Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Thought About Today's Election

This is the fourth general election I've voted in since I was 18. It's the fifth that I can really remember.

Going into today, we draw to a close arguably the most disgraceful chapter in American political history. We saw a reality television star emerge as the leader of the modern Know Nothing party, rising to the status of demagogue by using racism, sexism, xenophobia, jingoism, and embracing plutocracy. More distressing is the fact he was embraced by so many people here in the USA as an oracle of truth in modern society. At least when Reagan wanted "morning in America", he preyed on people's hopes and dreams to fuel his political machine. Today's Republican candidate preyed on hate and fear to "make America great again". After everything, he kept a fairly tight race seemingly against all odds. Perhaps this is the greatest testament to the fervency of his supporters. Donald Trump made it okay to be out in the open about being a bad person. From casual racism to justifying sexual assault, there's no line that Trump supporters haven't crossed in their drive to see him elected. All told, I can take solace in the fact that Mr. Donald Trump will lose today's election proceedings.

What troubles me is that a Trump defeat will not signal the end of this ideological disease running rampant through society. Instead, I fear his defeat will only embolden those who support him. Elections don't kill ideas. Obama's election in 2008 was supposedly a new beginning for the USA. Instead, we saw the Tea Party form and make their ascension. I can only imagine what shape the far right will take in the wake of today's defeat.

I've said this for a long time and I think that in the face of what is coming for this country, it merits one further recitation: an opinion is a privilege, not a right. People who espouse opinions that are plain wrong (talking about the Fox News watching, Breitbart reading, clickbait sharing types) are not voicing their opinion so much as they are distributing information pollution. American society is predicated on the idea that all opinions are equal (which ties back 1 person = 1 vote). It is a noble tenet of our American political system. The counter to this nobility is that it gives everyone's opinion the exact same numerical value. When all opinions are equal, it presents a major delusion of political efficacy. Specifically, it posits a value proposition that a common neocon's opinion is as valuable as that of a Harvard political science professor. We know this to be a fallacy. Also factor in how social media has taken this efficacy delusion and put muscle behind it, creating a major ideological crisis in American society. Specifically, that toxic ideas and beliefs are being entered into the modern political discourse as something worthy of merit or, worse, taken as truth. This cycle needs to be broken. When a first grader says to their teacher "I think the earth is flat", the teacher does not say "well you are entitled to your opinion" and go about their way. Rather, the teacher quickly corrects the child and informs them "no, you are wrong, the earth is round". People are not entitled to opinions that are wrong. Wrong opinions lead to wrong ideas which give way to wrong ideologies that ultimately construct a wrong society.

In the coming days, weeks, and, I fear, years, recognize that an ideological fight is coming. I hope when it arrives that you take those on the other side to task. Today's far right has made it their mission to exterminate any opposition. The left has chosen a different approach: insulation. Rather than confront this cancer and destroy it, many liberals have chosen to hide in carefully curated social ecosystems that protect their ideas. If you are in the right, you, and most importantly, your ideas should not be hiding, they should be fighting. Especially against a group that came to fight, whether you liked it or not. Seek out meaningful dialogue that promotes friction against opposition. Insulation is inaction and inaction is acceptance which leaves you vulnerable to be overrun by those who oppose you. You don't hide in echo chambers carved out from social media. Arguing with 1 neocon does more to advance an argument than speaking to 1000 like-minded individuals.

Donald Trump is going to lose today, make no mistake about it. It's what happens after that you need to be worried about. This isn't going away and you need to be ready for what comes next.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Being Middle Eastern

There's a level of irony that I've somehow arrived at this particular topic on the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9/11. 9/11 for a Middle Eastern-American marks the end of our presumed innocence in this society. Before 9/11, the term 'terrorist' was still synonymous with Middle Easterners. However, it was after that day when those Middle Eastern terrorists were no longer just denizens of a faraway land. The yellow journalism machine and the Bush administration saw to it that all Middle Easterners domestically would be considered terrorists. 

It was after that day that neighbors stopped being neighbors, students stopped being students, and citizens stopped being citizens. It was after that day that we all became suspects.

