in early 1999. Typical of his self-effacing style, he refused to have his picture taken for the article.

The biggest Up seller is Modest Mouse's "The Lonesome Crowded West," with about 70,000 units - a paltry figure compared with the multiplatinum crowd. Most Up acts sell far less, in four figures, yet there is a distinct Up flavor that may prove quite influential.

Just as Up Records was coming into its own and expanding (it has about 20 acts on its roster), Mr. Takino was diagnosed with leukemia. In the past two years, he has undergone chemotherapy twice; his cancer went into remission and then returned, so Mr. Takino went to Houston.

During the past few weeks, Mr. Takino realized his prospects were dire. "He was coming to accept things," says Jasper. "But it was important to Chris that he fight, and he kept trying to fight. He was tempted to come home, die peacefully at home with people he loved. But he wanted to fight, which is why he stayed down there."

Mr. Takino is survived by his mother, Gloria Takino, of Los Angeles; nine siblings; his longtime companion, Pete Ritchie; and many other friends in the Seattle-Olympia-Portland music scene. In lieu of flowers, friends and family ask that donations be made to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (formerly the Leukemia Society of America). The address of the Washington chapter is 2030 Westlake Ave., Seattle, WA 98121; 206-628-0777.

A memorial service will be at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Scottish Rite Center, 1155 Broadway E. A reception will follow at Mr. Takino's favorite nightclub, Re-bar, 1114 Howell St. The service and reception will be open to the public.