TIM SOMMER detonates the Early 80's New York Hardcore Punk Explosion
(This article was written in September 1981 and first published in the UK weekly Sounds mag on October 10th 1981)
Too little direction, too much calculated art, too little youth - there was nothing like the concentration of direction and youth and excitement that London experienced in '76-'77, or LA. saw in '79-'81.
New York, then and since, has had something, a bare, feeble, very scattered something - never honest-to-god kids united behind a common idea or friend or foe - whatever was there was too thought out, something was there...But an eruption of honest and unaffected youth, energy, sweat, frustration, and plain teen suss - that's never happened in New York, never really even come close. It's happened in London, it's happened in LA. and San Francisco, it's even happened in places like Washington D.C., Seattle, and San Antonio, but never in New York.
Until now. It's called Hardcore, which is short for Hardcore Punk. It's aggressive, it's young, it can be intelligent, it can be dumb, it can be skilled or it can be swill, but always behind it is pure energy, youth, speed, power and force, the likes of which New York has never seen. The Hardcore bands are fueled by Raw Naive Energy, with an emphasis on all three words.
Hardcore gives energy and sincerity, a drive and conviction that reminds us why punk ever happened in the first place, a stunning and effective kick in the arse in the midst of all this futurism and white funk pose and an interesting and totally viable alternative to the 'threat' and media poisoning of Oi.
And the New York Hardcore scene stands to be the best of the lot; the bands are the most intelligent, least affected, the most varied and listenable, in short, the purest and most exciting. But that's not really to slight the scene in the rest of the country.
Heart Attack 1981 - Laura Levine (DC Collection)
THOUGH YOU MIGHT not know it (since the non-fanzine music press has chosen to largely ignore Hardcore), as a dominant scene and influence Hardcore's already taken over much of the American underground, most significantly in LA, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.
And it's eluded New York City for various reasons, but it's in the Fall and Winter of '81 that Hardcore is finally going to make its mark and stand in New York, hitting with the full impact, destruction, and excitement with which it struck the rest of the country.
Kids in New York have been listening, even if the older and more visible hipsters haven't been; a new generation is re-discovering the power and the glory of punk, and now New York's Hardcore scene is about to take off, right under everyone's noses, almost without warning.
The names of bands like Heart Attack, Even Worse, Undead, Nihilistics, Bad Brains, Pricks, Misfits, and False Prophets (to name but a few) aren't so well known today, but they stand to become the most important names in New York rock in half a decade.
For years, the New York scene has been dominated and defined by the same people,
who after all these years are just tired and bored, not to mention boring.
They've searched for art and fashion and intellectual stimulation with their entertainment, and when they haven't found it they've shaped poor substitutes. Over the years they've moved farther and farther away from any real energy, they've become apathetic and ultimately meaningless old hipster imposters, and though their clique is small, it is vocal (after its own fashion) and for years it's been more or less in control.
Because of that, people have thought that bands like The Bush Tetras, Contortions, Raybeats, dB's, Lydia Lunch et. al. represent what's going on in New York, that this is all New York had to offer.
But nearly anyone with two ears and two eyes could see and hear how uniformly duff and phony these bands were (and are); they're either art-damaged poseurs or nostalgia ridden popsters, with nary an original or truly inspired thought in their collective heads.
Where is the real energy, the pure feelings, the unaffected and honest music? It wasn't there.
New York City finds itself perpetrating nearly every rock mistake there is. But with Hardcore, New York finally has the potential for a real underground that isn't pretentious - the Hardcores are just being themselves, really.
In many ways, the rise of the Hardcores is just a case of NYC coming to grips with rock reality, instead of the fantasy of art fascism and trendiness that's been synonomous with new music in this city for the last four or five years.
Today, in September 1981, New York's Hardcore scene is just at the foot of its explosion.
A year ago, there were just two or three hard punk bands gigging around here; today (and I mean literally today - the figure could be quite different ten days from now), there are roughly fifteen (Heart Attack, Undead, Mob, Nihilistics, Even Worse, Stimulators. Kraut, Influence, Misfits, Bad Brains, Possessed, Aesthetics, Pricks, Offals, Nekron 99, Attack and Reagen Youth are the ones I can think of at the moment without further research), with literally dozens more just beginning to gig and rehearse.
It's incredibly exciting, booming, absolutely new and young, and it's difficult not to just blurt out and say wonderful.

