Where did all the good comps go? – A lament for the CD compilation

The internet is brilliant, isn’t it? Almost everything is there at the touch of a button. Stores reside within programs, ready to cater to your every need. In this age, we are the media, and Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook tell you what to listen to. There’s sites like us, trying to do our best to showcase what we love! But sometimes, I don’t half miss a good Punk-o-Rama CD.

I grew up on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. We picked up the first game when I was ten and I dove into it with glee. And while it was extremely fun trying to get a mega high score in two minutes, the best part of the game was the soundtrack. Tunes from Goldfinger, The Suicide Machines, Rage Against The Machine and Powerman 5000 were unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Before then, I’d been a Steps fan, occasionally subjected to my dad playing The Offspring in the car. Combined with a certain AFI video hitting the airwaves in 2001, Tony Hawk’s provided the necessary impetus to throw me into the punk subculture. I haven’t ever looked back. Thanks to that carefully curated soundtrack, and further ones, kids like me found our way into a world unlike any other.

You might have forgotten that record stores exist. With the slow death of HMV (it’s clinging on but you know it won’t last) and more and more indies disappearing, some of you won’t truly know the thrill of going in and picking something up that you’ve never ever heard of before. Why would you go and buy it when you can download it (illegally) for free on the internet, or listen to it on Spotify? Throughout high school, I would save up my allowance and go into my local indie every month, choosing one record that I’d never heard of before. But being cheeky, that would inevitably turn into a compilation to maximise my chances of finding something good. I picked up plenty of label samplers, including Epitaph’s now legendary Punk-o-Rama comps. Label samplers still exist – but they’re online, and disappear as rapidly as they appear. Some labels are doing really sweet stuff to make sure you know their bands – Paper + Plastick, for one, offer a free digital subscription service in which they provide a few tracks from a release each week, and occasionally, a full release! But there was something about picking up those compilations, poring over the inserts to see which album each track originally appeared on and copying it for all your friends. Making a Spotify playlist just doesn’t quite cut it.

So now, we find out about bands in different ways. This can mean that our music tastes are far more eclectic – we’re exposed to so many different types of music online these days. This zine, which was strictly punk to begin with, has moved on to cover all kind of music in the alternative spectrum. Nevertheless, there was something magical at seeing what all those bands had in common. In Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, it was generally a disrespect for authority and a quick tempo that led to their inclusion. For Punk-o-Rama, especially in the latter comps, it was figuring out why From First To Last could be on the same record as Refused. In the few Drive-Thru comps I have knocking about, it was how each band could write songs about effectively the same things but in completely different ways. And I could always find something to relate to.

I suppose we curate our own soundtracks now. I’m really into NBC’s Hannibal at the moment, and I follow a few fan blogs on Tumblr. Every day, there’s at least one fan mix, based around a character’s emotional state, or the mood of a certain episode. I kept the mix CD tradition alive at university – as president of the punk society (yes, it was a real thing), I invited people to bring their own CDs and swap them with each other. But there’s no big communal influence any more, far less of a shared experience, or at least, so I’ve found. This isn’t something that I bemoan, but have learned to accept. Magazines like Rock Sound still put comps out every month and I still listen to them in my car, but now, word of mouth is more important than ever. So keep telling your friends about your favourite bands. We’ll keep telling you about our favourite newbies. And pray to the gaming deities that they release a new Tony Hawk game.