Various Artists - Old Skars and Upstarts (Cover Artwork)

Various Artists

Old Skars and Upstarts (1998)

Disaster Records

Good compilation albums have become a lost art. The rise of Internet technology has altered the music industry to one that no longer relies on record companies filling up stores with physical products. People can just browse the Web to learn about a new band and sample a song from a variety of music streaming sites. But looking back 20-years ago, there were so many standout compilations that cemented the place of several labels in the punk landscape: Fat Music For Fat People, Punk-o-rama, Give ‘Em The Boot, etc. These pieces were usually presented as a complete album with a thought-out flow of songs between different artists. Songs recorded specifically for a compilation that did not appear elsewhere in a band’s catalog were common. Unique artwork helped create the label’s identity. A lot of these releases weren’t originally intended to be priced for the value bin. However, over time this recipe waned and it became a routine cycle for most labels to grab a bunch previously released songs and slap them onto a CD for $4.99 with the exact same artwork as the previous version and new volume number. Did you know there was a Hopelessly Devoted To You Volume 7?

Disaster Records was a somewhat short-lived record label that was started back in 1997 by the legendary front man of the U.S. Bombs and professional skateboarder, Duane Peters, also known as “The Master of Disaster.” One of the first releases from Disaster was Old Skars & Upstarts, a collection of 29 songs curated by Peters himself. Since the label was new, there wasn’t a huge pool of previously released material to pull from, and a lot of the bands that appeared on this compilation did not ever have an actual release on the label. Hellcat Records, also a home for the U.S. Bombs, was making a lot of waves around this time and I stumbled across Old Skars & Upstarts in a CD store (no vinyl, no cassettes – it only sold CDs) by recognizing the likes of Rancid, U.S. Bombs, Dropkick Murphys and F-Minus listed on its back cover. I immediately decided to buy it at a price of $29.99 with a stern glare from the clerk who was just trying to warn some kid with a skateboard that he should probably spend less money on something else instead. To this day, it remains the most expensive single disc release that I have ever bought.

The compilation boasts an eclectic mix of bands both big and small, from a family of related labels that intersect with Peters at some point in his own music history: Hellcat, TKO and Beer City just to name a few. The stylistic blend of songs is one that’s mainly street punk and stake punk, with a side helping of punk n’ roll. Rancid offer two unreleased (at the time) songs: “Kill The Lights” and “White Knuckle Ride.” Dropkick Murphys rip through a cover of “Billy’s Bones” by The Pogues at triple-speed. F-Minus blast out “Methedrine” in under a minute. Union 13 put down a demo version of “Why Are We Destroying Ourselves?” that I think sounds better than the album version. But those were only the songs I was expecting to be good.

What Old Skars & Upstarts also did was open me up to new bands that weren’t as well-known like Smogtown, The Bristles and The Stitches, who all contribute standout tracks. It also features rare material like a cut by the early Peters-fronted group Exploding Fuck Dolls, as well as Electric Frankenstein teaming up with Rik L. Rik for a special feature. Even the songs that I considered a bit out there at the time like “Oh Yeah!” by Texas Terri & Stiff Ones or “Dracula’s Bride” by The Spooky have held up better than I originally thought.

The production on this compilation is excellent; every song sounds like it got washed in the same load of sonic laundry, so to speak. There are no jarring differences in volume or tone between tracks. Some may sound slightly more like a demo cut than others do, but the difference is slight if any. The artwork is exceptional with the front insert expanding into a 9-panel, high-resolution poster of all the bands with their logos on one side and a detailed band member roll call on the other. Artwork of this caliber for a compilation nowadays is almost unseen.

The Old Skars & Upstarts series continued with another four releases ending in 2005, but the magic captured on this first installment makes it stand alone as my favorite compilation release of all-time. Nearly 20-years later, I can attest that the $29.99 price tag was well worth it. It’s too bad that so many of the landmark compilation series from this era of punk rock eventually went down the path of annual, value bin throwaways that almost never feature unreleased tracks or cool artwork.