Monday, April 13, 2009

James Damion - Unite Fanzine

Unite Fanzine issue 1

James Unite has been around for a long time - he saw a lot in NYC from the mid 1980s until the present day, and has kept Unite Fanzine alive in some form or another. A true "fan" in every sense of the word, we couldn't help but want to get some of his memories on here, and we hope there will be much more to come from him. This is the first part of our interview with him. Be sure to check out Unite online at:
You seem to have been a NYC staple, when exactly did you get into the scene, and who were your close friends or "crew" to speak of?

I got into Hardcore rather slowly. It was around '85 and I had a lot of older friends that were either Punk or into Hardcore. They would come back from the city with these wild stories about the lower east side and the matinees down at CBGB's. I wasn't old enough to get in to CB's but I started venturing down to Some Records and hanging out. I tried to get into CBGB's numerous times but there was this mean old lady named Connie who would check my fake ID (I had a really bad one), grab me by the collar and throw me out. Civ, who was like an older brother to me (we called one another cousins from early childhood), gave me the first Token Entry 7 inch and I bought a bunch of 7 inches from Duane at Some Records. I didn't need any coaxing from there. I was in for life.

Early on my closest friends were the older kids at McClancy High School. There was a small group of us who were into Hardcore and hung out 24/7. There was Civ, Walter, Gus SXE and Dan Zik along with a bunch of other kids who seemed to gather around the Laundromat where Civ worked. It seemed everyone was really close at the time. They were all older by a year or two and I guess I was learning from them. When I interviewed Gus over this past summer it brought back a lot of memories. It's funny but it looked like half of the people on the cover of "The Way It Is" were from our neighborhood and went to McClancy.

As we went out to more shows we met more people. I was friends with everyone from the bouncers at CBGB's to the bands to the kids who came to shows religiously. I was hanging out with straight edge kids in Long Island and Skinheads in New Jersey. I wrote back and forth with people who did fanzines across the country and in Europe.

Wally with Gorilla Biscuits at CBGB, NYC, Photo: James Unite

As far as crews, I have always seen myself as the quintessential outsider. I spent a lot of time with Gorilla Biscuits and interviewed a lot of the SXE bands of that time but I never felt like I was part of that scene. I always felt like an outsider. I was very close with DMS in the early years. Those were my brothers in every sense of the word. I spent a good part of my young years hanging out with them. Partying with them and eating in their homes. But I never subscribed to the violence or the tough guy image that was portrayed. I left all of that behind when three of my friends including my absolute best friend murdered that guy in the park. That was an event that changed my life forever and haunts me to this day. It was tragic in every sense of the word.

I hung out with everyone and got along with everyone. I was never SXE in the purest sense but I think I always identified with and respected that idea most. I was first inspired by bands like Minor Threat and 7 Seconds and still am to this day.

I honestly don't think I interact well in groups anyway. One on one I am a pretty cool person but put me in any group situation and I get lost.

When did Unite Fanzine start? What made you want to do a zine, and what were you doing at that point in time as a hardcore kid? Can you give a full run down on each issue with all the details?

I think I started working on Unite in the spring of '88. It was my senior year and I had already been into Hardcore for a few years. I was actively going to shows and had done about eight issues of another zine called Boredom. By the eighth issue I had really focused my attention towards NYHC and did interviews with bands like Gorilla Biscuits, Our Gang, All For One and a bunch of local Queens bands. My perspective had changed along with my lifestyle and experiences. I graduated High School and was offered the opportunity to share a house with Civ, Walter Schriefels and Alan Cage. It was a new beginning for me and a new zine with a more focused approach seemed fitting.

During that time I was going to every show I could get my hands on. I was working on the zine and trying to promote some local bands I had become friends with. I was hanging out at the rehearsal studios and from time to time I would bring records up to Spermicide and Johnny Stiff at WNYU's Crucial Chaos. In all seriousness, "Hardcore" was my life.
The blueprint for Unite was pretty basic. Five interviews per issue with both established acts and upcoming ones. I felt that everyone was interviewing the big bands and I wanted to give some of the newer ones a shot to be heard. Each issue also featured record, demo and show reviews amongst other things.

Late 80's Lower East Side, NYC hang out session, Photo: James Unite

There were so many reasons I wanted to do Unite. I was in love with the music and I felt like I was really a part of something important. Back then you didn't buy your Hardcore culture at Hot Topic or google it on your laptop. It was very grass roots and very communal. Doing a fanzine was a way of contributing and doing my part in a sense. Not just sitting back and waiting for the world to come to me.

Doing the first issue was awesome. It was supposed to be a team effort. I was going to work with this girl Aziza. When she gave me $20 for printing the first issue I knew our partnership was done. I asked Civ to make me a logo since I had absolutely zero talent in the art department. He was already an amazing artist and he was right in the next bedroom. It was a no brainer.

The first issue featured Youth of Today (I interviewed Walter and Sammy in the CBGB's record canteen amidst the sound of construction and buzzsaws), and also Underdog who were one of my absolute favorite HXC bands. There was also Breakdown, Unholy Alliance (featured members of Murphy's Law, Terminal Confusion and Something Else) and an up and coming band called Fit Of Anger.

