Last week, I wrote a semi-popular article poking some fun at Epitaph Records and the string of awful mallcore bands they’ve been sullying their good name with over the last few years. I try to avoid reading the comments on things like that on account of they make my eyeballs want to vomit. But the top one caught my eye, mainly because it was nearly as long as the article but even less interesting.
I don’t know the dude who wrote it but he was wearing Google Glass in his profile picture and that painted a pretty good picture for me. His argument was basically: “Epitaph has a good business model on their hands, making money off of awful teen bands to put out better bands like Converge.” OK, first off, if you have this mentality, get that shit out of your head right now. Punk is not a business and applying phrases like “industry standards” and “profit margins” makes you sound like you understand the ideals of punk about as much as the CEO of JPMorgan. Punk and traditional business models should never crossover. On a Venn Diagram, the circle labeled “punk” and the circle labeled “business” should not only never intersect, they should be separated by several large states. Punk should be in New York and business should be in some shitty state like Minnesota. Music is an art. Art comes first. Business does not even come in second. It never comes in.
This irate Google Glasser then asked for an example of a financially stable label whose quality has not gone down the shitter over the years. And the more I thought about it, the more I have to give credit to Fat Wreck Chords. It’s easy to poo poo Fat, mainly because they house a bunch of bands who sing about poo poo. The label also gets associated with its founder, Fat Mike, and his lifelong devotion to dick and fart jokes and sodomy fetishes. But underneath the sideshow antics, Fat has quietly maintained a strong, relatively embarrassment-free standing in the punk community for over 20 years. And while I’m not gonna stand here and defend everything Fat has ever put out (I’ll make Frenzal Rhomb jokes all day), at least they seem to be sticking to their principles.
It’s weird to say that a label who has put out an album called Buttsweat and Tears has integrity, but they do. From a music fan’s standpoint, they have crafted a specific type of sound that they’ve dedicated themselves to for over two decades. Moreover, they have done fans the service of keeping the label off the RIAA.
And from an insider’s perspective, they have a great reputation as a label and as people. They’ve maintained the same employees for years, which says a lot. One of them recently told me that they don’t even think of themselves as a “big label.” Really? Ask anyone who listened to pop punk in the 90s and they’ll probably sing a different tune. I’d consider Fat one of the big three labels of the 90s, alongside Epitaph and the late Lookout! Records.
One of the things I picked on Epitaph for was their refusal to take any action on their roster stain, Falling in Reverse, after their frontman was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend, who happened to be an Epitaph employee. Fat Wreck on the other hand was associated with Ben Weasel during his infamous woman-punching incident at SXSW and immediately dropped him, despite his long-standing history with the label. From what I’ve heard, the folks at Fat made the decision to drop Weasel that very night.
Again, I reiterate that I am not saying Fat Wreck is infallible. I’m sure you can probably list examples of petty spats Fat Mike has engaged in. Nor am I am trying to discredit Epitaph as a label. They’ve put out dozens of my favorite albums. “Dozens,” plural. But don’t come at me with this bullshit about how record labels have to bite the bullet and put out albums they’re not proud of just to make ends meet. Clearly that’s not true and Fat is a good example. When labels are proud of their work, whether they make money or not is irrelevant. They are successful.
Now, who’s got a Fat Mike joke?