I am Middle Eastern and I am a punk.

For a long time, those two statements existed separately from each other, but they both always served to remind me that I was somehow different from everyone else. It's only been in the last few years however that I've seen a lot of discussions about different races being made to feel included in the punk scene and that this is a white club. Being a Middle Eastern, I always resented that sentiment a little bit. Black people could look toward the Bad Brains and bands like Burn and Absolution for inspiration and representation. Latinos had bands like Los Crudos here in the USA and their compatriots in Latin America. Asians could look toward Japan and see one of the greatest scenes in the world. What about Middle Easterners? We've never had that kind of representation in the punk scene. Sure, we had people like Armand Majidi (Sick of It All / Rest In Pieces), Faiza Kracheni (Hatred Surge / Body Pressure), Amir Mamori (Fearless Iranians From Hell) and other scattered individuals representing the region but their participation was never vaunted for their background much in the way other groups would receive acclaim for it. As an ethnic group in the scene, we simply existed in the shadows while being largely ignored. Most of the time people would think we're something else, from Italian to Mexican. An Egyptian punk friend of mine once remarked that "being a Middle Eastern in punk is a lonely existence".

Then along came New York City's Haram.

Haram, fronted by Nader Hamam (whose ethnic background is Lebanese), became the first punk band to feature vocals and lyrics entirely in Arabic. The very meaning of the word Haram is a sin or a violation of Islamic law. What Haram meant for the Middle Eastern community in the punk scene is that someone finally took a step forward out of the shadows and planted a declarative foot down for our people. The most beautiful aspect of Haram is that they are the beginning of our voice as a people in the punk scene. Before them, we existed as mere mutes. We were there, but never as Middle Eastern.

When I first met Nader, I honestly wasn't quite sure what to expect. We got to chatting outside of a show, smoked a few cigarettes, and we started riffing about Middle Eastern politics. We talked about how dangerous radical Islam and Wahhabism are. He asked me a lot of questions about Kemalism and how he too lamented the death of secularism in Turkey under the Erdogan regime. He agreed with my explanation about why the Assad government is Syria's best hope for a future (a markedly anti-ISIS/anti-Al Qaeda position). We talked and talked and it was clear from the outset that we understood each other. We never had discord as much as we were able to take in a clearer perspective of where we come from as a people through our dialogues. Along the way, he's become a person that I have accumulated an immeasurable amount of admiration and respect for.

This past Wednesday night, I was at a show when, in between songs, I heard the band's vocalist say "this goes out to my friend Nader for beating the FBI". I honestly thought it was a joke when I heard it. Do you know how many times a Middle Eastern person will hear in their life that they've been investigated by the Feds? Growing up, it was something me and my cousins used to say to each other as a joke if we did anything 'too Middle Eastern'. The next day on Facebook, I started seeing posts about Nader and the FBI. I realized then, it wasn't a joke.

Before I could even think about reacting, I noticed my eyes were burning the way they usually do when my anger gives way to tears. I had just learned that someone I feel privileged to call my friend, who fronts a band that literally exists to challenge radical Islam, and is someone that I've had many conversations with denouncing ISIS and scheming ways to destroy them had just been under local and federal investigation for being a suspected ISIS loyalist. All I could think to myself was "Nader is 100% the opposite of an ISIS loyalist. If they got it wrong about him after all that, it means that they'll never get it right about any of us."

It was important to me that I found someone else in the scene who understood what being Middle Eastern in punk feels like. If someone called a black person a hard R at a show or party, that person would likely get beat up. I can't say the same would happen if someone called a Middle Eastern person a sand nigger or a camel jockey or a dune coon or a fucking terrorist. If you're offended by reading those slurs, I'm offended that I had to be called them. I've been called those slurs so many times over the years and it was always met with causal snickers as if somehow racially abusing a Middle Eastern was different from any other group. We're not considered worthy to mainstream American society. At best, we're convenience store employees. At worst, we're terrorists. It's one thing to be a marginalized group. It's another to be marginalized and ignored.

