Excerpted here is the second of three chapters we are sharing from Tony Rettman’s NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980–1990 (December 30, Bazillion Points), an oral history of the era as told by characters from the New York hardcore scene. Below is “The Legacy: Set It Off,” the punk tome’s final chapter, wherein various musicians and members of the scene talk about what’s next for the genre they created. Check back Thursday for a trip through the East Village, in the final chapter we’re sharing. (Read part one here.)
One final thing: If you’re in New York, a book launch party will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, December 11, at Powerhouse Arena (37 Main Street, Brooklyn).
“The Legacy: Set It Off”
Howie Abrams (A&R, In-Effect Records; editor, Occasional Irregularity fanzine): One day around 1988 Roger Miret walked into In-Effect with this cassette of like three or four minutes of a little kid singing in front of what could be Agnostic Front’s “United Blood, Part Two.” It was a recording of his little brother [Freddy Cricien], what was to become Madball’s Ball of Destruction EP. We released that as a 7-inch in 1989.
Fast-forward a few years, and Madball started to gain some interest. They were getting invited to play places like South America, because Agnostic Front was touring there. The 7-inch had traveled, and people were asking about Madball. The band had become a myth. So that’s when Hoya Roc came in on bass, Willie Shepler on drums, and Matt Henderson was on guitar. Stigma was a part of that lineup as well. They didn’t have serious intentions of being a band.
By 1993, they made it known that they wanted to be a real band. I ended up sitting down with Freddy, who was seventeen at that time, and Hoya. They wanted to make an actual album and become one of those bands that did albums and tour cycles. So we went and did Set It Off. Madball took the old version of the NYHC formula and presented it in a new package and it worked. People really connected with it.
Toby Morse (vocalist, H2O; roadie, Sick of It All): I started going to South America and Europe with Sick of It All. I wasn’t the best roadie in the world. I would help break down the drums and do a bunch of stage dives. I was just a friend they brought on tour. They brought me around the world as a kid. That was pretty much my college. When I came back, the scene was really driving with V.O.D., Madball, Subzero, and Crown of Thornz. It was a whole new generation of NYHC, and it was awesome.
Howie Abrams: The ’90s era of bands like H2O and Crown of Thornz were made up of roadies and fans and scenester kids. All the kids you would see on the road with Sick of It All or Madball or Killing Time started their own bands.
Toby Morse: I ended up starting H2O because I would sing with Sick of It All as a joke. H2O did their first show in Queens opening for Murphy’s Law. When we came out, there was so much of the tough-guy chugga-chugga stuff. People were like, “Oh shit, what’s this?” To some people, it was a breath of fresh air because we had melody.
Howie Abrams: [Crown of Thornz’s Lord] Ezec and Toby had been around the scene for quite a while, and both were super-charismatic guys. They decided they wanted to have bands, but both of them went in two totally different ways musically. H2O had the NYHC vibe but also had a West Coast punk vibe with influences like Descendents and Bad Religion. They didn’t just play mosh parts. But Crown of Thornz had been influenced by the crossover era of Agnostic Front. Both bands also paid a shitload of respect to the Cro-Mags and Murphy’s Law, but each band had an identity of its own.
Michael Scondotto (vocalist, Inhuman, the Last Stand): Around that time, Brooklyn exploded with new bands too. In 1990 alone Merauder, Patterns, my band Confusion, Lament, and Life of Agony all formed. Other bands from that era were Nobody’s Perfect and Social Disorder. L’Amour and the Crazy Country Club were both having hardcore shows. A lot of the members of these Brooklyn bands were going to CB’s in the late ’80s, but didn’t get to play there due to being too young. This was all happening simultaneously to Biohazard making the rounds. Carnivore was the beginning point for all of the bands in Brooklyn, really.
Drew Stone: I saw Biohazard at a hardcore matinee in the late ’80s. I remember watching two songs and thinking, “Two skinheads, two longhairs. Half hardcore, half metal. I get the gimmick.” But things worked out well for them later on, and they got better and better. Biohazard opened the doors for a lot of the bands that came in toward the 1990s. A lot of guys saw what was going on with Biohazard and got inspired. Look at the Biohazard video I shot for “Punishment.” Most of those guys in the video ended up in that next wave of bands. There are guys from Merauder and Sub Zero, plus Ezec and the guys from Madball. That’s what most people know as NYHC today.
Toby Morse: When CB’s got shut down, there were shows going on at Coney Island High. Oh my God, Coney Island High! Another wave of amazing shows were put on by Jimmy G and Steve Poss, who were doing Creepy Crawl Productions, and a whole new wave of kids went to those shows.
Howie Abrams: During the ’90s era, none of the hardcore bands that influenced the NYHC thing sounded like NYHC when it first came out. Everything was all stripped away and started anew. Of course, everyone still gave respect to the people who started it: Crown of Thornz carried on the influence of Agnostic Front throughout their career. But hardcore as a separate thing from metal, the kind of hardcore that still recognized punk as a distant cousin, that stuff was pretty much wiped away. The genuine community aspect of the scene remained. That was still undoubtedly NYHC. That spirit will always be there, and I think that’s fascinating. In fact, for that to survive in a city this big and this diverse, with kids coming from so many different places, not only is it fascinating — it’s almost a miracle.
Vinnie Stigma: The early NYHC thing was a true moment in time. It was where the worlds of music crossed: punk, hardcore, Oi!, and metal. These days, people try to tweet themselves to fame. They have no idea that you have to earn your bones. You have to write good music. You have to be there for the people.
