A Fat Wreck
directed by Shaun Colón
starring Fat Mike Burkett, Erin Burkett, and Joey Cape
Open Ended Films
Once upon a time, rockers threw TV sets out of hotel rooms. Today, a post-punk band offers to re-carpet Fat Mike’s apartment in exchange for signing them to a one-disk deal. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And who is “Fat” Mike, anyway? He’s the heart and brains behind the one label that summarized the whole 1990’s skate punk scene. Remember Labels like Roulette, Swan Song, Motown, Epic, Stiff, 4 A.D., or Swan Song? They all had their day in the sun, and Fat Wreck Chords carried on that tradition. His motto: “Great Music played by Drunk musicians.”
Burkett began with a stint as a gofer at Epitaph Records, he concluded correctly making records wasn’t really that complicated, and went on to release his own material. Right place, right time, right sound, and his project took off with the help of his now ex-wife Erin. He treated his bands right; many of the interviews here report he actually paid them for record sales, an almost unheard of generosity in this trade. Bands were singed to single record deals, so they could move on if they felt mistreated, but few did. As time went along, the operation grew, then got caught in the real estate collapse. This may sound weird, but Mr. Burkett has a middle class streak in him, he loves to golf.
The film offers a long series of congratulatory interviews with bands like Propagandhi, Strung Out, and Good Riddance, and it’s all pretty huggy-huggy, kissy-kissy until about two-thirds of the way through the doc. Then we get some dirt dished, but it’s never terrible or bitter. We hear Fat Mike tell his story, but puppets act it out for key scenes that lack archival footage. Mike’s felt alter ego is pretty intimidating, but punk puppets in general are pretty darn cool. Snippets of songs, reminiscences, and fond memories of that last genera of music primarily issued on black vinyl disks. It’s great to see a single person make this sort of difference, and be mostly nice along the way.