I see a lot of kids in the punk scene today talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and the status of Latinos in the Southwestern USA. What about what Middle Easterners endure in this society? The conservative zeitgeist on the Middle East and its people range from putting all of us in interment camps to deporting us to ensuring none of us can enter the USA to out and out flattening the region with bombs. Even in punk, the RAC scene (Rock Against Communism; modern Nazi punk banner) has been re-branded in the last decade to say Rock Against Islam and Rock Against Terrorism. We are branded enemies with no allies coming to our aid. I'm not saying any of this to diminish the plight of other peoples of color, I'm simply asking why does our plight have to be ignored? We're not surrealist Tolstoy characters nor are we casualties of a tragic and often unfortunate culture. Everyone is racing to demonize and patronize while the race for understanding is at a virtual standstill.

What happened to Nader is not an outlier. It happens every day in this country to all Middle Easterners. We're attacked because a lot of us are immigrants or even first generation Americans borne to immigrant parents. We're marked as different by everyone. By the conservatives who want to nuke us and the liberals who want to coddle us by trying to justify the faith's worst aspects under the veil of Islamophobia. There's no call for inclusion, only arguments to remind everyone that we're different. Race relations as a whole are broken in this society but somehow considerations for the plight of Middle Easterners have fallen entirely by the wayside.

To close, I'm going to share a story I haven't told anyone in my adult life until I talked to Nader last night about all of this. It's important that Middle Easterners feel strong enough to talk about when they've been socially abused in the name of a society that they're being accused of hating. Only in a society where Donald Trump is on the presidential ticket would such backwards logic make sense.

When I was 15 years old and I was in 10th grade attending high school near Dallas, Texas, I had a fascination with gun culture, militias, and right wing literature. I was enamored by the libertarian politics that they espoused and the overall taboo subject matter as much of what I was getting into would 'get you put on a watch list'. In February 2002 (five months after 9/11), I was in fourth period Spanish reading The Turner Diaries (the book that was used as the blueprint for the OKC bombing perpetrated by Caucasian Timothy McVeigh) when I got called into the assistant principal's office. I automatically thought that someone had reported me for reading a book with racist content and that I would be asked about it. I sat down, anticipating the questions, and the AP curves me with the opening question "James, do you know what a weapon of mass destruction is?" I respond "yes sir, it is a biological, chemical, or nuclear weapon and it can also be something like a truck bomb." He responds, "do you know where someone could get a weapon of mass destruction?" I answer "no sir, I'm 15 years old." Before he could ask another question, I cut to the chase, "sir, can you please tell me what this is all about?" The AP tells me "a teacher claims they saw you meeting with a group of Arab men in the parking lot of the school talking about unleashing a weapon of mass destruction on the school." I immediately burst out laughing. I fell out of my chair I was laughing so hard. It was at that point the AP realized how foolish he looked and that he had been sent on a wild goose chase. He ended his inquiry with "so you deny the accusation?" I responded "I'm 15 years old, sir".

I went home and told my mom what happened while still chuckling about it. My mother blew up and called the school screaming at literally any person she could get on the phone. The word "lawsuit" was thrown around, a lot. My mom later told me how hard her (a Turkish secularist) and my father (whose family fled Iran as the secular Shah's regime fell to Islamist militants) worked very hard to make sure that my brother and I would never be abused about where we come from. My mom went on to tell me that's part of how I ended up with the name James. She told me "you already had a Persian last name, you were going to be different enough, I was trying to make it easier for you". The point of this story is that even while I was doing something I recognized as wrong like reading a book on white nationalism, the only thing anyone's mind could conclude about me was "he's a Muslim terrorist".

It never stops and, after talking to Nader, it seems like it will never change meaning it will never end. I wish I could say something like "Middle Easterners matter" but the fact is people need to first recognize Middle Easterners exist before they can say we matter.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

On Gun Control and American Society

All day long I've seen the same things about gun control. How if guns were outlawed or patrolled better, last night in Orlando would never have happened. I've seen people repeatedly ask the question "why do we keep allowing this to happen?" All to politicize the role of an inanimate object. That's the conclusion that I've seen people take from this.

