Photo by Rachael Barbash

Where Did the Punk Rockers Go?

There’s no way to talk about rock music in Columbus without discussing Columbus Discount Records (CDR), a record label that linked the city’s underground past to the next generation of bands. After a decade of serving their corner of the local scene, the founders called it quits last year. It was the end of an era—perhaps of several.

When Adam Smith and B.J. Holesapple arrived in Columbus, they expected to find some kind of punk Shangri-la. Instead they found a vacuum. They were heavily influenced by local rock of the ’90s—Gaunt, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, New Bomb Turks, and so on—and they hoped to sign with one of the record labels that supported those bands. But by the time they got here, labels like Datapanik Records and Anyway Records were basically dormant or defunct.

“The infrastructure didn’t exist anymore, as we sort of saw it, in this kind of romanticized version of ‘90s Columbus rock,” Smith said. Sensing the hole in the scene, the two set out to form a label modeled after their forebears and asked for guidance from Bela Koe-Krompecher, the founder of Anyway. They established Columbus Discount Records in 2004, describing their niche as “jerk music.”

The two held crummy jobs, but they built their label in their spare time. They began putting out albums by the new generation of underground bands like Times New Viking, El Jesus de Magico, Terribly Empty Pockets, and their own band, Necropolis. They dumped all their money into the label and kept albums coming out several hundred dollars at a time.

A few years later, some of the early-‘90s holdovers like Bassholes put out albums through CDR, and Ron House of Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments released a couple records from his new band, Psandwich. After they put out releases for Mike Rep—founder of the seminal punk band Mike Rep and the Quotas and a bastion of the scene since the mid-‘70s—they realized they needed to expand CDR’s mission. Rep was associated with many recordings from the halcyon days of Columbus rock that had never reached fans, thanks in part to his discontinued Old Age/No Age mail order label. After discovering the bounty of unreleased music from early pioneers and peripheral players, CDR’s founders realized that the original picture of the scene had never been completed.

In 2008, CDR released the first of the unheard stash, Tommy Jay’s Tall Tales of Trauma, from Tommy Jay, a member of the Quotas. Jay and Rep hailed from a tiny hamlet just south of Grove City called Harrisburg, where Jay had created a practice space and studio in his home. For decades, a rotating cast of musicians known as The Harrisburg Players rehearsed and recorded there, influencing and often comprising Columbus’s underground bands.

CDR hit overdrive in 2009, starting a singles club in addition to the new releases, reissues, and previously unheard music. They distributed 16 records that year, often at the expense of relationships and showering, Smith said. Over time, they put out releases from lo-fi luminaries like Cheater Slicks, as well as the next generation of bands like Psychedelic Horseshit.

Their production levels decreased in subsequent years, as bands like Bassholes and Cheater Slicks only recorded new music every so often, and the unreleased Harrisburg stash was eventually tapped. Koe-Krompecher had revived Anyway, and other local labels like Superdreamer Records had begun popping up.

By early-2014, Holesapple and Smith decided they had proved their concept—if you’re interested in music from your region and think it contributes to the larger national conversation, then you can create a label and release it yourself. Smith felt that when people discussed Columbus Music (“big C, big M,” he specified) now they would have the full picture.

“We were like, ‘Well, we’ve kinda done it,’” he said. “We made our point, and we’ve done our work, so there’s no point to just string it out forever.”

In May 2014, Smith sat in Musicol—a revered studio and vinyl pressing facility where he had become the recording engineer—and discussed a decade of running a label, as well as the plans to end it. He talked about wanting to see a resurgence of younger musicians who understand their place in the history of the scene. He wanted to witness the birth of a new generation of bands that were excited to play in the same city as Cheater Slicks and Mike Rep. And he floated a theory he’d been considering recently—maybe there needed to be a vacuum again so that someone from the next age of Columbus Music would feel compelled to fill it.

In August of that year, after releasing about 70 records, CDR officially went dark. Holesapple stayed here and Smith departed, bound for Austin, leaving punk fans with a more complete representation of the music that had influenced them so profoundly. They left behind their contribution to a larger legacy, and a void.