What happened to hardcore? More than three thousand people surround me in the packed Roxy nightclub on West 18th Street in Manhattan. Instead of short-shorts and go-go boots, the few females in attendance are wearing cargo shorts and Doc Martens. Many of the more buff men have relinquished their shirts, revealing glazed, inked skin and nipple piercings matching the ones in their septums.
Piercing feedback drowns out the roar of the crowd. The lights blare again. He screams his first lines of lyrics: Crowd members defend themselves from possessed slam dancers. Koller offers the mic to a crowd surfer. Someone in the pit falls down, and three people quickly scoop him up. Intense, original and cultivating an infectious sense of community, hardcore music began its reign of underground terror nearly forty years ago.
The music came from an honest place. And I know these people personally. The early punks were convinced that rock and roll had gone wrong … But when punk, too, came to seem lame, the hardcore kids arrived, eager to show up their elders. The idea was to out-punk the punks. Set on seedy Avenue A at the corner of Seventh Street, A7 was the first Manhattan club to regularly host hardcore shows.
They looked like embattled rugby players in various states of worn-out uniform, with no ball or decipherable goal. Guitar and vocal cords failed frequently. But none of that mattered. The aggression discharge within the tight space was so captivating that nobody stopped moving, or having a good time.
Out-of-towners and eventual storied hardcore groups such as Black Flag and Bad Brains were also fan favorites at A7. Before adopting a hip-hop sound, The Beastie Boys cut their teeth at the club too.
Photo courtesy Craig Setari But as the scene continued to swell, toward the end of the decade Downtown club managers became less willing to contend with increasing violence and injuries befalling audience members because of slam dancing, stage diving, and other unruly behavior, which could spur lawsuits. Lenny Bednarz, a member of noteworthy hardcore bands Without a Cause and Fahrenheit , remembers observing two concertgoers entering a mosh pit swinging a sock full of batteries during one show.
How many music venues in Manhattan at the time would let a bunch of maniacs stand in front, smoking and drinking before a show and then for three hours just let you lose your shit?
The [mosh] pits were sick. Photo courtesy Kevin Gill I too was tractor-beamed into the scene, an angst-ridden teen from Astoria, like so many others feeling as though I was suddenly immersed in a community, or even a movement, for the very first time. And all of this was available to us for the cover price of about eight dollars.
By the end of , several more clubs began providing space to hardcore promoters, including Brownies, also on the Lower East Side, and The Wetlands Preserve, directly across town in TriBeCa.
Marks Place, with double the capacity of Bond Street — more than picked up the slack shortly thereafter. Castle Heights on Northern Boulevard in Corona, Queens — where I worked as a soundman for three years — was one such place. Maybe we can do a seven-inch. Photo courtesy No Redeeming Social Value As the hardcore scene regenerated, Gill became the go-to guy for up-and-coming bands looking for a deal.
Fahrenheit formed out of the ashes of the disbanded Without a Cause, mixing hip-hop and hardcore with an amiable rock bend. The Brooklyn band Candiria miraculously mixed several types of heavy metal, along with hip-hop, jazz, psychedelic rock and other styles, sometimes with Latin American or African backbeats.
Dog Eat Dog earned international fame with straight rap lyrics over traditional rock accompaniment and a saxophone thrown in for good measure. They even performed on a bill with legendary New York City M. One of my favorite bands, Madball, was the headliner. At those concerts fans seemed to mostly jump up and down, tamely. But I soon realized nobody was getting hurt; all I saw were smiling faces and all I heard after each song was thunderous applause, for the bands and even for some of the more on-point mosh pit dancers.
Admitting now that he had no idea what he was doing, Pavich enlisted a forty-something-year-old cameraman, completely oblivious to the concept of hardcore, to capture the footage. I still love those bands and everyone that was involved with it. I gotta be honest. When driving even as far as New Orleans or Detroit for gigs, Kress would bump — or slam — into friendly faces among the fray.
She was always at home at a hardcore show. After a failed tryout, he obsessively studied his instrument, winning a spot in the lineup one year later, at the age of fifteen. Soon, District 9 became a standout act in the scene, in spite of their propensity to skip gigs and get high in the Bronx instead of lugging their instruments onto the subway to Downtown Manhattan and elsewhere. Ramirez reminisces about one night when District 9 traveled ninety minutes north of the Bronx to perform in New Paltz, New York.
He says everyone in his clique, including himself, was smoking marijuana and drinking beer throughout the evening. But Ramirez was the only one who had to report to school the next day. Marks Place in July. Last May I called Rivera for an interview. It turned out he had suffered a mild heart attack and spent a few days in the hospital.
In July he told me he was on his way to Pasadena for a day stint in drug rehab. The vibe all night long has been one of revelry, passion and pride. As I tell Setari the story during our recent interview, a pained expression comes over his face. For years a designer bedding store was located on the ground floor where Wetlands Preserve stage divers and slam dancers once ruled. Kent Miller l and older brother Dean r pose with a vinyl recording of their band at the same location.
There are framed collages of uncountable, partially shredded gig flyers on the walls too. Recent photos taken at the John Varvatos boutique on the Bowery in Manhattan. The retail outlet is located on the former site of CBGB. The interior of the John Varvatos boutique on the Bowery. Gill still sells some dusted-off hardcore merchandise left over from his SFT days.
Another force at work against hardcore was that, once others saw there was money to be made in the genre, an influx of imitators entered the fold. By the time the calendar flipped to , band members and fans alike were experiencing sobering wake-up calls. People were scared to go out.
Virginia Kress still attends shows once in a while, recently witnessing No Redeeming Social Value and Madball share a bill. Wynne notes that Brooklyn is now home to more venues open to hardcore shows than Manhattan.