Thursday, June 18, 2009

Scene Comps.

I've always loved scene comps. They tell a story of what was going on at that particular time in that particular city. There's a sense of camaraderie between bands in a particular scene. You know they know each other, they've played shows together, they probably even hung out. These are the bands you'd see on the bill every week if you went back back in time to these cities. This article is going to be dedicated to four of my favorite scene comps.

No New York
This compilation is an aural snapshot of what was happening on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1978. The compilation features four bands: DNA, Mars, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and James Chance and the Contortions. The story behind the album is that Brian Eno was in town working on More Songs About Buildings and Food by the Talking Heads and he saw all four of these bands play the same festival. He immediately decided this scene needed to be properly documented.

Like I mentioned in my last article, No Wave is NOT for everybody. For the most part, its dark, noisy, and ugly music (James Chance's music is ugly and noisy, but not usually very dark).

Each band contributes 4 songs to the album, and they were all recorded specifically for the album. At this point in time, this is pretty much the only way to hear these bands, because most of their recorded material has been out of print for years.

Flex Your Head

Flex Your Head was Dischord's 7th release and first LP. This LP showcases all of the bands important to the early years of Dischord Records which, loosely translated, means the best of the best in DC Hardcore. It was released in 1982 and features tracks by The Teen Idles, The Untouchables, State of Alert, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Youth Brigade, Red C, Void, Iron Cross, Artificial Peace, and Deadline. Like No New York, all of these songs are exclusive to this album.

The Teen Idles were Ian Mackaye and Jeff Nelson's (of Minor Threat) second band (their first was the Slinkees). Besides these three songs, they only released one E.P. which is available on Dischord's 1981: The Year in 7"s. They played fast, fun, immature hardcore.

The Untouchables were another early Dischord band that aren't too well known these days but whose members went on to more well known bands. This was Alec Mackaye's (Ian's brother) first band. He went on to form Faith and Ignition. The Untouchables also features Eddie Janney on guitar, who went on to play guitar for Faith and Rites of Spring. Bert Queiroz and Rich Moore also went on to be in the Meatmen. Their songs on this comp are great. They were one of the fastest and angriest of all the early Dischord bands.

State of Alert are probably my favorite band on this album. This is Henry Rollins' first band. S.O.A. formed out of the ashes of another band, The Extorts. When the Extorts' singer, Lyle Preslar, left the band to play guitar for Minor Threat Henry Rollins stepped in after being encouraged to sing by H.R. from the Bad Brains. With a singer in place, S.O.A. was formed. He doesn't think too much of these recordings, which I can't blame him for considering he went on to make a string of amazing Black Flag albums after leaving this band, but these songs are great. They cover "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone" by Paul Revere and the Raiders (also covered by the Monkees, Minor Threat, The Untouchables [ found on disc 3 of the Dischord Box Set] The Untouchables [the L.A. mod/ska band] and the Sex Pistols, which was the version all of the D.C. kids knew and loved at the time) They, like the Teen Idles, only released one E.P. which you can get on 1981: the Year in 7"s.

Minor Threat contribute two songs to this album: "Stand Up" and "12XU". "Stand Up" is a classic and "12XU" is a cover originally by Wire.

Void were one of the coolest bands involved in the early D.C. Hardcore scene. Their 3 songs on the comp are amazing. They were the most brutal band in the scene. After this comp they released a split with Faith called Faith/Void.

The remainder of the bands are great as well, and this comp has to be heard to be believed.

This Is Boston, Not L.A.

Here we have an album on the Modern Method label compiling the early Boston Hardcore scene (except for SSD, DYS, and Negative FX who felt they already had theyre own XClaim crew and didn't need to be associated with the Modern Method guys). It was recorded and released in 1982 following on the heels of Dischord's Flex Your Head. The album features Jerry's Kids, The Proletariat, Groinoids, The F.U.'s, Decadence, The Freeze, and Gang Green, who were only 15 years old at the time. It's a diverse record; no two bands sound alike. Jerry's Kids are a straight ahead fast hardcore band, a sound which they would perfect on their later albums. The Proletariat leaned more towards post-punk (think Wire or Pop Group) than hardcore. The Groinoids have one song on this album and it's fast, loud, and short. The F.U.'s are more of a punk band than a hardcore band. It's almost reminiscent of the hardcore punk going on in L.A. in the late 1970's early 1980's. Gang Green's material is possibly the best on the whole album. It's definitely the fastest, loudest, and rowdiest and considering they were 15 years old at the time, that's quite an accomplishment. The Freeze are the most melodic on the album (not melodic like Rites of Spring, though. This is still fast and heavy early hardcore).

N.Y. Beat! Hit & Run

N.Y. Beat, released on Moon Records in 1986, chronicles the early NYC Ska scene. It was also the very first American ska compilation. Moon Records was formed by the Toasters to release their own records and eventually they began releasing more and more. This LP was the label's 5th release. The Toasters are the only band on this album that went on to any sort of fame but that does not make the rest of these bands any less important. The Toasters contribute "Matt Davis" and "Shocker" to this comp while every other band contributes one song each. Beat Brigade, who released a split 7" with the Toasters the following year then seemingly disappeared from the scene contribute one of the albums catchiest songs, the calypso ska of "Armageddon Beat". Also on this album is Second Step, a personal favorite of mine from the early NYC scene. Another one of my favorite early NYC bands, The Boilers, contribute a song as well. This is their first release. Soon after this LP, Jeff Baker (King Django as he would be known as later) joined the band and they released Tap It in 1988 on Ska Records in the UK, which was renamed Rockin' Steady by the label without the band's consent. That same year they contributed a track to Moon's second ska compilation, Skaface and then they called it quits. Though Django was not in the Boilers at the time, he is still on the N.Y. Beat album as a vocalist for Too True. Though this is a mostly a ska album there are three non-ska bands included in the LP. The Press were an oi band and are considered to be America's first oi band. Also included on this album is Downtown favorites Urban Blight. Urban Blight mixed funk, rock, ska, reggae, dub and dance music and they did every style superbly. The third was The Scene. They were punk band in the style of the early Jam records.

This was never released on CD domestically though it was released on LP and CD in the UK as Skaville USA vol. 2.

Many of these bands were immortalized in the first verse of the Toasters' classic "East Side Beat":

"In a beat up Ford Cortina on Saturday night
Second Step and Urban Blight
Here come Boilers to check out The Scene
But that's never Too True if you know what i mean
The reception is cool, so turn up the heat
Come on boys do some East Side Beat"

For more on the 80's NYC Ska scene, see Marc Wasserman's blog "Marco on the Bass." He just recently interviewed Dave Barry about that scene and what it was like playing in all the bands that mattered.

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