Monday, April 20, 2009

James Unite Part II

Part two of our interview with Unite Fanzine / Webzine editor and New York Hardcore veteran, James Unite. - Tim DCXX

That era (late 80s into early 90s) was a great time for fanzines, the list is endless. What was your favorite? Most underrated? Most overhyped? Where did Unite fit in to the scheme of things?

Your right, it was a great time for fanzine culture and there were a lot of really creative people out there speaking their minds and supporting a lot of worthy bands. There were so many that offered different outlooks on the scene, the bands and the politics. Some of my favorites were earlier ones like XXX but also Schism, Smorgasbord, Open Your Eyes and in a sense In Effect.

Chris Wynne (of In Effect) and I started our zines around the same time. I considered him a friend and a contemporary. I think In Effect was one step ahead of Unite and that showed in its growth and longevity. The best fanzine in the area and maybe even in the country at the time was Boiling Point. Tom and crew had the best layouts, the best images and the coolest interviews. They were ahead of their time in concept and layout. That was the zine I really looked up to and aspired to. I never got close though.

Walter with GB at CB's, Photo: James Unite

After that initial explosion of zines there was No Answers and of course Anti-Matter which in hindsight continue to inspire me till this day. Norm's interviewing style put everyone else's to shame. He is the main reason I brought Unite back as an online presence. I wanted my interviews to go beyond the show and the influences. I want to get to the heart of the person. In Memory was underrated because he didn't have any fancy layouts or pictures of people stage diving in their Nikes but Dave K. knew hardcore and he wasn't afraid to call people out who were faking it. That was the only zine who's editor intimidated me with his writing style and knowledge of the music.
There was another zine that came out later in the early 90s by the name of Budget. It was just what the name entailed but the writing was very personal. Chrissy Piper really put her heart into that zine and it showed in her approach to interviews and articles. She went on to become a well-known photographer so she's inspired me on two levels.

Overrated???? Well that's the easiest question I've ever been asked. It was without a doubt Maximum Rock N Roll. Amazing how they packed so much crap into so many pages. They also made a point to either slag or ignore what was happening in New York.

As for me I'm not sure where I fit in. I was just a kid having a great time. I never did anything groundbreaking but people seemed to like it. I am still amazed when people call me James Unite. I would have to say I fit in somewhere in the middle with zines like In Effect and New Breed (which is often overlooked). One misconception however was that Unite was a Straight Edge zine which it wasn't. I was never really straight edge in the true sense of the word. I wanted Unite to appeal to all corners of what was considered the scene at the time. In retrospect I think the skinhead kids outside of CBGB's helped to sell the most copies.

James Unite over the years, Photos courtesy of James

By the beginning of the 90s, the NYC scene began to crumble due to the violence at shows and a whole other slew of issues. Many people jumped ship, you seemed to remain tied to the same things you were always into. What did you see going on in the scene around you at that time?

That was a really strange and dark time for me. I hated what the scene had become. A lot of what happened seemed to center around CBGB's for some reason. I can go back to an interview I did with Gus Pena last summer where he mentioned that a lot of the leaders in the scene were off touring. "So who was running the roost?"
But in hindsight it was also a good thing. I think Hardcore at the time had become this breeding ground for mediocrity. There were so many new bands and new kids coming into the scene and they all seemed to be patterning themselves around either Youth of Today or Breakdown. I have no problem with wearing your influences on your sleeve but it got ridiculous. It was also the same with fashion. I think by destroying the blueprint and starting over people were able to breathe much needed new life into Hardcore. ABC-No-Rio was a perfect example. I think people like Mike Bullshit, Freddy Alva and a lot of other people were able to create something that was more family oriented. They kept the instigators out and helped to foster something a little more laid back and fun.

It was a great time for new and more original bands. It also created this door where a lot of the people who were in it for the moment or the even the violence to move on to other things. There were a ton of new labels, bands and creative people who would go on to do great things. There were a lot of people jumping ship but they were jumping for good reasons. People who do the same thing over and over and expect different results are categorically crazy.

That time opened the door for some great music like Quicksand, No Escape, Burn and so many others. Born Against was also a band that really made a statement with their music. I'll go back to a few other interviews I did this year. In the 90s it seemed like NYHC moved to New Jersey. There were so many bands that were either from NYC or had the flavor of NYHC playing shows in NJ. So during most of the 90s I was traveling out to New Jersey for my hardcore. I couldn't relate to the whole thug core mentality and metal bands calling themselves hardcore. There were tons of basement shows, people renting out VFW halls and putting on shows anywhere they could. That's when you had bands that carried that hardcore spirit but were more musically evolved. You can't survive in this world without change and without evolving.

I'll always be in love with that early hardcore sound but if things had stayed the same and everyone was still moving in the same circle what would be the point? As dark as that time may have seemed in retrospect I am glad it happened. It was a new decade and maybe we needed a change. I remember trying to bring Unite back in '94 to embrace that change and cover the amazing music that was coming out at the time.

Randy Show Of Force and Ike Stand Proud, Photo: James Unite


D. Sine said...

Nice. A very good read.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done. Love the pic of Randy SOF too

Joe Outburst