photo manipulation by nacrowe
THE EPITAPH STORY (EPITAPH, 2003) is an interesting mini-documentary i found online about the legendary independent SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUNK ROCK record label EPITAPH RECORDS that was originally issued as an add-on to a now long out-of-print PUNK-O-RAMA DVD. obviously its an EPITAPH-produced film released by EPITAPH about themselves so clearly their built-in bias is to be expected, but what i found interesting was the band-centered ethos that the label was founded on.
you get the sense listening to label founder BRETT GUREWITZ (of BAD RELIGION fame) the impetus was for bands to have a label that supported and worked for them, not financially screw them as had been the practice dating back to ELVIS PRESLEY. helping sell that point are notable interviewees FAT MIKE (NOFX), FLETCHER DRAGGE (PENNYWISE), and JON WALL (CLAWHAMMER) as well as long-time label management and employees in ANDY KAULKIN (PRESIDENT), JEFF ABARTA (ARTIST DEVELOPMENT) and RHONDA JESSEE (PRODUCTION / MANUFACTURING). also included is the noteworthy under-the-radar CANADIAN recording engineer DONNELL CAMERON who co-owns the recording studio WESTBEACH RECORDERS, where the second coming of the label was based out of. where i feel this documentary succeeds is how it puts you in the business mindset of GUREWITZ, especially with the risk involved in putting up capital to front the manufacturing and warehouse costs of upcoming records. and i am specifically talking about the mid-1990s when landmark, best-selling records by the likes of THE OFFSPRING, RANCID and PENNYWISE came out. its crazy to think that when the iron was at its most scalding, he had his home put up as collateral in the mix to front those costs. that could not have been a fun experience, nor the same decision-making on follow-ups. for a documentary about an iconoclastic record label that defied business logic, its ironic that the most interesting aspect of it is the talk of their actual business strategies. i was not anticipating that, especially given that having a successful PUNK ROCK label must have been such long-shot for being profitable. it is a bit mind-boggling, but obviously it sparked a cottage industry in its wake.
i thought it was interesting that there werent more interviewees from the likes of RANCID, THE VANDALS and THE OFFSPRING participating or even then-emerging label-mates such as THE BOUNCING SOULS, MILLENCOLIN or GUTTERMOUTH. probably more of an omission was the lack of any mention of the emerging threat surrounding piracy and digital file-sharing, which was years-old at that point. i know this was more a celebratory homage to themselves but it seemed like a lost opportunity to predict how a community that defines itself by authenticity and individuality would respond to the concept of free product.
being that the label is still around means that question has been answered over the intervening years. the idea of PUNK ROCK guilt surrounding major labels is laughably an artifact of its time. i wonder aloud now what the PUNK ROCK ethos means now in our current cultural climate dominating by online bullying, corporate micro-targeting and social media trolling. seems to harder than ever to be a kid these days.
i wonder what this documentary would like if it was made today. what aspect of the company would they choose to celebrate?
if this topic interests you then definitely check out the excellent recent BAD RELIGION biography DO WHAT YOU WANT (review linked HERE).