By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
The rise of Fearless’ “Punk Goes . . .” compilations signals another middle finger to punk’s old shibboleths. Started 10 years ago, the series invites various bands in the Fearless universe to cover songs out of their element, whether they be ’90s prom pop or ’70s metal classics. The “Punk Goes Pop” series released its third edition on Nov. 2. Becker knows that plenty of people scoff at the albums, and some bands have turned down requests to contribute to the compilations because they feel they’re too corny. A few decades ago, though, this would have been a bigger problem. “I don’t think if you asked Operation Ivy to cover Lady Gaga, that would fly,” muses Fearless’ newly hired A&R representative Chris Foitle. But what the hell? They’re fun, Becker says.
“I don’t think the majority of kids care about credibility anymore, and why should I?” Becker asks. “I’m too old for that. I’m through being cool.” He laughs. “I’ve got cool in reserves; I don’t need any more.”
* * *
It’s a Wednesday night in October, but the fact it’s a school night doesn’t seem matter to the fans of Atreyu, Blessthefall and Chiodos at the House of Blues in Anaheim. Wandering around the venue affords an education in the pitfalls of making sweeping generalizations about music fans. Only Blessthefall are signed to Fearless, but considering the night’s lineup, one might expect the venue to fairly bristle with Hot Topic T-shirts; flat-ironed and spiky hairstyles; and heavily eyelinered peepers. That’s not the case.
The audience looks young but not prepubescent; the tall cans of PBR they sip from speak to their relative maturity. There are some skinny jeans, but Hurley and New York Yankees baseball caps are also clearly represented.
It’s a crowd that defies pithy description.
The bands’ sounds are a different story. Though Blessthefall, Chiodos and Atreyu all have their own signatures, they inhabit a sonic Venn diagram of hardcore punk, metal and emo: catchy hooks interspersed with lamenting wails, pterodactyl screams, furious double bass drum, face-melting solos and harmonized guitars.
Still, it was a benign show: There were no fears of a riot breaking out or a random assault (all due to the vigilance of the venue’s security staff). There was instead a relatively tame vibe in the room, which was markedly at odds with the hyper-intensity of the music.
During Blessthefall’s set, singer Beau Boken, clad in a sleeveless Minor Threat shirt and ripped skinny jeans, promises a free T-shirt to the first person to make it past security and give him a high-five.
While a few ambitious fans climb over the throng, it is by no stretch a melee. One young man darts quickly past the barriers and politely high-fives Boken. Meanwhile, security is seen quietly whisking those few individuals who failed out through a side door.
It seemed like an apt allegory for Fearless. Its bands skirt the fringes of the mainstream enough to make sure the kids are interested. But in keeping with the label’s approach, all of them are palatable and safe enough for the Disney crowd. It’s not the DIY punk of the 1970s, but at the same time, there’s less arm-cutting than T-shirt designing in the typical Fearless band’s following.
“I enjoy things with energy. I think there’s a lot of energy with young people,” Becker says. “I don’t know that I get real excited going to see a bar band that’s 30 years old, where the people are just standing there and look bored, and they’re more interested in what their next drink is going to be as opposed to what the next song is going to be. When you go to a young show, the kids are there specifically to see the band, and that’s all they’re going there for. And that’s exciting to me.”
Clubs Editor Brandon Ferguson contributed to the reporting of this story.
This story appeared in print as "Know Fearless: Bob Becker’s label—the first to sign Plain White T’s and At the Drive-In—has a plan for keeping the next big thing from bolting to the majors."