This year, San Francisco-based independent punk record label Fat Wreck Chords turns 25. Forming in 1990, and operating without an actual office until 1993, Michael “Fat Mike” Burkett and his then-girlfriend (now ex-wife) Erin founded the label to put out music that not only Fat Mike himself was playing (he fronts NOFX), but also music they could identify with. Music they felt was important and should be heard. Punk rock wasn’t by any means a revelatory genre by the early-nineties, but its fans were a group that was always craving more.
I discovered the glory that is Fat Wreck Chords when I was about 11 or 12 years old when I was introduced to bands like Lagwagon, NOFX, No Use For a Name, Propaghandi and Strung Out via compilations and skate videos. It was fast, it was kinda angry, and it hit me like a brick. I was obsessed with discovering new punk and hardcore bands, and this would continue on for years to come, but Fat Wreck brought to me an exciting, accessible and fun version of this kind of music that my friends and I could relate to. Even if some of the messages were over our heads at the time, and even if we’d later go on to think of it as ‘pop punk’, this stuff mattered. Now in my twenties, I can listen to Punk In Drublic by NOFX or Trashed by Lagwagon (without having to visit my mom’s house and dig through my old CDs, thanks to Spotify), and be taken back to a completely different time in my life.
A label founded by a songwriter with a penchant for writing snotty, crass and sometimes childish lyrics, Fat Wreck Chords has no doubt made a similar impact in many music fans’ explorations in music discovery over the years. Well-produced, smart, and just-edgy-enough ‘skate punk’ can be the perfect remedy for any disenfranchised teen looking for answers and solace in music. Fat Wreck has had that in spades for two and a half decades.
Why is this important for independent music? What good is this kind of label for someone looking for underground hip hop, folk or electronic music? Why does this stuff matter?
The answer is the legacy that Fat Wreck Chords has created for itself, and the avenues they opened for thirsty music fans looking for artists that they weren’t going to discover on the radio. Obviously teens have far more advanced avenues for independent music discovery, but for a label like Fat Wreck to sustain over the years is telling not only of its fan base, but also of it’s roster and personnel.
Predictably, my palate would become more sophisticated as I’d grow up. I’d learn to love more complex genres and artists that made me think in different ways. And sure, Fat Wreck never possessed the cool factor of a Matador or a SubPop, but who cares? I and countless other music fans can look to a label like Fat Wreck Chords and remember how these albums got us on our road to appreciating independent music. Not to mention how easy they made it look! I can’t tell you how many songs this label put out that my three-piece cover band would try to nail down over the after-school hours in my parents’ garage.
So thank you, Fat Wreck Chords, for getting me on the right path, and putting out dozens of great records I can listen to and relate with on a whole new level a decade and a half later. The Bandcamp Blog shared an awesome interview with both the founders and I recommend giving it a read. And be sure to discuss any ‘important’ indie artists or labels that got you on the road to thinking outside the charts in our comment section.