Monday, May 5, 2008

Djinji Brown: Interview Part 1

[Above: Absolution @ CBGB - Photo by Boiling Point]
If you haven't heard, Absolution is reuniting to play in Miami on May 30. Pretty shocking news considering Djinji Brown has not really re-surfaced in anything hardcore related since the band's demise in 1989. But in light of this reunion talk, we had to catch up with him.

Ed (McKirdy) and I called Djinji up and talked with him yesterday for
nearly three hours. I don't think we can really call it an interview, because having already talked to Djinji, I knew the conversation just flows naturally. At some point I think we will include some audio of certain parts of our chat, because you really need to hear the absolute REALNESS in this guy's voice. I'm actually afraid that reading it in print won't do it justice.

Everything he talked about was cool, thus it is tough to edit out anything. And just to give you an idea, the below is about 1/10 of the entire conversation. So this is the first of MANY parts we will be posting up here. Very big thanks and praise to Mr. Brown himself.
-Gordo DCXX

It started in the Bronx. So the question is, how did we get to the Lower East Side if it started in the Bronx? One of my oldest friends in the world, Sergio Vega, from Collapse and Quicksand fame, he took me downtown, you know? 1986 I believe it was. Sergio was one of my childhood heroes, cuz he was this great graffiti writer, someone I looked up to and wanted to be like. I first met him when I was 12 or 13 in 1982, in junior high school. I kinda knew who he was, you know, like "man who is that dude, that cat is cool." So we started hanging out and became friends, and he was going downtown in like '85 and '86, to Danceateria and places like that. He had already been going down, I mean in like 1985 he was already punked out. He was like the only Punk that I knew of in the Bronx rockin' a mohawk, and on top of that was a Puerto Rican punk doing it. I mean he was one of the first to bring that shit back up there.

So he was going to Danceteria, a crazy club with like four floors you know? A dance floor, hip hop, dance music, and a new wave floor with some punk. From there it just got harder and harder. So I started following him downtown, and while he was more into the punk side of it, I started gravitating towards the hardcore part of it. The skinhead vibe, even though I wasn't a skinhead, I just liked the energy of it. I appreciated the punk, and the political stuff, but I liked the harder side of it, even though I was a softer guy. You know…yeah, straight up, you know what, fuck it…I liked the harder side, the machismo shit, the manhood, the maleness, straight up. We were all young boys at the time, and with hardcore kids and the skinheads at the time, there was this vibe of "we're soldiers." I needed that, definitely growing up in the Bronx. To avoid getting beat up, shot, stabbed, yeah, I needed that. I felt like with hardcore I had someone watching me.

So I made the transition, and I went down with Sergio. And from there we were always like two peas in a pod, even though he would break off with a different crew of more punk type dudes, and then I would go off with more of the hardcore and skinhead types, that was who I gravitated towards.

Around that time, like late '86 or early '87, somehow I met Harley. I don't even really remember how. But I met him and we started hanging out, and of course I was just mesmerized, because obviously I knew about the Cro-Mags. My first favorite band of course was the Bad Brains, and on that whole level it was just like "Wow!" But now I felt that I had a place in the hardcore world. Even though it didn't fit where I came from on a physical level and ethnically, if you feel what I am saying, but that didn't really scare me. Because even before I moved back to the Bronx in 1980, I lived in Massachusetts and was raised there. And I was around Caucasians. So even though now coming downtown it was a new dynamic, the kids were rough and tough, and I was like "yeah you know this is just like some up town shit." Just a different vibe, but still you can't be a sucker. You gotta find your vibe, find your niche, find your crew, get in where you fit in.

It was an open door, but at the same time it wasn't an open door because at that time I think the scene was so close knit. In 1986 New York Hardcore was maybe 8 years old or less. Punk was older. But AF, Cro-Mags, Bad Brains, those were the cats that really put it down like, "that's punk, but this is some hardcore shit." I don't know who coined the term, but I'm sure a lot of people would agree that the Brains were on a whole different level. They came in as punks, as rasta punks, but their shit was so different that we just had to learn. With the Cro-Mags and AF…it was hardcore. You knew you were entering… a war. It was a war. It was a rite of passage. It was a question of who could hang and who couldn't. Motherfuckers would get beat the fuck up at CBGB, whether it was off some bullshit, or just even from the pit.

The first time I even went to CB's I went by myself. I wanted to take Sergio with me to see Murphy's Law, and he's like, "Nah, thanks, I'm chillin'." I mean, like, "why would you wanna do that?" A Murphy's Law show was just crazy. I was a baby-faced 16 year old, I probably looked 14. But I ventured into that shit, balls to the wall, and by the time I started hanging with Harley and them cats, I felt like, "Ok, yeah." And from hanging with them I started going to the temple, and I got introduced to Hare Krishna, vegetarianism, and tattoos and the whole nine yards. And then I met John Bloodclot, and I was like "WOW." I was a kid. They had lived lives I hadn't lived. Reading John's book, it just blew my mind and brought back a lot of recollections of what that world was like, even though I was a little later and not completely in it like them. It's really crazy. All this stuff, it's like a file I have kept close to my heart and have just recently reopened to look at all these memories. So, it's like a floodgate right now with all these times.

