Still punk after all these years
Why NOFX is one of America’s most important bands
By Chris Jay 01/05/2012
Punk rock, by definition, is a fast, hard-edged style of music, typically with short songs and stripped-down electric instrumentation. Punk though, more than any other genre, is about a certain attitude, ethic and even way of life.
Over the years the meaning of punk, and the many subgenres it’s spawned, has been the source of great debate. To say the genre has been taken advantage of and misrepresented, even by its own supporters, is an understatement.
There are, however, a few bands that have remained true to their own ideals over the years. Bands that no matter what trends, labels or stores have come along, continue to represent what was always best about the genre. If ever there was a band that represented punk, in every conceivable sense of the word, and based on its Terminator-esque longevity, that band is NOFX.
Though it’s hard to believe, NOFX was first formed by teenage friends in 1983 in the Los Angeles area at a time when the idea of a punk band having any commercial success was insane. The band’s sound incorporated a mix of skate punk and melodic hardcore, and featured lead singer and bass player Fat Mike’s impassioned vocals. Lyrically, the band has covered everything from serious socio-political topics to often controversial subjects, including drug use and sadomasochism.
The band gained a passionate underground following based on its spontaneously wild and often drunken live shows, but it wasn’t until the release of Punk in Drublic in 1994 that the band’s popularity skyrocketed. The release was timed perfectly with the sudden and unexpected mainstream popularity of punk rock, and the record showed a growth in the band’s songwriting without sacrificng attitude.
Drublic, which sold more than a million copies worldwide, quickly established NOFX as one of the most popular punk rock bands in the world. Becoming a staple of the Warped Tour and a popular touring act around the world — especially in Europe, where the band remains a festival headliner to this day — NOFX has been touring, recording and making a substantial living ever since.
Despite its popularity, NOFX, unlike virtually all of its contemporaries, such as Bad Religion, The Offspring, Rancid, Alkaline Trio and Green Day, refused to sign to a major label and never had to deal with the dreaded “sell out” tag nor the eventual collapse of the crooked major label system. Fat Mike’s own label, Fat Wreck Chords, however, which the band eventually signed to after a long tenure with Epitaph, became a successful independent label and has been the home of several important punk rock bands over the years, including his own supergroup, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.
Though known for a careless, party-first attitude, the band used its popularity to promote social activism. Fat Mike became one of the music industry’s leading voices against the second Bush administration, releasing a series of compilation CDs entitled Rock Against Bush, and NOFX released arguably the best Bush-era protest record by any artist in any genre with 2003’s The War on Errorism.
These days, NOFX’s band members, three of whom are founding members — Fat Mike, Eric Melvin and Erik Sandin — as well as El Jefe, who joined in 1991, are all well into their 40s but it’s seems as if nothing else has changed. Their shows are as fun and unpredictable as ever, as the documentary series Backstage Passport proved. Their musical output, including their last full-length, Coaster, which featured the fiercely moving “My Orphan Year” and the hilariously brilliant “Creeping Out Sara,” are still vibrant, solid releases.
Though they never set out to be, almost 30 years later, NOFX has become one of America’s most important and long-standing artists in any genre and one of the most successful independent acts in the world. To achieve that and to do it completely on their own terms and own merit is, undoubtedly, punk rock.
NOFX performs along with Lagwagon and Old Man Markley at the Ventura Theater on Friday, Jan. 6. For more information, visit www.venturatheater.net.