The Undead 1981 - Laura Levine (DC Collection)IT'S FUNNY HOW it always comes back to Max's Kansas City. That low, narrow, woody, dingy, dark and somewhat legendary niteclub on Park Avenue South had been falling into a bit of a slump in the last couple of years; with the rise of the rock disco and state-of-the-art modern video clubs, the quality of Max's bookings and clientele had quite simply gone to hell.
After well over a decade, it looked like the place was finally dying.
But throughout the spring and summer of '81, Max's (along with two other small rehearsal rooms/occasional venues in the East Village, A7 and 171A) was the only club regularly booking - or booking at all, for that matter
- Hardcore bands, usually under the guise of something called "Punk Thursday". So Max's had once again come alive.
Another Thursday in August, nearly midnight, warm enough to know it's summer, but it's fairly comfortable. You go inside to see the bands, but when there's no one on stage you hang out in front of Max's.
The faces and bodies are young, their dress is truly original (not stolen from London or LA.), they're all pretty familiar and friendly '- with each other.
Most of all, it's new faces, hanging out for the first time, not the old hipsters, most of the kids don't look over eighteen - one would guess the average age to be sixteen.
Inside a few minutes later. Max's still has a traditional table and chairs set up; usually it's an inconvenience, and if the band's good enough, it's an inconvenience that's quickly disposed of.
Half a song into The Undead's set, the tables are trampled underfoot and the chairs are tossed to the side and back, Max's floor becomes a flailing, skanking blur of elbows, heads, and aodies.
The Undead (not to be Confused with a good but nferior San Franciscan band of the same name) explode on stage, and the audience returns the energy; it's amazing to see an audience react with such honest physical energy and expression to something that so deserves to be reacted to.
In a 45 minute set, the three-piece Undead (Bobby Steele, guitar and vocals, Natz, bass, Patrick, drums and vocals) once again show themselves to be one of the best hyper/Hardcore pop bands around. Steamhammer fast wall of guitar, heavy slamming backbeat, a simple yet alluring chant/melody shouted or slurred by Bobby over that.
The word for The Undead is relentless; they hammer, they drive, pound, and beat, but it's all within a cohesive and infectious context. There's nothing even vaguely unappealing about The Undead.
The Undead are the obvious stars of the New York Hardcore scene. Good looking, smart, experienced, and accessible. The Undead have a lot of obvious and raw appeal; they're simple without being dumb, fast without being sloppy, just burning, direct, contact pop.
Bobby Steele, 25, the leader of The Undead, is an impish sort of punk, a friendly and cocky figure topped with a large and lop-sided smile and curly black hair.
Bobby also walks with a very pronounced limp - actually, more of a hobble, and a very painful looking one at that - which on top of his talent and looks adds considerably to his mystique and charisma.
Along with absolutely skintight black pants, a black walking stick, and wrestling sneakers that go halfway up to his knee, Bobby has the ingredients of a real character, a real star.
Bobby used to be the guitarist with The Misfits, an area band that was (and is - they continued after Bobby's departure a year ago) probably one of the best, if not the best, punk bands in America, their only close competition being the Dead Kennedys and The Circle Jerks.
But despite their greatness. The Misfits were (and are) extremely lazy; Bobby formed The Undead in January, and they've practically accomplished more in eight months than The Misfits have in four years.
Bobby sings in an accented drawl/shout, his right hand strumming in a blur, choruses are memorable and unmistakable. In back of him. Patrick hunches over his drum kit and attacks it with a sharp, heavy, and adept wallop.
Patrick, 26, is tall, thin, vocal, with short cropped yellow-red hair and constant round dark glasses.
Bass player Natz, 17, is boyishly good looking with lots of bright blond hair; he doesn't do much on stage other than play well, and he appears fairly quiet offstage.
The Undead very much personify urban speed, urban grime and action, that sleep-all-day, hop-all-night spirit that puts them in line with any of the great New York City bands.
Put this ace image on top of their great roaring, warped hyper pop, and the ingrediants are all there for one of
the lead bands in the New York Punk Explosion,and one of the best American bands within memory.

TWO OTHER BANDS that stand to figure highly in New York's 'Punk explosion are Heart Attack and Even Worse.
Even Worse are four: Rebecca, who sings. Jack, drums, Bobby, guitar, Eric, bass, and they're all between eighteen and twenty.
