The Upshot: What could have easily been little more than a 90-minute infomercial for a record company ends up being a pretty impressive look into one of the most influential indie punk labels.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
You kind of expect going into a documentary about a record label, produced by that label, that it’s going to be little more than a glorified advertisement; propaganda for punk rockers, in this case. And that’s sort of true, with this film about the Northern California punk label Fat Wreck Chords. But the only thing that you can really expect with the label co-founder Fat Mike is that nothing can really be expected.
Yes, a lot of time in this movie is spent praising the bands that have filled the label’s roster going back decades (NOFX, Rise Against, Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, among many, many others). And there are plenty of interviews with fellow rockers in bands like Bad Religion and The Vandals attesting to the fact that Mike was always a pretty determined punk, even as a young kid. But Fat Mike and the director of this doc leave plenty of time to talk about some of the labels criticisms as well, like the “Fat Wreck Sound” that many associate with its bands. The criticism is that many on the label started to adopt a cookie-cutter pop-punk sound thanks to the same producers and engineers many of the bands tended to favor. It’s this criticism in particular that seems to get under Fat Mike’s skin here the most. And while it would have been easy for the folks associated with this movie to gloss over it or take it out entirely, to their credit it’s here in all its awkward pauses and angry retorts.
There is also plenty of time in the doc devoted to the label’s Punk Voter movement launched by Fat Mike and the label in 2002, a failed effort to get young voters engaged in the political process to defeat George W. Bush in the 2004 election. Some of the more hardened anarchist punks mocked his efforts in trying to help Democrat John Kerry get elected, in particular, the Canadian band Propagandhi, who were on the Fat Wreck label at the time. Through interviews, the band talks about their disgust with the U.S. political systems and the label’s association with it at the time.
What could have easily been little more than a 90-minute infomercial for a record company ends up being a pretty impressive look into one of the most influential indie punk labels to come out of California, thanks to an unflinching look at it from the filmmakers.