Banning guns won't do anything. This isn't a gun problem. This is an American problem. We are a society of abuse. We abuse everything. Guns, drugs, natural resources, technology. When America went to war with drugs, that wasn't the end of drugs. It was the beginning of a new era of American crime. Nothing changed. Going to war with guns won't be much different. We'll corral existing gun owners and make those with aspirations to proliferate firearms increase their efforts. We bargain right now "its only automatic weapons" until the shooters are using handguns they bought, got licensed to use, and registered, then it'll be something else. The gun control debate's subtext is an odd retelling of "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie". It doesn't stop more shootings like last night from happening. That's the point everyone is missing.

Asking the question "why do we keep allowing this to happen?" is so egregiously arrogant that I don't know where to begin. We as a society don't have the power to stop shootings. Not now, not ever. However, we as a society do have the power to ensure there will be less people behind the trigger of those guns in these shootings. That's something we can work toward. In our schools, in our approach to family, governance, and our overall social discourse. The USA is broken. We've become a third world country where plutocracy has emerged as the economic model and religious idolatry has become a school of thought for establishing social paradigms. A place where someone can see two men kissing that it offends him to the point of shooting up a club. A place where racism and misogyny have become common attitudes. This isn't a society that should claim to reside in the free world, but it does. Banning guns won't change any of these facts. Our society abuses guns. We abuse minorities. We abuse the poor. We abuse religion. We abuse women. We abuse drugs. We're a nation of abusers. That's the USA in 2016. That's where we've made it as a society.

This is not an anti-USA post. I point these facts out because we should be doing better. The problem is that our society is already claiming to do better. The reason we 'allow' these things to happen is because it would require us to admit that we've failed as a society. We don't want to have to stop and talk about education, family, race, gender, religion, etc. It is easier for all involved to point to the piece of metal and say "it's because of that" (or not because of that). The right won't come out and say "some people are stupid, dangerous, and shouldn't own weapons" (in large part because the right's leadership mirror their constituents). The left won't come out and just admit that some people become problematic and will abuse firearms to serve their political and personal ends. It's a stalemate. Nothing will get resolved and shootings will keep happening. The war on drugs didn't work. The war on guns won't work. America needs to go to war with the problems it allowed to manifest within society. That's how you ensure another Orlando doesn't happen again.

Last night's terrible attack in Orlando brought a lot of issues to a head: homophobia, Islamophobia, and gun control. Coupled with the Brock Turner verdict last week, I've taken pause about how we digest our problems in American society. We keep wanting to point at one thing and say that's the culprit. We want to believe so badly that one decision, one change will instantly fix everything. It doesn't work that way. Life doesn't work that way. We've got a long way to go as a society. That is the only thing that everyone should be in agreement about. It is the matter of agreeing that it will take the sum of many parts and not just one action to fix things that still needs work.

With respect to the dead and the hope that their loss was not in vain,
James Khubiar

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Gucci Mane

Gucci Mane was released from prison last week. There are two groups of people that are excited about this: those who know what a free Gucci means for the rap world and those who follow the memes and lack any grasp of who or what Gucci Mane really is.

Recently, a high profile music publication published an article on why Gucci Mane is the most influential rapper of the last decade. You don't need seek this article out. It's about 300 words and sounds like it was written by some fool that wrote it on his phone while waiting in line for a fitting room at the Supreme store because his editor said "Gucci is free, now give me something". I don't take exception to the article's thesis statement. In fact, I've been championing this exact contention for the last two years. While everyone else rotated between Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Drake, I always said Gucci Mane. The problem I have with this article is that it reads from the narrative of memes and social media. To the author of this article, Gucci's legacy is not defined by the creative entity and power center that he is. Rather, he is defined by quotes like "lost in the sauce" and "bitch I might be". This is problematic and wildly myopic. If you look at the big picture, you realize that Gucci Mane is not only the most influential rapper of the last ten years, but perhaps of all time.