Even Worse play a solid, roaring punk, owing more to the British '76-'77 punksters than to the more recent and faster American hardcores; not too busy, loud, thick, lyrical music.
Bobby's an interesting and very capable guitarist in the big pummel/high end solo Steve Jones/Brian James tradition, and in fact there's a good deal of The Pistols and The Damned showing through in their approach (they even cover The Damned obscuro "Sick of Being Sick"), and there's some superficial resemblance to old SF faves. The Avengers, as well.
An essential part of Even Worse's approach and appeal is their dry and rather cynical sense of humor, which comes across quite well; Even Worse are smart and use their brains well, and their music can back it up: it's not academic stuff, it's not distant stuff, but it's upfront punk pop done intelligently and, yes, simply.
Even Worse have been around for nearly two years, but the only constant is drummer (and punk/Hardcore historian) Jack Rabid. This latest, and seemingly most solid, lineup haven't been together that long, under ten gigs or so.
Due to their relative newness, there's still a lot of inspired (and somewhat amusing) amateurishness to Even Worse, and it can be charming and it can be distracting, but usually it's the former.
In some bizarre and seductive way. Even Worse are almost wholesome - Hardcore with a milk moustache.
Jack Rabid now Big Takeover publisher - (Big Takeover)Even Worse don't try to be anything on stage but themselves, which is quite nice. The two very straight (but demented sort of straight) looking band members, Bobby and Eric, frame the two punks in the band - weedy looking and badge-covered Jack and street ingenue Rebecca.
Rebecca's an attractive and charasmatic sprite, sharp tongued and wide eyed, somewhere between Johnny Rotten and Liza Minelli. Like the band as a whole, she grows stronger and more confident each gig.
If Rebecca is the centrepiece and charmer of Even Worse, guitarist Bobby is the real talent, and their original songs are almost all quite good, and sometimes excellent - especially "I Am A Machine" and "We Suck' - loud, smart, simple, interesting, accessible.

HEART ATTACK MAY not be the most original or the most experienced of the new New York Hardcore, but they are the single most energetic, and most physical.
Heart Attack, like the Undead, are a trio; very young and very sharp looking (in the new Hardcore sense - cut-off white T-shirts, worn and tight black bondage pants, heavy combat boots and close cropped hair), two Heart Attacks, guitarist and vocalist Jesse and bassist John, hail from Queens, while drummer Javiar is a fairly recent emigre from Mexico, of all places.
Jesse is 14, John is 17, and Javier is around 18 or 19.
Heart Attack run and burn on hyper Hardcore, hyper speed, hyper energy. Frontman Jesse, who looks considerably older than he is, shakes and plays like he's just downed a mouthful of amphetamines; Jesse prowls the stage bug-eyed, reminding one of Killing Joke's Jaz, Joe Strummer, and Groucho Marx all rolled into one.
Jesse Malin as he is now successful solo artist - ?He leads his band in a ferocious, joyful attack, a celebration of the pure rush of punk and Hardcore.
In many ways. Heart Attack are a bit of a cliche, but that cliche - overkill teen Hardcore - is a very good one, at least the way Heart Attack present it.
Like the best and most powerful of the L.A. bands. Heart Attack are very, very physical, very powerful, and a little frightening. Live, they seem to go so fast and so manicly that nothing could possibly stop them.
They're wild, fast, loud, but very together with very distinguishable songs, which is one of their chief selling points.
Heart Attack don't so much change chords as spin chords - but they have a precise impact and they're incredibly tight.
A truly remarkable band; in a sense, they're the most appealing of all the Hardcores, a great threesome putting on a terrific display of energy, skill, youth, sweat, and spirit

SOME OF THE other new New York Hardcore bands worthy of note include The False Prophets, The Nihilistics, The Mob, and The Influence.
The False Prophets are fierce, colourful, lyrical, and a bit dopey; they don't shy away from admitting a fancy for Mott The Hoople and The Velvet Underground, and it shows in their sound, which distinguishes them a bit from the rest of the crowd.
They have a fabulous frontman in the very genial and striking Stephen Isolde, and The False Prophets will probably do quite well, and always stay a little independent and unique within the scene .
The Nihilistics, from Long Island, are incredibly raw and very naively powerful; with a purity and honest energy reminiscent of The Fall, they're a great cross of inexperience, noise, and never-say-die drive.
They're just beginning to gig, and one of their early demo tapes is among my favourites of the year.
