In 1997, CD Warehouses proliferated throughout suburban strip malls, sterile repositories of low cost, hard-plastic media the place Joe Hedgetrimmer might methodically click-click-click via Eagles and Beatles greatest-hits albums in hope of creating his 15-minute commutes simpler to digest. It was an period of accessibility in bodily music that verged on over-convenience, epitomized by pre-packaged CD compilations that flooded the system in the identical means unnecessary $25 vinyl reissues do now. Earlier than Spotify got here alongside, these comps launched you to new, recommended-if-you-like artists in a means that match conveniently contained in the 224-disc Case Logic books below the passenger seats of Plymouth Sundances. And for budding teenaged punks, their shrink-wrapped primer was Punk-O-Rama.
Launched in 1994 by Epitaph Data—the acknowledged arbiter of the form of melodic, SoCal punk that exploded in recognition within the mid-’90s round Inexperienced Day, Rancid, and The Offspring—the Punk-O-Rama album sequence acted mainly as promotion for the label’s artists, however it additionally encapsulated that style’s rigorously cultivated sound. Though there have been slight variations from band to band, all of it boiled right down to a combo of beefy guitar energy chords, snotty vocals that would additionally harmonize very nicely, and most significantly, a well-oiled, skate-punk gallop held regular by a one-two beat on the kick drum. (Shock! I simply described NOFX. It appears like NOFX.) Punk-O-Rama compiled these into one dependable, seamless stream of sound that turned briefly ubiquitous amongst Manic Panic-dyed, hoodie-clad suburban children—ostensibly opening them as much as new sounds, however principally from bands working the identical template advert nauseam.
For the primary few volumes, not less than, it was a dependable rush. Each 1996’s Punk-O-Rama Vol. 2 and its 1997 Vans Warped Tour reboot counterpart, Punk-O-Rama 2.1, might simply be spun entrance to again in your automotive’s CD participant in between pizza deliveries. Earlier than the sequence received particularly bloated—with the variety of tracks leaping to 25 in 1998, then to 28 in 2000—Epitaph saved it tightly targeted, aided by each band maintaining its songs nicely below three minutes. And whereas the varied artists featured might have at all times been one thing of a blended bag, particularly by the usual of Epitaph’s incubator, the comp neatly sequenced its roster in accordance with a form of unfastened algorithm.
The flagship bands—Pennywise, NOFX, Unhealthy Faith—are clearly what promote, so their contributions are scattered all through, impelling you to take heed to The Humpers’ “Mutate With Me” so you may get to Rancid’s “Facet Kick.” Epitaph proprietor Brett Gurewitz, a.ok.a. Mr. Brett, a.ok.a. guitarist/founding member of Unhealthy Faith, additionally used Punk-O-Rama to pay tribute to legacy acts he admired, as a result of he’s the boss. On Vol. 2, these included T.S.O.L. and Poison Concept, every of which contributed a hardcore-punk traditional (“Code Blue” and “Simply To Get Away,” respectively). After which there are the second-tier, middling acts, those that site visitors in the identical sounds that lord over the remainder of the label, however one way or the other their model panders to the method in a means that solely exacerbates their anonymity.
Superficially, they’re those who would profit most from being included on a comp like Punk-O-Rama, however principally they simply find yourself getting swallowed. You owned albums by these bands 20 years in the past, but you possibly can’t instantly recall their names when their comp tracks are performed. It solely clicks when paired with some random piece of trivia, like “The frontman was a reduction pitcher within the majors.” Oh, proper. That was Pulley.
If Punk-O-Rama was the meaty salisbury steak of the prepackaged-punk TV dinner, then Fats Wreck Chords’ Fats Music sequence was the mashed potatoes (with ska-punk comps like 1994’s Skarmageddon being a whole bunch of tasteless corn niblets). Nonetheless, Fats Wreck founder and NOFX frontman Fats Mike truly rolled out his fledgling label’s sequence a 12 months previous to Punk-O-Rama, initially via mail-order solely. The primary, Fats Music For Fats Folks, was a thrifty $three, and provided a equally condensed take a look at the Fats Wreck lineup, which was much more uniform than Epitaph’s.
On the sequence’ controversial pinnacle, 1997’s Bodily Fatness: Fats Music Vol. III, bands like Lagwagon, No Use For A Title, Strung Out, 88 Fingers Louie, Good Riddance, and, in fact, NOFX ply a constant method of uptempo, kick-drum-heavy songs—most of this courtesy of shared producer Ryan Greene—layered with hyper-polished, practically passive vocal melodies. This turned the readily identifiable “Fats Wreck sound.” (Aside from Snuff. Snuff was dangerous in its personal particular means.)
The success of those spawned a flourishing business of branded punk comp CDs from the likes of Nitro Data (owned by The Offspring’s Dexter Holland), Hellcat (which gave us Give ’Em The Boot), Asian Man (boosted by the Plea For Peace sequence), and so on. In the meantime, each Epitaph and Fats Wreck Chords saved at it via the mid-2000s, placing out a brand new comp for practically each single 12 months. Fats did get a bit extra experimental alongside the best way—1999’s Brief Music For Brief Folks, that includes 101 bands enjoying songs which might be lower than 30 seconds lengthy, stays a treasure trove of silly extra—however primarily they caught to their loud, quick, shiny weapons.
As for the smaller bands these compilations featured, whereas they gained essential publicity, most of them, once more, ended up changing into indistinguishable entities of the label, relatively than particular person organisms. A band like Bracket, for instance, was fully wolfed up by the Fats content material mill—and certain, I most likely owned one among its data due to it. However I couldn’t start to inform you what the band appears like, outdoors of some very educated guesses. Identical with, say, Osker on Epitaph. These bands are their labels; they’re without end blurred into one lengthy, seamless comp CD.
And as for the few outliers to that very same gloopy thrum—like rowdy punk rock ’n’ rollers New Bomb Turks or ragged hardcore-punk band Lifeless Fucking Final—their presences principally simply ended up feeling confounding, relatively than thrilling. You simply ended up skipping the offbeat observe to get to the one which felt acquainted. And so forth to the following one, a row of similar pop-punk cookie-cutter homes lined off into the horizon, till you’re completely burned out. So it went for a lot of the suburban children who had briefly gotten into pop-punk within the first place.
Because the compact disc waned—and all of the CD Warehouses, Camelot Musics, and Media Performs et al. closed—so, too, did the luster of the compilation. Epitaph lastly did away with Punk-O-Rama in 2005, proper because it started to pivot towards post-hardcore and emo. Fats Wreck Chords endures, although its compilation output has turn out to be extra sporadic over current years.
Right now all these 1990s punk comps really feel like time capsules—not simply of a pre-streaming age, however of the period when CDs reigned and even punk bands fortunately catered to the format’s excessive gloss, providing sounds that had been cleaner, crisper, and extra compressed. With all of the fats trimmed to the bone, there’s not a lot room for lasting taste: Progenitors like NOFX nonetheless sound contemporary in the present day, however particularly in such shut proximity, its surrounding imitators and disciples can’t assist however sound stale. In the long run, the punk comp CD solely hastened their journey to that proverbial Case Logic at the back of the closet.