Gucci Mane is a legend. This fact is not under dispute. The problem with being a legend is that if enough time passes people will forget what makes the legend a legend. When that happens the legend washes into parody. We arrive at the shallow understanding that produces memes and poor aptitude. There are several reasons why Gucci Mane is a legend and perhaps the greatest of all time and it is important to know why or risk chewing on a meme for your intellectual credentials.

Street King

In 2005, Gucci Mane was still a bit of an unknown. He was working on self-releasing his album Trap House. To boost the star power on the record, he paid Young Jeezy (then hailed as the savior of gangsta rap) to do a feature on the song "Icy". The song wound up being a breakaway hit and made Gucci Mane's bones in the rap world. Jeezy's people at Def Jam felt the song could do even more if it was given a bigger platform. They instructed Jeezy to perusade Gucci into selling the publishing rights of "Icy" to them. Jeezy comes to Gucci with a hefty offer to outright buy the rights to the song. Gucci rebuffs the offer and tells Jeezy to kick rocks. This would spark the Gucci - Jeezy beef (one of the most heated rap feuds of all time and is discussed in great detail in Mara Shaloup's book BMF). After having his offer rejected by Gucci, Jeezy resorted to mentioning his associations to try and intimidate Gucci into selling. Jeezy was backed by Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family (BMF). In 2006, BMF ran most of the cocaine game in Atlanta, St. Louis, South Carolina, and Detroit. They were organized, dangerous, and, because of Jeezy, were now enemies of Gucci Mane. Upping the ante, Jeezy basically hit Gucci with "do what I say or else". Gucci, being the street nihilist that he is, responded by dropping the song "Round 1" where he tells Jeezy "put a dress on a nigga, you Meech's bitch". Losing patience, Jeezy and Meech hatch a scheme to take care of Gucci. Jeezy offered a group of five rappers from the Atlanta area a record deal with CTE (Jeezy's Def Jam imprint) if they kill Gucci. The group accepts and go after Gucci. They hit a house where Gucci was at and, in a plan gone awry, failed to kill him. Rather, Gucci was able to draw a weapon of his own and kill one of the invaders, wounding another, causing the other three to flee. The next day (the day before Trap House was to drop), Gucci turned himself in to authorities and claimed self-defense (which worked). When it was all said and done, Gucci Mane took on Young Jeezy, Big Meech and one of the largest criminal syndicates in the southeastern United States and won. It cemented his reputation that he was not someone to ever be trifled with.

Best A&R Ever

Simply put: if Gucci puts on for you, you are a made man. Much like E.F. Hutton, if Gucci is talking about another rapper, you better be listening. He groomed Waka Flocka Flame into his protege, spawning one of the most popular rappers. Future was a nobody until Free Bricks came out and minted his name. Young Thug was considered "niche and acquired" until Gucci signed him to 1017 and released 1017 Thug and everyone stopped to pay attention. The list of rappers and producers that Gucci has scouted out and put on for is staggering:

- Young Dolph
- Waka Flocka Flame
- Future
- Rich Homie Quan
- Young Thug
- Migos
- OJ Da Juiceman
- Young Scooter
- PeeWee Longway
- Zaytoven
- Sonny Digital
- C4
- Southside
- Lex Luger
- Metro Boomin
- Mike Will Made It

Prolific

Rich Homie Quan during an interview with Drug Money USA was once asked what was his favorite thing about working with Gucci Mane. He answered Gucci's work ethic was inspiring. Rich Homie said on his best day he could maybe lay down three songs. He said Gucci on an average day lays down seven songs. When Gucci went in to prison, a record executive remarked to me that Gucci's people were sitting on two terabytes of verses that could be used for songs. In 2014, Gucci released fifteen (15) albums and mixtapes. As far as output goes, no one comes close to Gucci's.

Respected

People come to Gucci and offer their services for his releases. He doesn't have to beg or pay. While Mike Will Made It charges artists in LA a fortune for his beats, he readily gives them to Gucci for his releases. His features are regularly a who's who of the rap game from Future to Rich Homie Quan. Aside from the esteem Gucci holds, it is even more amazing that people in the rap game won't touch his enemies. When Flocka and Gucci's beef reignited in late 2013, Flocka declared he was over the rap game and wanted to break into the EDM world. Given how contentious the beef was (Flocka's cousin Frenchie went as far of accusing Gucci of being behind the murder of beloved 1017 member Slim Dunkin), it isn't a stretch to say that Gucci had Flocka blacklisted. Was Flocka really over the rap game or was the rap game ignoring him? It is kind of hard to be a successful rapper when the best producers won't touch you and the only features you can get are your brother (Wooh Da Kid) and cousin (Frenchie).

