Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Howie Abrams - In-Effect Records part IV

24-7 Spyz at City Gardens, Trenton, NJ, Photo: Ken Salerno

NYHC legend Howie Abrams has brought us a great interview. If you missed out, check the archives from last month for the first 3 installments for plenty of talk about CB's, AF, In-Effect, and more. Here is the fourth and final part. Big thanks to Howie! -Gordo DCXX

Hardcore obviously was different in 1991 than it had been in 1986. In your eyes, what changed in NY for both good and bad, and where were you at as a "fan" by that point? What are stand out memories for you during that time period?

In '86, I think the hardcore scene still felt relatively similar to the scene that had originally been created. It had gotten big, but not so big that the essence was completely lost. Not everyone got along, but whatever fighting took place was usually HC kids versus an outsider.

That said - the divisions had begun to surface and unfortunately grew and splintered the whole thing as time went on. There were numerous scenes within the scene now. "United and Strong" became divided and snobby. You almost had to redefine yourself based on what faction of the scene you felt you belonged to.

There were the Hardcore/Metal crossover kids, the straight edge kids, the alterna-core kids...it was no longer a bunch of disenfranchised youth with different haircuts in the same room, representing the same movement. It was as if the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all decided that they could not fight side by side, but needed to prove that THEY were the REAL ones.

Lou Koller with Sick Of It All, Photo: Ken Salerno

Also, these developments within the HC scene ran parallel to the rise in popularity of hip-hop culture in NY. As time went on, the scene took on this real street/thug vibe and while a lot of the more street types were genuinely into hardcore, many of them weren't particularly dedicated to it and had a short fuse. With an aggressive scene such as there was in NYC, you can imagine what went on at some of the shows as time went on. It got ugly and things started to go downhill. CBGB quit doing matinees and the hub for the scene was gone.

Many people did things to try to revive what once was and there were always shows somewhere, but it was never the same. For the most part, they were just shows...not a gathering of a community, although I know there are people out there, probably younger kids, who are going to say that that's not true. Fine. Also, major labels were now on to hardcore and some of the bands started to get signed. That set off a chain reaction of a lot of "fake" hardcore bands popping up because everyone thought they would get a big record deal by playing hardcore.

For all of the criticism I just outlined, hardcore most definitely changed my life in a very positive way. There have been many lessons; both good and band and some of the very best experiences of my life have been related to hardcore. For all of this, I am eternally grateful and more importantly, for the great people and bands I can now call my friends. I feel as if there's more to offer on this topic, but the bottom line is that as you move further and further away from anything that once had specific characteristics, you can rest assured that they will change for better or for worse with time.

There are definitely some GREAT bands that have formed since those days, but the community aspect of hardcore will never...CAN never be the same ever again. It's just the way the world works. Enjoy what you have while you have it, because it won't be there forever.

Ludichrist at City Gardens, Trenton, NJ, Photo: Ken Salerno

What were you up to during the 90s in the music scene and with Roadrunner? Who were your favorite bands to work with, and how do you characterize that time period for the NYHC scene?

The 90s definitely represented a change for Hardcore, especially here in NY. Metal was now a huge part of the NYHC sound, which didn't bother me all that much. However, it was the complete change in the vibe and overall attitude that made me feel less a part of what was going on. The original essence of "us against the world" had faded away and the scene became so splintered. Also, a lot of bands became focused on monetary success via Hardcore, to the point that some even operated as if their sole purpose for making and playing music was to get "big."

Even throughout my time at In-Effect, we never made decisions based on stature or how much money could be made. It was way more about getting a fair shake and reaching as many kids as possible. Ultimately, it was as if the label and our bands were still fighting Mike Tyson with one arm tied behind our back on a daily basis. Now, huge record labels were aware of hardcore and it made many people re-think the whole thing. No major label publicist at the time gave two shits about a kid's fanzine or college radio show. Nor were they going to take out a co-op ad for a show at a VFW hall.