The second issue was a major improvement in every aspect. The first three bands were no brainers since I was living with half of Gorilla Biscuits and Insted and No For An Answer were camped out in our living room at different times. I also threw in a skinhead band called Stand Proud and a really good Punk band called Dog Tired. I think the second issue is the one most people identify with.

By the time the third issue came around I had already taken a much-needed hiatus and the scenery had changed drastically. For that issue I changed a lot of things including the layout. I also added a lot more of myself in opinion and style. That issue featured interviews with Krakdown, GO, The Fiendz, Lucy Brown and one other I can't put my finger on. It was a very short run and I don't think a whole lot of people saw it or even cared.

A few years later I layed the groundwork for a fourth issue. I had just reconnected with my cousin. I wanted something that would really make a dent. I did in-depth interviews with Quicksand, Girls Against Boys, The Melvins, Jawbox, Small 23 and a slew of other bands that were making the indie scene at the time. I also did some different interviews with filmmakers and photographers. This time the zine would have more interesting layouts as opposed ot the cut and paste style I was used to doing. Midway through production my cousin Amy was killed in a car accident. It killed me inside and I just left those interviews to collect dust until last year. That's when I started laying them out and created the Unite site.

A year or so later I started writing regularly for Guillotine magazine, which was really one of the springboards for me in the first place. I wrote for Wendy and Don from 1995-1999.

Timmy Chunks with Token Entry at CBGB, NYC, Photo: James Unite

What shows from that time period stick out as the most memorable? What bands in particular were your favorites, and what can you specifically recall about seeing some of your favorite shows?

The things that stand out the most are the early shows. There were so many. The most memorable wasn't even a show. It was my birthday party. I was just turning 16 and at that time Gorilla Biscuits were just getting off the ground. It was right after their first demo and about a month before their debut at CBGB's. I rented the wreck room in my apartment and asked them to play. It probably means nothing to them but to me it meant the world. How many kids can say Gorilla Biscuits played their birthday party? This was just before Arthur and Luke joined the band. They had GM2 on drums and Joe Scibaris on Bass. They sold these oversized homemade GB shirts that had a gorilla on a skateboard. The color was this hideous Day-Glo blue and the ink ran after one wash.

One show that really sticks in my mind was "The Birth of Unity" benefit at the Right Track Inn in Long Island. There were so many great bands on that bill. Gorilla Biscuits, Bold, Death Before Dishonor. The list goes on. I remember Luke Abbey's band Loud and Boisterous were there. It was a great show and I remember talking about it for weeks.

The "Pete's Sake" benefit which was a fund for Pete Koller (Sick of it All) who had gotten into some trouble at a prior show. There were so many great bands there.

Richie with Into Another at CBGB, NYC, Photo: James Unite

The Anthrax shows were always a blast. I would drive GB out in my two tone blue Ford Maverick. I was a terrible driver and anyone in GB can attest to that. There was this one Anthrax show with GB and Killing Time where the crowd was going nuts. At one point I think Alex hit Civ on stage and later Civ lost his pants and was out there in his boxers.

On my prom night me and my date Laura skipped the event early to go to the Superbowl of Hardcore at the Ritz. I remember a lot of good bands playing that night. Supertouch were amazing and the Bad Brains were just on another planet altogether.

That "live at CBGB's" record that Agnostic Front recorded. The place was so packed with bodies and everyone thought they were going to drown in sweat.

As for the bands there were just so many that were amazing. Straight Ahead were one of the greatest bands to ever play live. Judge was so powerful, dark, and in a sense spiritual...a band I still listen to daily. I loved Token Entry and Underdog. I thought Richie had the best voice in Hardcore. That was a band I would go see anywhere anytime. Gorilla Biscuits took it to another level for me though. I've seen them more than any other band in my life and they never let me down. Civ had an amazing stage presence and a great rapport with the crowd. Couple that with Walter's songwriting and musicianship you couldn't go wrong.

In the 90s the New Jersey shows really stand out. The basement shows, the shows that Jon Hiltz would put on at his house. There were bands like Mouthpiece, Resurrection, Burn and No Escape that renewed my faith in HXC. The shows at Middlesex College stand out too. That was long before I moved to New Jersey. I had no idea where I was but I had such great times.

O.T. Crew, NYC, Photo: James Unite


Anonymous said...

Awesome! I've got that copy (pictured at the top) of Unite still to this day! -Joe (Outburst)

D. Sine said...

Good read. Will there be more?

... said...

this just might be my favourite interview thus far. a real personal perspective. very open. long time reader, first time poster.

i would love to contact this person, to see if they are willing to make copies of those zines.

what is the website he is creating?

James Unite said...

Thanks for posting the interview Gordo. Also thanks for the comments. I'm always amazed that people still call me James Unite or tell me they still have copies of the zine. It was definitely a special time for me and the people who experienced it.

James Unite said...

Hey M the M, Unite Webzine has been up and running for a few years now. If your interested go to . Thanks for your interest.

Anta said...

Awesome interview. I felt that the topics discussed were part of an unheard novel.

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Unknown said...

I got into Hardcore rather slowly. I tried to get into CBGB's numerous times but there was this mean old lady named Connie who

Hey Man You are so silly!!!!

KAREN KRYSTAL is the one who worked the door.

I WAS the BARTENDER and the one who booked the all HC shows.