Beyond the memes, stories, and quotes, there's still Gucci Mane. The gears are still turning and he's still scheming. His name is still the heaviest on the streets. What matters above all else is that he did it all himself. He didn't kowtow to labels and superstars so much as he took them on. He builds his own soldiers from the ground up and they stay loyal to him no matter what heights they may reach. He will bury you in the booth and if he utters a bad word about you, it will cause more damage to your career than a hundred scandals. In a genre like modern rap, where fans have the memory of a goldfish, it is very easy to forget about someone who has held it down as long and as strongly as Gucci Mane. I could ponder the question if prison slowed him down or not, but the fact is I've been watching Gucci Mane all this time and I know better enough to know that there is no slowing him down.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Tim Butcher Memorial Show Videos

California and, really hardcore, said goodbye to Tim Butcher this weekend. The bands that came together and played to honor Tim's memory were a who's who of California hardcore for the last few years. Trash Talk, Minus, Nomads, Lock, Xibalba and, Tim's band at the time of his passing, Hell In The Cell. Tim touched a lot of people and saying goodbye is never easy. I really hate that I was not in attendance this weekend.

Memories only fade if we let them.
People only fade if we let them.
Love only fades if we let it.
Tim Butcher will never fade away.

Hell In The Cell



Trash Talk

Special thanks to Tim Decker for filming these sets

Top 10 NYHC Demos Ever

After doing EPs and LPs and saving the best for last, it is time to make it a hat trick.

Honorable Mentions:

The Psychos - 1984
Trip 6 - June '87
Leeway - Enforcer
Merauder - Eddie Sutton
Fit of Anger - 1988
In Your Face - 1988
NY Hoods - Built As One
SFA - 1987
Beyond - Dew It
Warzone - As One
Breakdown - Running Scared
Life's Blood - 1988
Cro-Mags - 1985
Citizen's Arrest - 1989
Show of Force - 1990
Sick of It All - 1987
Ultra-Violence - 1984
Skinhead Youth - 1984
Disciplinary Action - 1989
Outburst - 1987
Our Gang - Uprising
Sheer Terror - 1985
Reach Out - 1988
Maximum Penalty - 1988
Frontline - 1982
Dmize - 1990
District 9 - 1991
The Abused - 1982

10. Dynamo - Face Your Fears
The last great NYHC demo released in 1996. Dynamo was fronted by the late NYHC legend Carl The Mosher. The same Carl The Mosher who did vocals for Underdog on one demo and fronted The Icemen. The band's demo was a callback to the grating style of hardcore that many of the bands that came before played. What stands out best on the demo however, are Carl's vocals and lyrics. It was with Dynamo he really hit his stride. Gone were the theatrics of The Icemen and Carl just got to be himself. The result are songs like "Cold World" and "My Own Rules" (one of the best NYHC songs ever written).

9. Youth Defense League - Skinheads 88
If this isn't the best US oi release ever, it is easily the hardest. New York City has always had a skinhead presence. Going all the way back to its beginning. Agnostic Front and Warzone based much of their identities around it. Being a part of the NYHC scene gave YDL many of the tools they needed to be as effective as they were forthright. The 88 demo has anthems like "Turn Coat" and "The Boys" and as far as what YDL was able to accomplish, they were one of a kind. They were a band that was able to play competent US oi (this is no small feat, it is almost like US black metal really) with a certain level of ferocity that only the English had been able to attain as a result of being actively legislated against in Thatcher's Britain. YDL attained from living in what amounted to a third world country that was 1980s Brooklyn.

