photo & text by nacrowe
the BAD BRAINS phenomena, like all of the 80s HARDCORE PUNK scene, was one generation before me. i never saw them live. but i often feel like all of the INDIE and ALTERNATIVE ROCK music i grew up on in the 1990s is very much the ripple effect of this band and specifically the power of their seminal self-titled debut BAD BRAINS (ROIR, 1982) record. bands ranging from FAITH NO MORE, JANE'S ADDICTION, FUGAZI, SOUNDGARDEN and DEFTONES to LIVING COLOUR, BEASTIE BOYS, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and NIRVANA. their sound is marked by an incredible unspoken CHEMISTRY and sense of MUSICALITY that can be described as a hybrid between a subtle and deft use of EXTREME DYNAMICS (almost JAZZ-like) coupled with an unparalleled FEROCITY and BRUTALITY that was entirely jolting and UNPREDICTABLE on first listen.
and to me it is that unbridled ENERGY that marks this legendary band.
you watch old live clips and you realize this band was completely out for blood. their performances were just pure UNPREDICTABLE, KINETIC mayhem that seemed to be the result of a preternatural level of COMMITMENT and TECHNICAL ABILITY. POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE indeed. watching such comes across like the unadulterated real thing. like "this" is what ROCK N ROLL should be. end stop. and it makes perfect sense that their live show was so POTENT and COMBUSTIVE that it became too much for clubs in WASHINGTON D.C. to handle, making way for their move to NEW YORK CITY where THE YELLOW TAPE was haphazardly recorded on a reel-to-reel tape at a live gig in ALPHABET CITY.
this record, like much of the HARDCORE releases in general, was less about sound quality and production as it was about ENERGY. when guitarist DR. KNOW kicks in on the opener "SAILIN ON" you very much know its on. same can be said for H.R. and his uncanny VOCAL PYROTECHNICS on celebrated tracks like "BIG TAKE OVER," "PAY TO CUM" and "BANNED IN D.C." its just powerful. its the type of record you listen to from front to back and wonder where you where for the last half hour.
i revisit this BAD BRAINS record often, no doubt in part due to the fact that every subsequent band i love points right back to this specific record by this unique band as a defining experience and a primal scene in their formation as a musician. THE YELLOW TAPE is required listening for anyone interested in NYHC, PUNK ROCK, ALTERNATIVE ROCK, LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK, INDIE ROCK, HARDCORE PUNK or related genres like METALCORE and POST HARDCORE. this is a widely influential record that is most definitely worth check it out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
as its pragmatic title entails, SALAD DAYS (NEW ROSE FILMS, 2014) is a comprehensive look back at the evolution and enduring cultural legacy of the WASHINGTON D.C. HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. utilizing interviews from both from members of countless participating bands as well as (interesting choice) scenesters of the period, you really get the sense about how an idea sparks a scene which sparks a movement and the implications of such. what blows my mind is that everything discussed was accomplished for the most part by a bunch of kids in their teens and early 20s. makes me wonder what ive accomplished.
at the essence of this whole scene is a strong DIY ethic. in the aftermath of the PUNK explosion of the late 1970s, there was a small group of like-minded teenagers in D.C. who listened to THE CRAMPS, IGGY POP and THE RAMONES and fought off redneck suburban kids attempting to beat them to a pulp for dressing different. this confrontational day-to-day existence manifested itself in a small scene of kids who picked up instruments and started bands. these bands developed to the point that a local record shop, in a very HIGH FIDELITY (TOUCHSTONE PICTURES, 2000) moment, helped them learn to record at a nearby studio with a producer and manufacture vinyl records. enter DISCHORD RECORDS.
at the hear to the scene is DISCHORD, which was essentially an excuse for IAN MCKAYE and JEFF NELSON to self-release and EP by their band THE TEEN IDLES. eventually the also released records by their friends and D.C. bands they thought people should hear. DISCHORD through MCKAYE's next band MINOR THREAT become well known and helps draw attention to the label's roster, which some complain sucks the oxygen out of non-DISCHORD affiliated INDIE and PUNK groups from the area. some of those bands even start their own labels like TEEN BEAT RECORDS and SIMPLE MACHINES.
as the scene gets bigger in the mid-80s through the increasing notoriety of the DISCHORD roster of bands (GOVERNMENT ISSUE, VOID, FAITH, S.O.A., etc), things begin to change. kids show up from the suburbs and shows become decidedly more violent. original bands grapple with the fact that these newcomers do not share their values. things get increasingly desperate as racist SKINHEADS and destitute DRUNK PUNK show up and reek havoc. all this while, again, most of the bands involved are barely in their 20s.
the scene begins to change as bands mature and get more introspective lyrically and experimental sonically. a new generation "emotional hardcore" bands become prominent like EMBRACE and RITES OF SPRING and which result in effectively challenging their audiences expectations. things also get more splintered as some bands get political as exemplified by the local outreach group POSITIVE FORCE who put on numerous shows as well as musical protests of the SOUTH AFRICAN embassy for its then-APARTHEID government. this came to be known as REVOLUTION SUMMER.
