PT Plays February 2012: “The Best Of Hellcat Records”

By Tom Aylott

Hellcat Records is home to some of the greatest modern punk bands, and though their heyday may have come and gone with the peak of Rancid’s success, Tim Armstrong’s fledgling label has an impressive back catalogue.

For PT Play February 2012, we celebrate the legacy of the label and the great albums they released.

The Nerve Agents – The Poisoning
The Nerve Agents’ ‘The Butterfly Collection’ is an unsung gem from the Hellcat catalogue, showcasing a punk side of the slightly off-kilter hardcore that is going through a rich vein of popularity at the moment.

The Distillers – I Am A Revenant
One of the true Hellcat Records success stories, The Distillers’ ‘Sing, Sing Death House’ was one of the definitive albums of its kind, and launched Brody Dalle as a punk pink up for a new generation. ‘I Am A Revenant’ is a genuine anthem, and one that finds itself amongst many other genuine anthems on the record.

Leftover Crack – Atheist Anthem
Leftover Crack’s ‘Atheist Anthem’ was on one of Hellcat’s notorious ‘Give ‘Em The Boot’ compilations, and it launched the definitive “Crack Rock Steady” band into the attentions of many. Always controversial and never really an “in vogue” band, Leftover Crack always had plenty to say and no fear of saying it.

Rancid – It’s Quite Alright
Rancid’s 2000 self titled isn’t always regarded as their best work, but tracks like ‘It’s Quite Alright’ show off the band’s stylistic flexibility well, and there’s no doubt that the band kept the label in focus over many years.

U.S. Bombs – Die Alone
Former professional skater Duane Peters’ U.S. Bombs formed in 1993, and though never achieving major commercial success, the band are well respected and have just played their first gig since 2005!

Tiger Army – Power Of Moonlite
Sitting at the most listenable end of the “Psychobilly” trend that Hellcat was a big part of, Tiger Army managed to gain a cult following internationally, and though they’ve been absent for quite a while, tracks like ‘Power Of Moonlite’ have stood the test of time so far, and there’s no doubt that they managed to do something unique with the genre, despite the tendency to tuck their hXc shirts into their deep blue crew jeans. Hot.

F-Minus – The Iconoclast
Brad Logan’s F-Minus are one of the great unsung punk bands, barely stepping into the mainstream once. Their sound can be found nested in so many bands in 2012, even if they know it or not, and the urgency of tracks like ‘The Iconoclast’ shows them as one of the best punk bands of the last two decades.

Operation Ivy – Room Without A Window
Operation Ivy, famous for breaking up before any gave a shit a la Refused, have a worldwide following. Vocalist Jesse Michaels didn’t even reach the UK until he brought his Classics Of Love project over a few years ago, and though Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman are the most famous of the Op Ivy alumni, there’s always (misplaced) hope for a reunion tour.

The Transplants – Tall Cans In The Air
At the time of the release of their first record, Transplants seemed like a joke to many. It was one of the first of the many Rancid spin-offs, and though the first record saw a fairly fresh take on punk/hip-hop crossover, the band haven’t quite managed to match the sheer fun and less-than-serious approach since. ‘Tall Cans In The Air’ kicks off the self-titled record, and no one’s quite looked at Travis Barker and Tim Armstrong the same since.

The Gadjits – Bad Gadjit
The Gadjits never really seemed to deliver the goods with Hellcat, but this track from ‘Give Em The Boot 2’ is a massive tune, and it’s a shame they’ve not really manage to make a bigger name since their Hellcat emergence. ‘Bad Gadjit’ is a self-reflective and organ driven number that features trad ska elements and early Hellcat’s famously scrappy production, and it’s well worth a listen for ska/punk crossover fans.

The Slackers – Information Error
As well as hardcore, Hellcat’s rocksteady and ska connections were always present, and The Slackers are one of the most respected bands of their irk. ‘Information Error’ is one of the band’s dubbier moment, but the band’s range of styles throughout their back catalogue is more than enough to make a ‘Best Of The Slackers’ list.

Devil’s Brigade – Vampire Girl
The only Rancid spin off that was driven by Matt Freeman, Devil’s Brigade’s ‘Vampire Girl’ seemed to promise at a full record, but it didn’t arrive for years after it’s appearance on the third ‘Give Em The Boot’ comp.

Choking Victim – 500 Channels
As the precursor to Leftover Crack, Stza’s Choking Victim’s ‘No Gods / No Managers’ is a skacore classic, and ‘500 Channels’ is perhaps the biggest “hit” the band ever produced. Though they’ll never appreciate that description. The band are synonymous with the NYC squat scene, and though they famously all fell out with Hellcat, it remains one of the label’s most endearing releases.

Mouthwash – We Evolve
Mouthwash were one of the only UK bands that signed to Hellcat, and though they’re sadly no departed, tracks like ‘We Evolve’ made their ‘1,000 Dreams’ album on the label a great listen, and it’s no surprise that Tim Armstrong’s ear was drawn to the band’s influences from British punk and ska from previous decades.

Dropkick Murphys – I’m Shipping Up To Boston
‘I’m Shipping Up To Boston’ has probably earned the Dropkicks a whole shitload of cash since being on The Departed, but they’re never been one hit wonders, and still maintain as the definitive “Irish/American Punk” band. They’ve received stick over the years for not actually being Irish, but there’s no doubt that they’ve had a whole stack of tunes to give to the world, and their time on Hellcat has treated them well.

Lars Frederiksen – To Have And Have Not
With their first album release, Lars Frederiksen’s Bastards weren’t trying to do anything too different from their main man’s band, but tracks like this cover of Billy Bragg’s ‘To Have And Have Not’ made the album a wet dream for Rancid fans waiting for new material. The second album titled Lars into the ridiculous a bit, and not much has been heard from them since.

Joe Strummer & The Mescaloros – Redemption Song
Joe Strummer’s Mescaleros were obviously never his “biggest’ band, but their time on Hellcat Records showcased the late legend’s ska roots with a modern update, and there’s no doubt that having the man on Hellcat was something Tim Armstrong was very proud of. The meeting of the two was like the bridging of a generation, and much of the work they did together felt the passing of a torch.

So there you have it. A whole host of tunes from Hellcat Records. Many of us at Punktastic have a love for the label and the great ska/skacore/punk/rockabilly records they put out, and though the sub labels of Epitaph don’t really seem to be what they once were, we’re secretly hoping for a revival and a few more reasons to wear some braces and Doc Marten’s. Actually, maybe not the last bit.