The Influence are noisy, bassy, abrasive, all-black, and might be promising. The Mob, strongly influenced by The Bad Brains (whom you'll hear about in a bit) have a good deal of heavy metal in them and are a bit phony, but they're probably okay; an earlier incarnation that included Heart Attack bassist John appears to have been a lot better, but they're still quite listenable, if not terribly original - loud, fast, metallic, sort of dumb, with the occasional good song.
I've heard terrific things about The Pricks, though I haven't seen or heard them myself. That's all I can think of at the moment, that is of the newer bands.

THERE ARE THREE older area punk bands that deserve mention here - The Stimulators (from New York City), The Bad Brains (from Washington. D.C.), and The Misfits (from New Jersey).
All three have seen very dry times, and all three have contributed a lot to the current healthy state of affairs, though only two of the three - The Misfits and The Bad Brains - really matter now or in the future scheme of affairs.
The Stimulators are really more of a symbol than a valid musical group; their somewhat affected heavy-metal sludge punk was amusing but not very good, but for a long time - from 1978 until 1980 - The Stimulators were the only steady gigging punk band in New York City.
Bad Brains at Esters - ?The Stimulators still exist today, in a notably altered form, but most of the new bands and audiences are pretty offended by The Stimulators' prima-donna attitudes, and their lack of talent to back it up; they consider themselves the reigning group of the Hardcore scene, which just isn't true - Even Worse, Undead, False Prophets, Heart Attack, and Nihilistics are all far better, to name but a few - and what's more, they've tried to separate themselves from the recent expansion and growth in the scene, considering themselves far above it.
The Stimulators, who at one time, maybe about a year ago, could've developed into an important band, are now very definitely a spent force, and a pretty offensive one at that.
For the record, they put out a surprisingly good 45 in 1979, "Loud Fast Rules", which gives the impression that The Stimulators were far better than they actually are; it's long out of print and nearly impossible to get a hold of.
The Bad Brains are originally from Washington D.C., but recently they relocated in New York City, and before that they were gigging here almost weekly, anyway.
The Bad Brains are really "a spectacular bunch, very, very different from any other Hardcore band in America. Most noticeably, they are all black, looking and dressing more like a bunch of slightly stringy rastas than any of their fellow Hardcores.
Musically, half their set is an extremely entertaining display of thrash and volume, and half their set is - surprise - excellent and very well execeuted longer reggae numbers.
If they did nothing but their reaggae, they would still be a really good band - they rank as about the best live reggae I've ever seen - but I suppose their real attraction is their faster stuff.
They seem to deal in extreme overkill, challenging distortion and total blast-off at every turn, and in fact, there's a certain heavy metal edge to The Bad Brains - any second they could break Into "Iron Man" and you wouldn't be the least bit surprised - they have that type of sound.
Like many of their colleagues. Bad Brains are largely a physical as well as a musical experience, and they fill a large stage extremely well.
Another thing that makes them different is that their songs are different - fast, -pummelling; but nether that simple - and their musicanship is truly expert, which adds an interesting touch.
But despite the expertise, the aggression, spirit, and physical and aural attack are all there.
Also, in contrast to The Stimulators, The Bad Brains are extremely supportive of the growing scene, and stand to serve a very important role in it.
At a recent Peppermint Lounge gig, during one of their reggae numbers, singer H.R. began to toast "And here are some upcoming shows you should check out..."
The Bad Brains have one honestly phenomenal 45, 1979's "Pay to Cum", which has just been re-issued.
Misfits - (DC Collection)As said before, New Jersey's Misfits (who've been kicking around in one .form or another since 1977, I think) are one of the two or three best punk bands ever to come out of America, but for one reason or another they've never tried to assert their claim; they could've been to east coast punk what the Dead Kennedys were to west coast punk, but for some strange reason they've never made the effort.
The Misfits seem to put out a 45 annually and gig about as often; they played a sparsely attended show at Manhattan's Chase Park in mid-August, and their last area gig before that was Halloween '80. and they probably won't gig again here until Halloween '81.
Each 45 of theirs - there have been four - is great, and two of them have been phenomenal: 1978's "Too Much Horror Business" and the just released "London Dungeon", easily one of the best singles of '81.
The Misfits come on like a more possessed, more committed, more demented Damned; they tear through their material with an incredible amount of energy, an amazing amount of thrust and rip to their sound.
