Christopher Owens 🔖 casts his eye over The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994–2007).

Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context. I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit. I imagine these people…at one end of this trench. I also imagine a faceless industry lackey at the other end, holding a fountain pen and a contract waiting to be signed…The band…has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month…Some of your friends are probably already this fucked.

So wrote the legendary recording engineer Steve Albini in December 1993.

At the height of Nirvana mania (where labels scoured the underground looking for the next big thing), we started seeing the likes of the Butthole Surfers getting major label deals and death metal being touted as a commercial entity. Things got incredibly silly and older heads like Albini were sounding the alarm bell for not only how this would screw over bands, but also have repercussions for the independent sector. Pointing the finger at Sonic Youth, he told GQ in 2010 that

…a lot of the things that happened as a direct result of their association with the mainstream music industry gave credibility to some of the nonsense notions that hover around the star-making machinery…that stuff was offensive to me and I saw it as a sellout and a corruption of a perfectly valid, well-oiled music scene. Sonic Youth chose to abandon it in order to become a modestly successful mainstream band—as opposed to being a quite successful independent band that could have used their resources and influence to extend that end of the culture. They chose to join the mainstream culture and become a foot soldier for that culture’s encroachment into my neck of the woods by acting as scouts. I thought it was crass and I thought it reflected poorly on them... I think what they did was take a lot of people who didn’t have aspirations...and encouraged them to be part of the mainstream music industry. They validated the fleeting notions that these kids had that they might one day be rock stars. And then they participated in inducing a lot of them to make very stupid career moves. That was a period where the music scene got quite ugly—there were a lot of parasitic people involved like lawyers and managers…I think it cheapened music...It made music culture kind of empty and ugly…

For those with little knowledge of the independent music sector, this militant stance may seem bizarre and tinged with bitterness. However, those invested in the scene know what he’s talking about. Instead of such a setting being used to nurture artists and help them explore boundaries without the financial or commercial pressures that come with being on a major label, a lot of acts simply viewed this as a kind of “preschool” which you learnt your craft in before “graduating” to a bigger label.

As a result, it was less a case of “will this band sellout to a major label” and more “when will they jump to a major.”

A music journalist who has contributed to The Guardian, Billboard and Spin (among others), Dan Ozzi has set himself a gargantuan task in studying this particular period not just because the lines between underground and mainstream had become so blurred, but also the introduction of the MP3 would irrevocably change everything. Crucially, he’s a few years older than me so he was able to experience this period in his teens and early 20’s (making him the target audience) and is now old enough to critically appraise it without being blinded by nostalgia.

This type of book needs that particular blend in order to demonstrate how exciting the times were and to have experienced it themselves. And Ozzi steps up to the plate in grand fashion.

Beginning with Green Day jumping from 924 Gilman Street to the Warner Bros lot in 1993, Ozzi breaks down the career trajectory of several acts and how their story fits in the overall narrative of mainstream rock from 1994 to 2007. Hence the reader sees a progression from Jawbreaker and Jimmy Eat World sacrificing everything while failing to break through to a larger audience, to the likes of Blink 182 and The Donnas having no problem appearing on late night American TV programmes and licensing their music for advertisers and then MySpace blurring margins, leading to the rise of My Chemical Romance and Anti-Flag.

In many ways, the book acts as a riposte to the idea of Nirvana being the last “proper” band to make a mark on the mainstream (Green Day and My Chemical Romance have now inspired two generations to pick up guitars), and it also demonstrates how ruthless the industry is whenever searching for new sounds or adapting to whatever the current trend is (the tale of pseudo-hardman Tony Brummel realising what his label had in the band Thursday after they’ve sold 100,000 copies is both funny and all too typical).

This period saw the emo genre mutate from ‘emotional hardcore’ to a commercial entity, hitting a nerve with disenfranchised teens across America who were early adapters of message boards and MySpace. Suddenly, these alienated teens could chat with their favourite band and the boundaries disappeared, thus leading to MCR being a stadium act.

As a document to one of the last big periods in mainstream rock, this is magnificent. With an eye for detail, as well as an understanding of the underground, Ozzi has produced the first authoritative book on 21st century alternative/mainstream music.

Dan Ozzi, 2022, Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994–2007) DeyStrBks. ISBN-13: 978-0358244301
 
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.