These labels signed these bands to cash in on something they thought was commercially viable and a lot of bands fell for it. They actually believed hardcore was going to get onto the radio. Boy, were they wrong. I don't have anything against the bands who jumped into that whole thing...that was their prerogative. I guess I was just surprised by how many smart kids from the scene drank the Kool-Aid.

As for the violence that became more of an issue in NY - sure it got pretty ugly and you had to concern yourself with kids who had a whole different idea of what the show experience was about, but hardcore is aggressive to begin with and the dancing is physical and violent. What the fuck did people expect to happen when it became as trendy as it did???

24-7 Spyz stage mayhem at City Gardens, Photo: Ken Salerno

Just because there were a lot of independent thinkers around, didn't mean that some of them weren't fucked up kids - and many were. I don't condone bringing weapons to a hardcore show...it makes no sense to me whatsoever, but kids bringing box-cutters and guns to school makes no sense either...on paper. These shows were a legitimate, volatile gathering of the tribes and you can't expect that many people from such diverse ethnic backgrounds and economic situations to regularly come together in that type of environment and all be on the same page.

The violence definitely fucked things up for a lot of kids and made them lose interest, but to me that's a bit of a cop out. There's violence in the world every minute of every day and you can't just run and hide. Imagine what NYC would be like if we just let the "bad guys" win uncontested and did nothing about the problems. Ultimately, a lot of the problems sorted themselves out and sadly, there were a lot fewer kids around to see that change.

As for Roadrunner, overall it was a really good experience. The owner really liked what I had done with In-Effect and asked me to come there and do something similar. He originally wanted me to launch another imprint, but I actually talked him out of it. At that time Roadrunner was underground as fuck with all of the death metal bands they had and I saw no reason why RR could not just expand by also working with hardcore bands. I signed a number of pretty important bands there such as Madball (for the second time), Shelter, VOD, Black Train Jack, Dog Eat Dog and others. I was also behind the marketing of some of the other RR bands like Sepultura, Type O Negative, Biohazard, Front Line Assembly...

Hardcore actually meant a lot less to me by that time in terms of purity. The scene had become so impure anyway, so I just chose to focus on the bands which I thought were great and also had the right attitude. For instance, a lot of people shit on Dog Eat Dog and tried to reduce them to being some sort of Leeway rip-off, but when I signed them, they only played HXC shows, were incredibly respectful and supportive of NYHC and were doing things the right way. Eventually, they blew up basically as a pop group in Europe and for all of us, including the band, it seemed to come from out of nowhere. Very often, that's how things happen. They were playing the right music at the right time and the elusive luck and timing you hope for fell into place for them. In the end, a lot of cats were jealous of them due to their success and all the early shit-talkers were begging to open up for them overseas. Fuck those hypocrites!

I'm very proud of what I accomplished there and for me, Madball is a great example of something I had a part in that went well for all involved. I've known Freddy since he was 8 or 9 years old, when he would come up from Florida and tour with AF. I put out the Ball Of Destruction 7" when he was 12, but to see him become one of the most undeniable front-men in the history of hardcore and to watch him come into his own as a person was and continues to be really gratifying. Those guys trusted me and worked hard and overcame a lot to get to where they've gotten. To this day, they're one of the only bands that can still get me on the dance floor and incite me to lose it!

Freddy with Madball, 2007, Photo: Face The Show

The NYHC scene lost some legends during that time, notably Chuck Valle and Raybeez. How did their deaths impact you, and what was it like to see so many people from the NYHC scene come together in the wake of those events?

It's always sad when you lose someone, but the saddest is when it's someone young who passes. Chuck Valle's death hit me particularly hard because if you'd met him even once, let alone really knew him, you were well aware of what an incredible individual he was. Talented as can be and just a great, live and let live kind of guy. The fact that he lost his life and his future as a result of an act of senseless violence still makes me feel sick. As for Raybeez, I honestly didn't know him well, but his contribution to the scene in NY is immeasurable. Then there were the characters like Big Charlie, Frenchie, etc. Simply put - sad.

