11 American punk labels that changed the genre forever – Kerrang!


Unlike heavy metal, punk is devoid of any mystique. With punk rock, what you see is what you get: the musicians on stage are traditionally the same after the show ends and the hall doors close. Thus, the emblematic groups of punk and hardcore had a very direct influence on the direction of the genre. And like a worn and handmade heirloom, punk rock has been passed down from generation to generation, changing shape with each new iteration.

Of course, groups did not build such a legacy on their own. Along the way, major record companies have been there to guide and promote these (frankly, often unruly) artists. To understand how and why punk has become the striking mosaic that it is today, it might be best to take a look at some of the foundational punk labels that have changed the genre forever.

here is 11 of the most important labels to do so in the cradle of punk rock, the United States.


Without OSH Records, there just wouldn’t be any hardcore punk. Founded by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, the label’s first release was the band’s raw and legendary debut album. PE, Nervous breakdown. With this, Black Flag sent a shock wave through the punk scene that can still be felt today – especially on the skin of the thousands of fans who have permanently inked these famous four black bars on their bodies. Other iconic groups that have released music via OSH include Sonic Youth and Bad Brains, both of which played key roles in merging punk rock with other genres, including noise rock and reggae, respectively. OSH built the first big branches on what would become the growing punk family tree.

Alternative tentacles

Dead Kennedys is also one of the most influential punk bands of all time. Their impact is still felt today, both in sound and in ethos. (Example: their infamous line, Nazi punks are going to fuck!‘was used in Stray From The Paths 2017 anti-racist rage Goodnight Alt-Right) Looking back, it’s easy to see why big names in rock like Butthole Surfers, DOA, Leftover Crack and TSOL would team up with Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra to release records via his Alternate Tentacles.


Ian MacKaye gave the world Minor Threat and Fugazi, two unmistakable punk rock game changers. These groups (with Bad Brains) effectively put the CC hardcore scene on the map, and even spawned a whole new kind of punk lifestyle: the straight-edge. MacKaye created Dischord Records to make his music and that of his friends heard, but he didn’t stop there; he’s also helped dozens of other Washington-area groups, including Dag Nasty and Jawbox. Today, the relentless musicians of Dischord continue to leave their indelible mark on the past, present and future of the genre.


Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz started Epitaph Records in Los Angeles for the same reason MacKaye started Dischord. But the punk label became an unstoppable juggernaut when it signed The Offspring, whose Smash album went platinum in 94. Labelmates Rance, NOFX and Pennywise would also reach considerable levels of fame, and the label continues to thrive today with music from groups such as Every Time I Die, The Ghost Inside and Culture Abuse. Epitaph also spawned two sister labels – ANTI- and Hellcat – the latter hosting a roster of punk and ska bands including Dropkick Murphys, The Interrupters and Transplants.

Look for! Recordings

2015 rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Green Day has been a major influence both inside and outside the punk genre – and their long and successful career began with Lookout! Recordings. The beginnings of the group, 39/ Smooth, was released by Lookout !, but it was their second release on the label, Kerplunk !, that propelled Green Day to Platinum status. Look for! was also a debut label for Operation Ivy, the band that would eventually split up and give birth to Rancid. Unfortunately, despite the monumental role it played in the advancement of punk, the label was unable to keep up and withdrew. 2012.

Victory Records

Victory Records has been no stranger to controversy over the years, with various artist disputes and lawsuits in its rearview mirror. But you can’t deny the label’s vast reach and seemingly endless reach. Emo, pop-punk, metalcore, and post-hardcore have all been expanded and affected by the bands nurtured by Victory Records. It is virtually impossible to name a great contemporary rock band that was not part of the label at one point in their career: A Day To Remember, Earth Crisis, Atreyu, Between The Buried And Me, Carnifex, Hatebreed, Taking Back Sunday… The list goes on.

Grease wreck chords

Fat Wreck was founded by Fat Mike “Burkett, singer of a prominent contemporary punk group NOFX, and has been a crucial platform for dozens of modern punk bands. Against Me !, Lagwagon, Sick Of It All, Rise Against, Strike Anywhere and Propagandhi are just a few of the bands that demonstrate just how much of a powerhouse punk Fat Wreck has been. The label would help these punk skate groups infiltrate mainstream pop culture with endless compositions and placements in video game soundtracks like the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series.

Equal vision

Equal Vision isn’t as exclusive as it used to be, but the punk label started out as a way to support Krishna Conscious-influenced artists within the hardcore scene. Founded by Youth of Today singer Ray Cappo (a follower of the Hare Krishna movement), the label eventually handed over to label manager Steve Reddy, and it began to open its doors to other hardcore and post-band groups. hardcore whatever their faith. Converge, Bane, Chiodos, Circa Survive, Coheed And Cambria, Say Anything and We Came As Romans are all among the groups that have made Equal Vision home over the years.

Tooth & Nail

Like equal vision, tooth & Nail started out with a clear, faith-based mission: to let Christian children rock. An overwhelming majority of Dent & Nail groups are rooted in Christianity, most notably the metalcore mavericks of Underoath. While the tooth & Nail had bands such as Anberlin, The Almost, Emery and MxPx on their roster, the company decided to form Solid State Records in 1996 to sign heavier bands such as Norma Jean, August Burns Red, Demon Hunter and Zao – all of which helped establish metalcore as a subgenre.

New Bridge

Hardcore flourished on Bridge Nine Records in the 1990sand 2000s. Without Bridge Nine bands like Defeater, Cruel Hand, Expire, War On Women or Backtrack, contemporary hardcore as we know it wouldn’t be the same. As a genre that constantly branches out into hundreds of subcategories, classic hardcore sound can easily get lost in the mix – but not with this label. The hardcore purist turns to Bridge Nine’s roster for a breather. The label has been able to gain the respect, admiration and camaraderie of many actors in the hardcore scene largely because of its unwavering DIY ethics.

Nice fight

Do you want to follow the most current explosive groups of hardcore punk? Keep an eye out for Good Fight Music. The New Jersey label rolls with local bands as well as international artists – from The Banner to While She Sleeps. Old wounds, 68, Home breaker, TO FINISH, and Fit For An Autopsy are just a handful of what Good Fight has to offer. And the label is just one part of Good Fight Entertainment’s bigger brand, which also offers artist management and sells clothing and artwork. Good Fight illustrates how modern punk and hardcore labels have evolved to focus as much on lifestyle as it is on music.

Posted on May 26, 2020 at 12:39 p.m.

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