Sellout

Christopher Owens 🔖 casts his eye over The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994–2007).

Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context. I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit. I imagine these people…at one end of this trench. I also imagine a faceless industry lackey at the other end, holding a fountain pen and a contract waiting to be signed…The band…has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month…Some of your friends are probably already this fucked.

So wrote the legendary recording engineer Steve Albini in December 1993.

At the height of Nirvana mania (where labels scoured the underground looking for the next big thing), we started seeing the likes of the Butthole Surfers getting major label deals and death metal being touted as a commercial entity. Things got incredibly silly and older heads like Albini were sounding the alarm bell for not only how this would screw over bands, but also have repercussions for the independent sector. Pointing the finger at Sonic Youth, he told GQ in 2010 that

…a lot of the things that happened as a direct result of their association with the mainstream music industry gave credibility to some of the nonsense notions that hover around the star-making machinery…that stuff was offensive to me and I saw it as a sellout and a corruption of a perfectly valid, well-oiled music scene. Sonic Youth chose to abandon it in order to become a modestly successful mainstream band—as opposed to being a quite successful independent band that could have used their resources and influence to extend that end of the culture. They chose to join the mainstream culture and become a foot soldier for that culture’s encroachment into my neck of the woods by acting as scouts. I thought it was crass and I thought it reflected poorly on them... I think what they did was take a lot of people who didn’t have aspirations...and encouraged them to be part of the mainstream music industry. They validated the fleeting notions that these kids had that they might one day be rock stars. And then they participated in inducing a lot of them to make very stupid career moves. That was a period where the music scene got quite ugly—there were a lot of parasitic people involved like lawyers and managers…I think it cheapened music...It made music culture kind of empty and ugly…

For those with little knowledge of the independent music sector, this militant stance may seem bizarre and tinged with bitterness. However, those invested in the scene know what he’s talking about. Instead of such a setting being used to nurture artists and help them explore boundaries without the financial or commercial pressures that come with being on a major label, a lot of acts simply viewed this as a kind of “preschool” which you learnt your craft in before “graduating” to a bigger label.

As a result, it was less a case of “will this band sellout to a major label” and more “when will they jump to a major.”

A music journalist who has contributed to The Guardian, Billboard and Spin (among others), Dan Ozzi has set himself a gargantuan task in studying this particular period not just because the lines between underground and mainstream had become so blurred, but also the introduction of the MP3 would irrevocably change everything. Crucially, he’s a few years older than me so he was able to experience this period in his teens and early 20’s (making him the target audience) and is now old enough to critically appraise it without being blinded by nostalgia.

This type of book needs that particular blend in order to demonstrate how exciting the times were and to have experienced it themselves. And Ozzi steps up to the plate in grand fashion.

Beginning with Green Day jumping from 924 Gilman Street to the Warner Bros lot in 1993, Ozzi breaks down the career trajectory of several acts and how their story fits in the overall narrative of mainstream rock from 1994 to 2007. Hence the reader sees a progression from Jawbreaker and Jimmy Eat World sacrificing everything while failing to break through to a larger audience, to the likes of Blink 182 and The Donnas having no problem appearing on late night American TV programmes and licensing their music for advertisers and then MySpace blurring margins, leading to the rise of My Chemical Romance and Anti-Flag.

In many ways, the book acts as a riposte to the idea of Nirvana being the last “proper” band to make a mark on the mainstream (Green Day and My Chemical Romance have now inspired two generations to pick up guitars), and it also demonstrates how ruthless the industry is whenever searching for new sounds or adapting to whatever the current trend is (the tale of pseudo-hardman Tony Brummel realising what his label had in the band Thursday after they’ve sold 100,000 copies is both funny and all too typical).

This period saw the emo genre mutate from ‘emotional hardcore’ to a commercial entity, hitting a nerve with disenfranchised teens across America who were early adapters of message boards and MySpace. Suddenly, these alienated teens could chat with their favourite band and the boundaries disappeared, thus leading to MCR being a stadium act.

As a document to one of the last big periods in mainstream rock, this is magnificent. With an eye for detail, as well as an understanding of the underground, Ozzi has produced the first authoritative book on 21st century alternative/mainstream music.

Dan Ozzi, 2022, Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994–2007) DeyStrBks. ISBN-13: 978-0358244301
 
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.

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