It always made me proud when the scene would rally around one of its own. Whether it was Roger Miret or Pete Koller's legal issues or especially when we lost someone from the NYHC family. Hell - not many "real" families come together the way the HXC community did to assist the families of those we lost along the way. One of the best things about the hardcore scene as far as I'm concerned. That's the unity everyone was striving for and it was never more evident than when one of "us" was in need. Rest In Power to all who have moved on.

Pete Koller with Sick Of It All, Photo: Ken Salerno

The slow death and ultimate demise of CBGB's had to have given you something to reflect about. What were your best memories of the club, how do you feel about the way it went out, and how will you remember it?

For me, the death of CBGB was tremendously significant. Not the death of hardcore at CBGB, but the loss of the club itself due to those greedy motherfuckers at the BRC who own the building the club was housed in. What sucks is that the BRC does a lot of good things in the community, but they just wanted Hilly out of there and eventually got what they wanted. It's a fucking John Varvatos store now and I get pissed off every time I pass 315 Bowery (makes spitting sound).

For better or for worse, CBGB was the place that will always be looked at as the home of the NYHC scene. Sure there were previous homes like A7, but very few people got to experience that. CB's was THE place and that's hard to disagree with. So many kids' lives changed as a result of that place, including mine. There cannot be a "scene" without a venue for it to thrive in and CBGB was that venue when it came to NYHC. It was the Madison Square Garden of hardcore for that matter.

Wherever you were from, no matter how great your local scene was, CBGB was the mecca and every band treated their shows there as special events. Trying to highlight a favorite moment or show there would be impossible. Every hardcore band I love(d) played their best shows at CBGB. I miss it...even down to its disgusting bathrooms.

Killing Time at CBGB, NYC, Photo: Ken Salerno

What do you think about the current state of hardcore? Many would argue you can have the best of both worlds, as many old bands have reunited and are playing out, and many young bands have carried the torch of traditional, classic styles as well, and have pushed the envelope for HC and metal. Any thoughts? Where do you fit in with all of this?

I'm not even sure of what to say about the current state of hardcore. It's fun to see some of the old bands get back together to throw down, as well as some of the older bands who never left. I saw the Cro-Mags (John, Mackie, Craig Setari and A.J. Novello) in December and they killed it, but it really has nothing to with the current state of HXC or what the HXC scene will look like in the future. People can argue the point until they're blue in the face, but there is no scene that exists today that even faintly resembles the hardcore scene I remember.

Sure there are still some DIY ethics out there and there are some bands who play $5 or $7 shows in "unorthodox" venues but it's just not the same. A scene requires a lot of elements to be in place and working all at once and I don't see that anywhere. I suppose that can change and hopefully it will, but I won't be holding my breath. There can only be one "first time" and only so many times there can be a so-called resurgence.

I suppose you could say hardcore jumped the shark. Doesn't mean I won't always love it and my experience with it. It also doesn't mean I won't continue to go see the older bands when they come out of the woodwork to play. I just highly doubt there will ever be a new, yet to exist hardcore band that will move me in any meaningful way. That said - much respect to the bands trying to keep the spirit alive, including those who might be in a basement or garage somewhere rehearsing for the first time. Go for yours.

Nuclear Assault at City Gardens, Trenton, NJ, Photo: Ken Salerno


sacha said...

Good interview and article! Reading it I became intrigued. Who were these non-hardcore bands that tried to jump on the hardcore bandwagon and tried to make money out of it? I totally support anyone making a living out of their music but I can't really come up with any others than bands like Dog eat Dog and Downset who did so? DED tried every trick in the book to ride on the hardcore bandwagon, skate/snowboarding in videos, 40 ouncers and calling themselves "All Boro Kings" in Europe etc. When they played in Finland they had a boyband open up for them and were really "rock" about the "show", if not them, who were jumping on the bandwagon as hardcore was so "trendy"?
And as far as discarding the contemporary scene as not moving you like the old bands, fair enough, but you sound like one of those dudes in American Hardcore who think Hardcore died in 86'. Anyhow, you put out shitloads of important records and their worldwide distribution made it possible for many kids to get into hardcore overseas, for that a big thanks and respect!