for some this new explicitly political focus through benefit shows and protests was pedantic at best and HIPPIE-ish at worst. it splintered the bands much as the STRAIGHT EDGE movement had done years before. STRAIGHT EDGE was a MINOR THREAT song about not needing intoxicants to have a good time, in fact not doing so gave them the "straight edge." people took MCKAYE's personal affirmation as dogma, as followers tend to do, and it created confusion amongst the scene about how people could act at shows. was drinking now bad?
through all the variations and misinterpretations of this scene, it seems the biggest impact was their intense DIY ethic and sense of community. in the end the idea of creating a scene from nothing showcases how empowering an idea such as PUNK ROCK can be. the democratizing of instruments to all levels of musician's most have been exhilarating when PUNK ROCK first came about.
my only grief is that the empowerment of the still relative dearth of prominent modern PUNK or INDIE bands that express the perspectives of minorities and those of the LGBTQIA community. watching this documentary cognizant of what came in its wake, it still feels like PUNK ROCK is a white boys club pissing on one another. the industry has changed but the players have not, no matter how woke they.
hopefully this next generation will take the cue from PUNK ROCK and empower themselves to advocate structural change moving forward. they'll have to do it themselves.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.
parodies by nacrowe
easily one of my favorite DEER GOD RADIO shows since its inception, this episode dedicated to 1980s HARDCORE is a topic i have further explored in book reviews for the likes of GET IN THE VAN (HENRY ROLLINS), MY DAMAGE (KEITH MORRIS) and UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN (JOHN DOE) as well as other related episodes concerning the concurrent scene in INDIE ROCK as well as '77 FIRST-WAVE PUNK ROCK, NEW YORK HARDCORE, POST-HARDCORE, and later 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK.
it is seemingly the topic that will never die and continues to be of interest to me, largely because it was the palette cleanser that served to further distill PUNK ROCK to its absolute core essentials, of which we have been building back up around ever since. it is the foundation for any decent ROCK music that has sprung up in its wake.
so check out this show that originally aired around CHRISTMAS 2018. hasn't gotten old yet.
photo & text by nacrowe
NYHC: NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-1990 (BAZILLION POINTS, 2014) by TONY RETTMAN is a compiled series of interviews regarding the origins and influence of the HARDCORE community in NYC by the participants that were there. It would seem that this book is more of a document cementing the legacy of the NYHC scene for and by the community itself, rather than as an entry point to those that were not there. part of that is due to the structure of the book itself.
unlike UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN (book review linked HERE) which covered similar ground for the LA PUNK scene but gave each participating voice a chapter, this book chooses to go paragraph by paragraph. this results in more participation and coverage at the risk of redundancy as often many people kept repeating the same thing over and over again. the impression it gave me was the uniformity of opinion regarding the history of the scene and that concerned me a bit just in terms of the anthropology of it all. when humans get together and agree on things so thoroughly it usually means either there is a hierarchal power structure playing out or a very strong peer group influence.
when i think of the music produced by this scene, especially the celebrated marquee second wave bands (AGNOSTIC FRONT, CRO-MAGS, MURPHY'S LAW, SICK OF IT ALL) what always stood out was the uniformity of its sound and approach. call me crazy, but music is universal and the whole idea of "you had to be there" or "you wouldn't understand because you weren't a part of the scene" is a weak argument for substandard product. i'm not trying to be harsh on the music itself, but at times it is almost laughable when people from this scene talk about how it wasn't fair that bands like NIRVANA gained popularity at their supposed expense. bands from the pacific northwest came from an equally insular scene that celebrated diversity and inclusivity, often at the risk of alienating more conservative elements in their ranks. the NYHC bands where conservative in their approach to their craft and politics, which veered from reactionary to downright thuggish.
what i gained from this book was a wider appreciation for the origins of the NYHC scene, which grew out of a legendary punk scene that celebrated a diverse community of artists (PATTI SMITH, TELEVISION, THE RAMONES) and initially attracted a like-minded next wave (BAD BRAINS, KRAUT, THE MOB, THE UNDEAD, THE NIHILISTICS) before the second wave took cemented the rules of the scene from there on out.
i made reference to the LA PUNK scene already but it followed a very similar trajectory. to me it is always interesting how with social movements new opportunities beget new rules and both scenes are guilty of such. it is just human nature i guess. i wonder with our modern digital social media world where access to music is immediate via the internet and streaming services whether or not such regional genres can develop apart from one another. i doubt it.
in this way i think a book like NYHC: NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-1990 is a beacon to a mode of culture that can literally never be repeated as technology has erased the potential of such. whether that is good or bad i don't know. my only hope is that it won't lead to more uniformity because then we all lose.
cover by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO on shaolin radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC dedicated to NYHC.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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