I first met Mike Down 19 years ago when my band Mouthpiece was playing the Che Cafe in San Diego, California. We loosely kept in touch over the next five years or so and then our communication faded. What I remembered most about Mike was his passion for hardcore and music in general. Mike could talk for hours and hours about the bands he played in, the shows he went to, the bands he loved, the records that inspired him, his label, the Chula Vista kids, etc., it all meant the world to him and he expressed it in a way that so few ever could. Mike was also all about making things happen. Whether it was putting out records, touring or printing up t shirts, posters and stickers, Mike was definitely a doer and I respected him quite a bit for that.
Within the past couple years, around the release of the Radio Silence book and the start of Double Cross, I re-connected with Mike. We went back and forth through emails for awhile and eventually last week we started talking on the phone. Just as I had remembered him from 19 years ago, he still had that same passion, enthusiasm and sincerity for hardcore. He pitched the idea to me about debuting this new Amenity song on DCXX and before I even heard the first note, I was sold.
Just a little background on the track, what you're hearing is Amenity's Mike Down on vocals, Tim Gonzales on guitar and guest vocals by Quicksand's Sergio Vega as well as San Diego native, Hajj Daud who does the spoken word piece. There's no drums, no bass, just four guys speaking and playing from the heart.
As for what Mike's up to now, he's managing and developing a band of kids, 14-17 years old from NYC called BYS. BYS have been hosting an all-ages matinee series called "Better Together" at The Studio at Webster Hall and have an EP to be released late spring 2010. Check them out at BYS-CREW.com As for Sergio, he's now playing with the Deftones and they have a new record called "Diamond Eyes" due out May 18th, 2010.
Gravity and Down Side (Mike's label) will be releasing all the new Amenity tracks, as well as the entire back catalog and some unreleased stuff, that has long been out of print. For Lyrics and Info check out Amenity at http://myspace.com/amenitysd.
Ok, enough of what I have to say, now dig into what Radio Silence's Anthony Pappalardo has to say about Mike and Amenity. -Tim DCXX
Mike with Amenity on local San Diego radio station 94.9, July 2009, Photo: Dan Rawe
Mike with Amenity at Gilman St, Berkeley, CA, 1988
Let me outline my nightmare scenario: you're hanging out with someone who picks your brain for a minute and realizes that you have a connection to hardcore. Seconds later you're going back and forth about shows, favorite records, t-shirts once owned and lent to ex-girlfriends and fight stories that never actually happened. Suddenly you're in a familiar place, both you and new guy ordered the same zines, mail ordered the same 7"s and have a grip of mutual friends. You have that wide-eyed glow of a sixteen year old until dude utters this one: "Man…those were the days, before the internet, it's so fucking easy for these kids today to just go to a chat room and learn about moshing."
The only thing lacking on the interwideweb is context. I love having access to every mp3 of every record and demo I can think to search for. The comedy is seeing Abused mp3s two entries below links to a Poison The Well CD and a Cock Sparrer live set with some cut and paste blurbs about said bands.
What differentiates these bands from any other overly compressed file @blogspot.com? Is a blog with punk/hardcore links any different than a site with unreleased Dangerous Toys and Bullet Boys tracks?
I'll stick my neck out and say that no one's life was changed by Jackal or Bang Tango. They might have catchy pop metal tunes or make doing yard work go by a little easier but at the end of the day it's pop music made by dudes who wanted to get pussy and blow magic marker rails. It was easy for Mr. Cobain's flannel to wipe these gentlemen out because they weren't ever relevant and they're gone now or relegated to Casino tours.
Amenity, Berkeley CA, 1989, Photo: Robb Osborne
With everything ripped and uploaded we now have a living archive of blood, sweat, emotion and feeling available to us all. EBay prices and message board fetishes overshadow reality. In the pre-blogsphere, context was everything. Everyone from that world has a connection to a local band that they saw every weekend, the band that never recorded but were amazing live, the band that recorded their one demo with a chain smoking hard rocker who didn't understand why the guitar player wasn't soloing. It's nice to get a little back story...it grounds things and makes you appreciate their existence so much more.
My early days of shopping for punk and hardcore records in the suburbs of Boston were simple. First I sought out the heavy hitters. I'd run to the B section for Black Flag, the M section for Minor Threat, skip to the Local section hoping a copy of Get It Away slipped by the clerk and could be scooped for a few bucks, and then I'd study the records that I wasn't familiar with. Hardcore records offered plenty of context clues. You could look at the singer's shirt, skim the thanks list and size up the fonts used on the record and quickly decide if said band was worth a few bucks. Sometimes you end up with a perfectly pedestrian predictable record like the Inner Strength 7" and other times there's something interesting enough about the look and vibe of the record for you to take a chance.
Later on in my mailorder and bin scouring days, Amenity immediately struck me with the unique look of their records. They didn't come off as a straight edge band, a punk band, a by-the-numbers hardcore band or as anything other than Amenity. Their name sounded unique, they were from Chula Vista, CA which sounded exotic and ubiquitous to me. Their records weren't packed with macho live shots or crew photos that I could immediately draw a conclusion from. They used contrasty, almost primitive Mayan sun-worshipping images which seemed to be a nod to their Californian lifestyle. Their records were printed on textured paper sometimes featuring wood cut print artwork that referenced Mexican Revolutionary protest posters. Once you cozied up and let the needle lock into the grooves of their records you knew that they were ushering a sound that was rooted in the tradition of hardcore but would eventually evolve into something unique that reflected each member's personality.