Russ said...

Love the interviews from that "crowd" of people. I think Howie gives us an objective opinion on how things were as well as anyone could! At least he was actually one of the "doers" instead of one of the hangers on. Loved the intervew DCXX!!! Just finished the unpublished NYHC book by Dave Koenig (sp?) which acts as an amazing supplement to this! (or vice versa)

Howie said...

Sacha: I'm not really interested in naming names in terms of the less than genuine hardcore bands simply because I don't think it realy matters anymore, but I have to disagree with you re: your assessment of Dog Eat Dog and Downset. What you saw with DED is exactly who they were, nor do I think that they were jumping on any sort of HXC bandwagon. They were skaters and snowboarders, drank A LOT of beer and the "All Boro Kings" concept came from a bunch of graffiti writer friends of theirs who liked the idea of a band being out there representing them. If you asked them if they were a Hardcore band, I doubt very highly that they would have said yes.

As for Downset, Rey and I believe a few of the other guys, were in a band called Social Justice beginning in '87. As the street culture became more a part of them, they flipped it to Downset in '92. I do think they would have told you that they were a Hardcore band and a lot of the HXC bands respected them. They were a really good band and had a lot to say.

As far as being one of those "Old dudes..." - I don't think HXC died in '86, but after '86 I do think it changed tremendously. It got to the point where the communal aspect of it was nearly impossible to maintain. Some kids created their own, alternate scene at spots such as ABC No Rio as a reaction to that to try to have it again. Others thought the straight-edge movement was the last bastion of real Hardcore. It's not as if nothing was happening, but the splintered scene ultimately hurt the overall Hardcore scene in my opinion.

Anyway - thanks for reading and 'nuff respect to you!

lenny zimkus said...

Any way the in effect video will get a dvd release with extended footage of the show and interviews?

Howie said...

Lenny: We are currently working on it...stay tuned.

Russ said...

Awesome to see you following the comments Howie! So here's mine. I realize you've been asked this probably a million times and you are the closest I've come to getting a real answer to this so i'm just going to ask it....

The Agnostic Front Live at cbgb's complete video that the "anthem" video came from... Was there any plans for In-effect to release that? Was anyone? Is it gone forever or is it available somewhere now? That has been dogging me since, well, it came out! (the anthem video)

Howie said...

Russ: The footage that was filmed for "Anthem" was just for that video. There's additional footage, but there's no audio as it's actually on film and not video. No future plans...

the mosher said...

howie...what was it like getting sepultura on road runner? those guys were my favourite band growing up. i was always so curious how that connection came about, and i thought it was bad ass how they got down with all those nyhc bands & the bay area types.

Anonymous said...

Sepultura was already on RR by the time I got there, but I became their product manager about 1/2 way into the Arise album campaign. I worked the whole Ministry/Helmet/Sepultura tour and their Sabbath/Ozzy tour.

They were incredibly cool guys and loved hardcore...especially NYHC bands like AF and particularly SOIA. They personally asked SOIA to come on the New Titans on the Block tour and Igor rocked their shirts a lot. Max loved them too, but he was almost a crusty-punk at heart.

blend77 said...

Awesome awesome interview for so many reasons... I just posted this up on my blog as a tribute a few days before finding out about this article... I think Howie might find it cool.


Anyway, thanks to Howie for seriously being the catalyst that changed my life. I got into hardcore because of Blood, Sweat and No Tears and I spent the majority of the 90's going to shows, often wishing I was born 10years earlier, but still, hardcore in the 90's meant so much to me and has contributed so much to me as a person that I can never not like hardcore.

That said, there are some great bands going right now, not so much a scene as just good bands making good music... Black Kites, Swallowed Up, Dead Friends, Punch, Face The Rail, Worn In Red, Zann...

Anyways, thanks again, Howie, and thanks to Tim and Gordie for such a great site!


Howie said...

Nice one Tim.