Music by VICE

The Shape of Punk to Comp

How cheap compilation CDs helped revive a genre.

by Dan Ozzi, and Jonah Bayer; photos by Tim Schutsky
Nov 17 2017, 6:17pm

All photos by Tim Schutsky

A shorter version of this story appears in VICE magazine and Noisey's second annual Music Issue. Click HERE to subscribe to VICE magazine.

A strange and unexpected thing happened to punk in 1994—it got popular. Albums like Green Day’s Dookie and the Offspring’s Smashrode the tail end of the 90s grunge wave to mainstream success and sold millions of copies in the process. America’s interest in the poppier, more commercially friendly version of the once underground genre was piqued. While a small handful of acts became megasellers, countless other punk bands waited in the wings, hoping to get noticed. Up-and-coming punk labels realized they were sitting on rosters stacked with potential breakout stars, and a decade-long industry phenomenon centered on cheap punk compilation CDs was born.

In 1992, Epitaph Records founder Brett Gurewitz released More Songs About Anger, Fear, Sex, and Death, a collection of 26 songs by bands affiliated with his Los Angeles-based label. It was an homage to the 80s punk compilations he grew up on like Hell Comes to Your House. The problem was, the name sucked, and at around $16, it was too expensive for broke punk kids. So, in 1994, he released the pithier-titled Punk-O-Rama. Adorned with an obnoxiously neon-green cover, the CD showcased a dozen of the label’s top acts like Rancid, Pennywise, and Total Chaos. And at only five bucks, the price was right.

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