By Tony Rettman
Known for its glamorous 1970s punk rock scene, New York City matched the grim urban reality of the 1980s with a rawer musical uprising: New York hardcore. As bands of misfits from across the region gravitated to the forgotten frontier of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. With a a backdrop of despair, bands like Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Murphy’s Law, and Youth of Today confronted their reality with relentlessly energetic gigs at CBGB, A7, and the numerous squats in the area. Tony Rettman’s ambitious oral history captures ten years of struggle, including the scene’s regional rivalries with D.C. and Boston, the birth of moshing, the clash and coming to terms of hardcore and heavy metal, the straightedge movement, and the unlikely influence of Krishna consciousness.
With a foreword by Freddy Cricien of Madball, who made his stage debut with Agnostic Front at age 7, NYHC slams the sidewalk with savage tales of larger-than-life characters and unlikely feats of willpower. The gripping and sometimes hilarious narrative is woven together like the fabric of New York itself from over 100 original interviews with members of Absolution, Adrenalin O.D., Agnostic Front, Antidote, Bad Brains, Bloodclot, Bold, Born Against, Breakdown, Cause for Alarm, Citizens Arrest, Cro-Mags, Crumbsuckers, Death Before Dishonor, Even Worse, False Prophets, Gorilla Biscuits, H20, Heart Attack, Inhuman, Into Another, Irate, Judge, Kraut, Leeway, Life’s Blood, Major Conflict, Murphy’s Law, Nausea, Nihilistics, Nuclear Assault, Numskulls, Outburst, Pro-Pain, Quicksand, Raw Deal, Reagan Youth, Rorschach, S.O.D., Sacrilege, Savage Circle, Sheer Terror, Shelter, Shok, Sick of it All, Side by Side, Skinhead Youth, Straight Ahead, the Abused, the Cryptcrashers, the Mad, the Misfits, the Misguided, the Mob, the Psychos, the Ritz, the Stimulators, the Undead, Token Entry, Underdog, Urban Waste, Virus, Warzone, Youth of Today, and many, many more. MOSH IT UP!
“In other parts of our neighborhood, guys were breakdancing against each other; we were moshing against each other. It was all about who had the most style, as opposed to today where it’s just picking up change and karate kicking. It was all about trying to keep dancing, while still blasting into someone from D.C. or Boston, and all about who had the hardest pit for their town’s band. It was like supporting your city’s hockey team or something.”—Jimmy G, Murphy’s Law
“At that time, the Lower East Side was a warzone. It wasn’t the gentrified neighborhood that it’s been for the last twenty years. It was a fucking warzone, without question. It was worse than the worse neighborhoods you know in New York City today. It was a trip to be down there and go to those bars and A7 and shit like that. I wasn’t even eighteen yet, and I was getting a peek into a world that most people will never see.”—Eddie Sutton, Leeway
“I had my personal experiences from life; being on the streets, being locked up, and being in abusive foster homes. I was fighting. I was shot and stabbed, and that’s what came out. We sang about street justice and survival on the streets because that shit was for real. That shit was a way to express ourselves and get out that angst. It was real. It wasn’t some hypothetical bullshit.”—John Joseph, Cro-Mags
Tony Rettman is a freelance music journalist whose work has appeared in the Village Voice, Vice, The Wire, Philadelphia Weekly, Cleveland Scene, Arthur, Swindle, Signal to Noise, Mean, and Thrasher. At age 14 in the 1980s, he was the coeditor of Common Sense zine. He has provided liner notes for such artists as Hackamore Brick, Bored Youth, Beyond and many more. He is a contributing editor to DoubleCrossXX.com. In 2010, Revelation Records released his acclaimed first book, Why Be Something That You’re Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985.
Published by Bazillion Points.