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February 19, 2007 | by  | in Features |
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NOFX

Many years ago, when, in my eyes, my sister was the coolest person to grace this planet, I would sneak into her room and dub her usually-guarded albums.

NOFXIt was about 1997 when I caught onto this rebellious, in-yourface, loud, fast punk-rock she tried to hide from me. The top of her pile of punk-rock was NOFX.

While I am now older and wiser, and have surpassed my sister in ‘reasons to idolise’, NOFX still remain at the top of both my sister’s and my ‘favourite bands of all time’ lists, and they are coming to Wellington.

I tried in vain to get an interview with the band, and so here is plan two: a perhaps-gratuitous article/opinion piece of various facts and opinions on the band, and why they are just so fucking good after all these years…

Lengends in their own right:

NOFX hail from the Bay Area, California, and formed in 1983. While the past 24 years have seen many line-up changes, the current selection (since 1991) is Fat Mike on vocals and bass, El Hefe on guitar, trumpet and backing vocals, Eric Sandin on drums and Eric Melvin on guitar, accordion and backing vocals.

Having established themselves as one of the premier punk-rock bands in the world, NOFX have released 10 full-length albums, one live album, three compilations , and 21 EPs/ 7-inch singles, not to mention a couple of split-series.

What sets them aside from nearly all punk-rock bands, aside from their longevity, is that not once have they ever signed to a major label, instead remaining on independent Epitaph, and Fat Mike’s own label Fat Wreck Chords.

Epitomizing true DIY pink ethos:

Their music follows general punk-rock ‘rules’: it’s fast, loud, abrasive, offensive, energetic and fun. NOFX combine elements of skate-punk, hardcore (mainly earlier NOFX), pop-punk and ska. Alongside the customary drums, bass and guitar, they also use accordion and trumpet.

Lyrically, NOFX work on the notion that ‘satire works best’, reflecting their snotty, fuck-the-system attitude: the blueprint for punk. They attack the music industry, racism, sexism, religion, the US government, society as a whole, pretty much anything.

While their older songs tend to lean towards being more likedrinking anthems, such as ‘Bottles to the Ground’ or songs about Fat Mike’s obsession with lesbians – ‘Liza and Louise’, they have, over the years, dealt with the perils of life, drug-abuse and death. On NOFX’s last two albums, the themes are more obvious, satire is sometimes replaced with outright criticism and fuelled anger, and the message clear.

2003’s War on Errorism and 2006‘s Wolves in Wolves Clothing saw a huge change in NOFX as they took on the role as political advisers to their assumed disaffected, politically-apathetic fans. These albums push the band’s all-consuming goal: to disparage Bush and his cronies wherever possible, and to promote leftleaning ideals.

Aside from expressing political disdain over his nation through his music, in 2004, Fat Mike set up Punkvoter.com, aiming to “educate and invigorate today’s youth to again think politically and become involved in changing their society”, in an attempt to get as many punks to the polls as possible, in order to defeat Bush. Accompanying this website was a series of Fat Wreck compilations and live shows named “Rock Against Bush”, featuring a host of alternative/punk-rock/ska bands in support of the cause. While Bush wasn’t ousted in 2004, the site still lives on with a huge supporting community, including many bands and labels.

The effect of this effort is hard to judge, but the influence of NOFX as a band and their music cannot be denied.

Paul Comrie-Thomson owner of local punk and hardcore label Harbour City Records, member of punk group Not Quite Right, and long-time fan of NOFX has, for many years, found inspiration in the band. “When I fi rst started playing I was listening to NOFX all the time and learnt to play by listening to NOFX records and trying to play along. Lyrically, Fat Mike is clever whether he is talking political issues or being sarcastically funny about pointless shit. He has a creative way of writing,” he says.

Dusty McLoughlin, from ska band The Offbeats who will open for NOFX in Wellington on March 2, finds their DIY attitude most appealing as a fellow musician: “They still have fun so that’s the biggest thing. You are in a band for yourself then for the crowd and finally for the critics so that they are still doing what they fancy is a great lesson.”

Matt Barnes, the bones behind New Zealand’s online punk community PunkAs.com, knows full well the importance of NOFX. While not as big a fan as Paul, he says “only an idiot wouldn’t rate them up there in terms of pop/punk bands. NOFX are the kind of band whose impact cannot really be overstated”, citing them as “one of – if not THE – ‘gateway’ band for kids to discover punk rock.”

When it comes to NOFX’s influence on the NZ punk-rock scene, Barnes believes that “the tongue-in-cheek factor of NOFX sits a bit more comfortably with our national personality than, say, the stoic seriousness of a Bad Religion. Particularly with the teenage kids who form bands. Their influence is less obvious now because that skate punk is no longer the dominant formative sub-genre for kids, but if you look back to bands who have been around a bit longer like Kitsch and We Dunno, the influence is marked.”

Regardless of their longevity, independence and influence on artists the world over, NOFX are often accused of being sellouts, yet in nearly all they do they uphold the ethos of the punk genre. Fat Mike still pushes boundaries when it comes to lyrical content and song topics. This accusation is confronted on their latest album, in the songs ‘60%’ and ‘60% (reprise)’ where NOFX reinforce how they have stuck to DIY, by recording on Fat Mike’s label, how they still only want to party, and can do this better than anyone else with their free time, and with an abundance of money, while still only playing when they want to and never doing anything to please anyone else. This is in line with their interviewing policy.

They have a notorious relationship with the media, essentially refusing to do interviews, while I was hoping to be the exception to this rule, their reasonings are fair, outlined in the sleeve of their 2000 album, Pump Up the Vallum.

NOFX believe that the press makes a habit of exploiting them, while they initially were content with doing interviews with fanzines, they allegedly felt that many of them were in it to sell their articles to the mainstream press. The small rant in the sleeve states: “In too many cases, we felt that we were being used. Too many interviewers misquote us, or just fill in answers that they think better represented or misrepresented us.”

What’s more, they do not need or want the exposure mainstream media entails: “We have a great fanbase, and we really don’t need it to get any bigger. We’re happy with how many records we sell, and with how popular we are. We don’t need to get any bigger, and we don’t need to be used by the press, just as we don’t need radio or TV.”

In lieu of interviews and articles on the band appearing in all the mainstream magazines, NOFX set up a question-and-answer forum on their webpage. While this has many mundane questions, some intelligent ones – warranting more-literate answers – include why Fat Mike attacks Christians so much, and a query as to whether Fat Mike is, underneath an image of punk-rock to the roots, a capitalist sell-out.

His response? “I can’t deny that Fat Wreck Chords makes a bunch of dough, but the difference between Fat Wreck and corporate America is that we don’t exploit or take advantage of anybody… Our cds are made in America, not some sweatshop in China, and the cd booklets are made in Canada. No one gets exploited…We also give tens of thousands of dollars to PETA, Food Not Bombs, and other charities. So, yeah, I make a lot of money, but I don’t consider myself a Capitalist in the traditional sense. I make money, but it gets shared and spread out.”

Capitalist sell-outs or not, you either love them or hate them with just cause (and as I love them, I’m being completely subjective by not mentioning reasons to hate them). Either way, they are coming to Wellington March 2 and will be playing a sold-out show, which, according to Dusty, will be a “massive, sweaty, heaving beast.” Their past NZ shows have been relentlessly energetic, crazy, jam-packed chaos, and one should not expect anything less from NOFX.

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