Tim Gonzales with Amenity at the 94.9 radio show, July 2009, Photo: Dan Rawe
Tim with Amenity 1989
I first met Tim Gonzales, Amenity's guitar player, in San Diego in the late 1990s. My band was playing a show and I made a point of wearing a kelly green off-set screened Amenity shirt given to me by my former band mate Ryan Murphy. His old band Undertow had played with Amenity several times. He didn't understand how blown away I was that he had such an incredible Amenity shirt. I had never even seen the design before he showed it to me in 1994 in a basement apartment in Allston, Mass. I figured that since we were playing in San Diego near Amenity's home, someone would appreciate me wearing that shirt and soon enough I was rapping out with Tim about SS Decontrol, DYS and other bands from where I was from.
When Nathan and I began to compile content for Radio Silence, I reached out to Mike Down via his MySpace page. After Amenity's dissolution in the early 1990s Mike played in a few rock bands and toured with Rage Against The Machine, but the majority of his time had been spent in the hip hop scene, even recording a track with Sean Paul. Any reservations I may have had about Mike's current relationship to his past in hardcore dissipated upon seeing the bold Down Side logo featured on his MySpace page which was once so prominent on Amenity and Forced Down releases.
A few days later I was standing in front of the Diesel store on the Upper East Side a block from my work and my phone rang. I was thrust into a whirlwind conversation with Mike Down about Amenity, Forced Down, Gravity Records, Chula Vista, Unbroken and everything he was now doing. There was an undeniable passion in his voice and the thing that struck me immediately was that this passion permeated every topic of the conversation. Every anecdote or detail was delivered with a genuine immediacy and energy that let me know that he understood the project and what he could contribute personally.
Sergio with Amenity at the 94.9 San Diego radio show, Photo: Dan Rawe
Sergio with Amenity, 1989
I learned that Mike made both San Diego and New York City his home and we soon met up at Von Bar on Elizabeth and Bowery, pissing distance from the former site of CBGB. We spent hours over the next few weeks meeting up here and there and discussing the brilliant minutia of hardcore. Every time I met up with Mike he'd introduce me to a minimum of fifteen new people; people he'd bump into on the street, people we'd see at clubs, people we'd meet up with or just old friends tending bar.
The thing that struck me about this was that none of these people were handshake friends who would cough and forget your name. Mike's people were genuine, they shared his passion and drive. It felt as if once you had crossed into Mike's world that a switch was flipped and you were really living. It took me by surprise when he casually told me that Amenity was planning on getting back together to play shows and most importantly, record new music.
The biggest thing I had taken from Mike in our time discussing San Diego and Amenity specifically was that Amenity really acted as a bridge in their scene. While they were completely active and driven in the 1980s, what they contributed to the 1990s really defined them. One thing that Mike Down embodies is the idea that D.I.Y. isn't an excuse to skate by. Amenity records didn't have the charming rushed look of early hardcore records. The design was sophisticated. Touching on the Revolution Summer Dischord aesthetic, the records were silkscreened and stamped by hand on textured paper. The early 1990s sent hardcore into two trajectories: the slicker more professional route, and the very personal hand screened path. When you look at two copies of the This Is Our Struggle 7" side by side you immediately notice that the stamps are placed differently on the inserts, that there's a personal touch to each record. It was nice to know that some kid just like myself tucked in a burb thousands of miles away had touched and created the record I was now playing.
Barry with Amenity at the Radio Silence Release party San Diego, CA, Photo: Dan Rawe
Barry with Amenity 1988
From our first conversation, I knew that Amenity's reformation wasn't a nostalgia trip and was solely motivated by a desire to create and pay tribute to San Diego and Chula Vista. Mike's conversations never touched on Amenity's past but rather the new songs they were writing, the shows they'd soon be playing, and most importantly, the new faces that would soon see them play. Mike never mentioned "the old gang" that was going to come out for their shows, that was a given. It was all about the younger generation that had reached out to him and were inspired by Amenity.
A few months later I found myself escaping the cold snap of a New York winter and laying on the grass of a beautiful public park in San Diego overlooking the bay. In a few hours Amenity would transform a raw warehouse space, complete with saw blades and drilling equipment, into an all ages venue because they had to. They weren't going to play unless it was for everyone so they took it upon themselves to find a way to do it.
From the first note I was struck by the intensity and enthusiasm of the crowd. There was no critique of the appearances or back stories of the four men on stage; only kids ages 13 to 43 screaming every word of their struggle until they were hoarse. One of the highlights of the show was watching Amenity perform their newest track Shine, not only because it was a great song and featured Matt Anderson's signature scream, but also because the younger kids there knew this song and sang it without the urgency of any other track.
Amenity's latest chapter is more deliberate, more conscious and aware that they're moving forward into the past. You Can't Stop The Show is a journey of a band beginning at its rawest components, just a guitar and vocals somewhere in a bedroom thinking about their mission and how they'll execute their plan. This path is now illustrated over 20 years after the band's inception and it's Mike and Tim laying it down again with some help from Sergio Vega and Haji Daud who contributed a poem that captures the spirit and heart of Amenity.
You Can't Stop The Show. - Anthony Pappalardo
Can't Stop The Show by TimDCXX
Amenity at the 94.9 radio show, San Diego, CA, July 2009, Photo: Dan Rawe
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Posted by DOUBLE CROSS at 9:47 PM