Jesse Malin (guitarist/vocalist, Heart Attack, D-Generation): People like us think of hardcore as this great part of American culture, but, in reality, it’s a small little blip. But it influenced so much. Without it, you wouldn’t have Nirvana. You wouldn’t have the way people tour. You wouldn’t have South by Southwest. In New York, we had kids into the peace-punk shit. We had kids into the skinhead shit. We had kids into angel dust. NYHC was all over the map and it was diverse.
Wendy Eager (editor, Guillotine fanzine): We could sit here forever and I still think we wouldn’t cover all the bands from that time. There’s so many other bands that are going be left out, like Anti-Warfare and Rapid Deployment Force. It just seemed like every week, a new band was starting. There were the Agnostic Fronts and the Murphy’s Laws, but there was a band like Ultra Violence who started before A7 and lasted through to the mid-’80s.
Go Straight Ahead to the next page.
Tommy Carroll (vocalist/drummer, NYC Mayhem; drummer, Youth of Today; vocalist, Straight Ahead, Irate): I thought NYHC was the only thing on earth. Over the years, people look in and idolize the people involved, and I guess I can see why. It made history — it made a wave. To me, it was just about being young, being from New York, our personalities, and being who we were as people. I thought L.A. was soft and I still think they are. I’m not a big fan of the West Coast and I never will be. New York is hardcore, period! Why is NYHC great? Because New York’s great!
Howie Abrams: At the end of the day, you’re doing a book about NYHC because it’s still relevant. We have the Black N’ Blue Bowl, and there are hardcore festivals all over the world where NYHC bands play. These bands are constantly on tour in Europe, Japan, Asia, and Australia. Who the fuck ever saw that happening? At the end of the day, nobody thought they would tour the world and make a living. It’s amazing how widespread it’s become.
Toby Morse: People live this life forever. Not everybody lives in New York still, but everybody is still a part of that scene. Sick of It All, Madball, and Agnostic Front still tour. How far it has come from little CBGB to massive tours where all these bands still kill it. It’s so inspiring.
Pete Koller: It’s really crazy to think I wouldn’t own the house I live in if I didn’t go to CBGB to see an Agnostic Front show. Armand [Majidi, Sick of It All drummer] wouldn’t have met his wife if it wasn’t for this band. I wouldn’t be living where I live with my wife and a beautiful baby. This is our lives.
Gary Tse Tse Fly: There are so many guys married to this lifestyle. The band is their wife, their kids, maybe even their mother-in-law. Jimmy G and Paul Bearer still hang out in New York City. They didn’t come here to squat for the summer. NYHC was real and it stayed real. Murphy’s Law never went away. Agnostic Front never went away. The Nihilistics never went away. They never cashed in on a reunion or anything, because they stayed in the scene, for better or for worse.
Tim Chunks (vocalist, Token Entry): For me, it was about who was there. All my peers were making music. It was guys I went to school with and guys I hung out with. We hung out and laughed and joked. We talked about serious shit and fought together. It was so important to me, because it was people I respected and held dear in my heart; and I still do. For me, it was important about who it was, and not so much what it was.
Alexa Poli-Scheigert (NYHC scenester): The poverty and the squalor was the most influential thing on the NYHC scene. It made us hard, and maybe a little bitter for our age, but we were pissed off. Reaganomics wasn’t working for our situation and we bonded. We were a family. To this day, I consider Jimmy, Vinnie, and Roger family. When I got badly burned, nobody I knew from Albany came to the hospital. B. J. Papas flew from Hollywood to be by my side. Melissa Kabula showed up with a DVD player and a whole bunch of DVDs. I hadn’t seen her in twenty-two years. I used to defend her because everyone would fuck with her because she was this nice girl who was marrying Rob [Kabula, bassist, Cause for Alarm, Agnostic Front]. She remembered that. We were coming from really fucked-up homes and we needed a family. I have a lot of love for these people because they’re special to me. They’re my family because I never really had one. Being a girl and a part of it and not sleeping around crazily was special. Being a sister to the guys was more important to me.
Vinnie Stigma: Look at someone like Todd Youth. Here’s this kid who ended up playing for Ace Frehley, Motörhead, and Glen Campbell. You name them and he played with them. This kid is kind of like my legacy. Look at Sindi from the Lunachicks. I taught her guitar when she was a little, little girl, and she ended up being in this great all-girl band.
As you get older, you find out life is too important and there’s things you should stay true to. That’s why I’ve got mixed feelings about these bands who haven’t played in twenty years and all of a sudden, they come back. I got two ways of looking at them. One: Welcome back, brother. We missed you. Two: Where the fuck were ya? Now go fuck yourself! I’m funny like that because there’s other bands that have been out there doing the struggle for the last twenty years and you think you’re just going to come waltzing in after you left us flat? I take it personal. I’m mixed up on it because they’re all my friends. I just don’t want them to think they can come waltzing in here and think they’re better than these kids in bands today because these kids are here and they deserve the respect. That’s me looking out for the new kids. When punk turned into hardcore, you had guys who were always asking kids, “Where were you?” My thing has always been, hey, they’re here now and that’s what matters. Now you look around, and you ask where are these guys who said that twenty years ago to all those kids? You understand where I’m coming from here?
Jimmy G: People don’t realize how important our scene is and how much we put into the music community of New York. It’s sort of good and sort of bad. If we had gotten a lot of attention, we would be done by now. Everyone can toot their own horn and all that, and that’s fine. That’s just pride — but I’ll put it this way — Agnostic Front and Murphy’s Law still do it and we never stopped doing it. My existence is a tribute to A7. Me carrying the torch, and Vinnie carrying the torch, and Roger carrying the torch, and Harley still doing it: That’s a tribute. I understand that some people have to go off and grow up and start a family. Roger has three kids, and he’s still a major part of the scene. I have no reason to go off and grow up and start a family and a new life. This is my life.
See also: Hardcore on the Bowery: An Exclusive Excerpt From NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990