They're one of those bands that knock you over with slabs of wall of power guitar, yet have the melodies, songs, and direction to back it up.
Image wise, they also come on very strongly; they're heavily into horror and macabre imagery, black makeup and clothes and coffins and spooks, and surprisingly, it works very well.
The Misfits are like an unplayed ace; they have true greatness in them, and they've shown it on occasion, but whether they will have any impact on New York (and America's) punk and Hardcore scene is still a mystery. Lord knows they certainly could.

THE HARDCORE SCENE is beginning to roll, but it hasn't quite hit full stride yet.
The kids are there, the bands are there and more and more are forming each week, but gigs aren't so easily come by (though it's certainly a lot better than it was just a few months ago and press and media support is nearly non-existent.
But a whole brand new underground is being ignited by Hardcore; fanzines like Blister, Chaos and Damaged Goods are springing up around New York virtually out of nowhere, being made and read by kids who aren't jaded, haven't been a part of any scene before, and in fact, haven't really listened to any rock before they started listening to punk and Hardcore.
A weekly half-hour all-punk all-Hardcore radio show I do called Noise - the Show (until recently 'Oi - the Show') has garnered a tremendous response, and the support for the music I play seems to grow and grow every week.
The Undead at Max's 81 - (DC Collection)The Hardcores are very definitely out there, and multiplying rapidly; right now it's just silly for the establishment hipsters to continue to ignore Hardcore, but soon it will be impossible.
The press and the promoters (forget about the radio!) don't like Hardcore at all, and that's a severe understatement.
With the exception of Irving Plaza's Chris Gremsky and 99 Records Ed Bahlman and Ken Sitz, the general attitude of the industry.
press, and 'cognoscenti' to Hardcore is ridicule, disgust, and the hope that If It's Ignored It'll Go Away.
A lot of New Yorkers will probably he extremely surprised - or at least very amused - by this article; most barely realise that the New York Hardcore scene exists, and certainly have no idea that it is as potentially important (and dangerous to their staid hipster values) as it is.
Or, most likely and more simply, they just plain hate it.
But once you've been inside the Hardcore underground for a while, once you've felt its power and energy and strength and seen its sheer and growing numbers, you realise that Hardcore is honestly going to take over New York, even if no-one will admit that or even believe it.
Hardcore has created the first true Us and Them schism in music here in quite a few years, and in this case, the schism is an extremely healthy one.
Hardcore is energy, and you feel like shouting at each and every one of the dying hipsters "Remember energy?! Remember kids?! Remember why you ever got involved in this thing in the first place?!" . . . That's Hardcore.
And it's so amazingly fresh and new and, well, great. And it would take me a whole other article to write about how Hardcore is totally un-racist and un-sexist, and how terrific that is.

SOMETHING VERY special is happening ) in New York City, something that has had its parallel in any number of cities any number of times before.
Basically, it's just kids - though that can be a patronising word, let's say new, young listeners - it's these new, young listeners taking control of their own ears and their own tastes; abandoning the dictums of the press and the established scene-makers, simply people going after the music they want to make and hear, regardless of whether the hipsters say it's right. New standards.
It's really just a matter of opening your eyes and looking at the direction yesterday's hipsters have gone in.
Futurism, funk, rockabilly, romanticism, and what's next - salsa? Once again, something that was once young and vital has gotten old and boring, and they're reluctant to step aside; they prefer to be snide and affected.
And once again, there's actually something new and energetic to take its place, re­direct it.
The Revolution is over. Long Live the Revolution.
Special thanks to Lyle Hysen and every Hardcore in New York who understands!
Sounds October 10th 1981

Well when I first read the above article in England circa '81 I was just in the Midst of my Stench period, and it was great to hear other bands in far off places were doing the same kinda shit. Not sure Tim Sommer is everyone's favourite journalist within the then New York Hardcore scene and he definitely had his favourites, but it's one of the few bits of exposure we got in England and was a good read, as I'm sure you'll aggree. A lot of the bands mentioned can be heard on the NEW YORK THRASH tape/cd released the following year on ROIR label. Check it out coz its a great insight into the Big Apples first legit street scene. A review and sleevenotes which spotlights most of the bands in the above scene report can be found HERE. Bringing you up to date it's good to hear that New York still has a thriving dayglo punk scene claiming to be as diverse as it's predecessors. Maybe someone will do us a scene report on the current scene??? If they do id be very pleased to put it online. - Peter Don't Care