I had a concept that I thought about that I want to share with you guys. The reason why Gavin and I took hell and high fury to the stage, and Alan and Greg, too, on an animation level, is this, what I am about to say. These are my ABC's of hardcore. This is just mine, Djinji Brown's, and it isn't in an order, but it is Absolution, Bad Brains, and Cro-Mags. I want you to draw a triangle. At the top of the triangle is my A, Absolution, because that was my vessel. If you look at the triangle, it is like an arrow, or a spaceship even. At the top was Absolution. At the bottom left is Bad Brains, because I heard them first. And reading from left to right, the right bottom corner is Cro-Mags. So, those two were my basis, and those two specific bands had an unmatched musicality at that time. I mean, nobody could fuck with them cats! On a musical level they were like "WHAT!" And on an energy level, and a spiritual basis, those two bands were my propeller. I fed off of that.

With Harley and John, I felt like I was one of their younger brothers per se. I didn't get to really meet and know the Bad Brains, but I was taken under the wing of their engineer and producer Jerry Williams. He taught me so much. So I had that direct connection to the Brains from Jerry. What a feeling, I felt so…safe. Back then, I didn't really know it. Maybe I did. But I couldn't verbalize it. Now I can. It is so heavy. And that's why I went out there, and I took some of John's moves, and some of HR's moves, because I wanted to show those cats that I wanted to continue in what they were doing. And I put my own shit to it. Now, inside of that triangle, you can put every hardcore band, rock band, jazz band, punk band, and they all influenced me too. But for me, that's what was driving me. I wanted to show them and thank them for letting me be the little brother and accepting me. And those cats didn't just accept anybody, you know?

That makes me think about late May or June 1987. I remember this whole fuckin' day because I was graduating high school that day. And the Cro-Mags were opening for Anthrax at the Beacon Theater, it was so fuckin' ill! Like on some hip-hop shit, it was as if some dude from your hood was playing at The Garden. You know? What! NYHC cats, and the Cro-Mag Krishna army man! They had devotees up in the spot! They had prasadam and all this vegetarian food! We were all smoked out on the greenest of the green! What! And I was the only young brother in that whole camp! And it didn't even matter man with all them cats, I felt like a prince.

I called my mother that night and told her I wasn't coming home, I was gonna hang with Harley all night. She said, "Oh you aren't coming home?" Oh hell no. I'm staying out tonight. I'm with the Cro-Mags! You know? I remember I had a cast on my hand because I had broken some knuckles knocking out this nazi skin a couple weeks before. But the show was crazy, the show was nuts. The Beacon Theater with the Cro-Mags in it in 1987…excuse my language…NIGGA WHAT!? WHAT THE FUCK! WHAT THE BLOODCLOT MAN! That shit never went down again. So anyways, I go home the next morning, fucked up, high, whatever. My Mom threw the book at me, literally. I got in the door, put my book bag down, and she threw that shit at my head. I ducked. My mother at the time was 37, I'm 38 now, so I understand now. She was furious, "What the fuck!" But I was pissed too, you know, saying, "I ain't done drugs! I ain't been locked up! I ain't sold drugs! I graduated high school!" She didn't care you know, telling me them crazy ass white boys downtown was gonna get me beat the fuck up. She flipped out.

You gotta understand where I'm coming from. My mother and Sergio's mother ventured out into CB's a couple times with white head wraps on, and African spiritual beads and their whole thing. And they came down to the village, with incense and everything. Before Erykha Badu was lighting incense on stage, my mother and Sergio's mother were bringing incense to CBGB to watch their sons. So overall my Mom was usually like, "Ok, be careful." But she wasn't feeling it that night. She didn't see it, saying to me, "Why are you doing this?! You have holes in your clothes! Tattoos! Piercings!" My grandfather was like, "What are you doing? Piercing your ear like a faggot!?"

And that's not to mention the brothers in the hood. I was coming back with tattoos before it was hip to have tattoos. Shit was not cool, unless you were in the army or in jail, and I wasn't in either. So when I came off hard, and carried myself hard, it was because I had something to prove to myself, personal reasons I won't get into. I was trying to prove something. What I wanted most was for people to say, "HR, John Joseph, Djinji Brown." I wanted that at 17. And I only mean that to those guys and their bands as a sincere compliment. When you are young you pick your heroes, and you run after them. I was just lucky enough to have them at my fingertips. We all did, but maybe we didn't know it then?



Robert said...

Awesome interview. Hands down the best NY hardcore band of that era.

Malik said...

such a good reading...

shame i will miss that ABSOLUTION shows.

thefleX said...

Great interview, can't wait to read the rest. All this Absolution talk got me thinking again how fucked up it is that they never got a decent sounding record out. How great would that EP and the outtakes have sounded if it the sound and energy was Neverending Game-ish or Dead And Gone-ish??
And what about that discography disaster? Someone please put out a decent discography, please.

Grandnagus69 said...

Great piece so far, even better stuff than he gave me for my book! Some of the more interesting people I knew or knew of came from the Bronx and really contributed in a major way to the NYHC scene of the time. Djinji was in the right place at the right time.

We are very lucky he is sharing his experiences with us. Absolution were definitely one of the best bands from that era and yes it's sad they didn't have better recordings out. It really not their fault, for various reasons it just didn't work out in the studio. I was lucky to see them the multiple times that I did.