8. Underdog - 1988
If there was ever a time where Underdog could say they sounded 'raw' it was 88. There was always a measure of precision to Underdog that had them sound like they were always one step ahead of their contemporaries. On the 88 demo, Richie Birkenhead's vocals bear more aggression to them than any other time in his career. The music is slow paced and never without purpose. This is most evident on the four minute tour de force track "Underdog". The same can be said for the track "Mass Movement" which utilized harmony to mess with tempo, a style that had been previously been introduced to NYHC on the Cro-Mags' The Age of Quarrel. If there is a natural successor, stylistically, to that album it is Underdog's 88 demo. For good measure, the demo even features a dub song "Reach Out" and closes out with the anthem "Without Fear" (a precursor to what would eventually become the band's seminal track "Back To Back"; about as good of a summation for the band's vocalist if ever there was one).

7. Merauder - Minus
Merauder was a very special band. This incarnation of the band is still the best. While Eddie Sutton might have had the edge on vocals, Minus' presence is something else entirely. There is a reason why when old NYHC heads talk about the scene's hardest moshers and toughest dudes, they almost immediately and unanimously say "Minus". That's the kind of person that needed to front Merauder and lay down vocals over the riffs written by the late and inimitable Sob. This demo has an aesthetic that so many bands have tried to replicate since. They can't. No one can. The Minus demo sounds so hard and raw because the people who wrote and played on it were hard and raw. The intersection of authenticity and aesthetic in hardcore is a rare occurrence these days, but the Minus demo still holds up as the hallmark example.

6. Krakdown - 1987
The '87 Krakdown demo doesn't make its point with a grand prose about life on the streets nor through a structured sonic barrage. Instead it chooses to capture a sound bearing urgency, anger, and a certain bit of forthrightness that tells listeners they know the deal (doing so with one of my favorite bass tones ever recorded). More importantly, they don't give you time to think about it. Points can be made in many ways. Sometimes you just need not to let up and exhaust listeners. Krakdown is another one of those bands that have become criminally underrated over the years. Not so much because people don't talk about them, but because they rarely enter the "greatest" discussions. The 87 demo is a textbook example of what an NYHC demo ought to sound like. It isn't flashy nor is it shrouded in mythos. It is the Tim Duncan of NYHC demos.

5. Absolution - 1988
There is a sea of people who don't know about Absolution. It is one of modern hardcore's biggest tragedies. From the moment the band arrived on the scene, everyone knew they were something special. From being the starlet band on the eminent New Breed compilation to their incredible demo, Absolution left nothing off the table in their time. Why they're overlooked now is really a result of bad timing. If they had come on the scene two years earlier or two years later, we would talk about them as fondly as the biggest NYHC legends. Because they arrived in such a saturated time of quality in New York, they've fallen by the way side. Virtually anyone who was there at the time or the most die hard of NYHC fans swear by Absolution for a reason. Between Djinji Brown's special and poignant vocals / lyrics and Gavin Van Vlack's incredible guitar work (where he would later rise to prominence for his work in Burn), Absolution did something special on the 88 demo.

4. Altercation - Unite Us
The Altercation demo has one of my favorite 1-2 punches ever in hardcore. The demo's opening track "Unite Us" comes in like a standard track and sets a good tone, just enough to let listeners know what they're doing. Then "Brain Dead" comes in like a monster with one of the hardest intros ever written. I can't imagine what a pit for "Brain Dead" looked like in 1987 New York. I've replayed the song a million times trying to visualize it. There's a level of self-awareness on the Altercation demo that so many bands in hardcore (not just NYHC) lack. Every bit of this release has so much the NYHC identity on it: aggression, patriotism, and cynicism.

3. Breakdown - 1987

Often considered by many as the best NYHC demo of all time. It is a perfect demo, to be sure. It embodies much of the NYHC spirit in its content but it is evident from the outset that the band was still figuring out what they were doing (and would later actualize on the Raw Deal demos). What the 87 demo represents is a seething and frustrated outlook on society. As corny and passe as this sounds, this demo is fighting music. It is an expression of there being no more words or conventions left to be said for the current state of things and all that was left is to hurt someone about it. Songs like "Safe In A Crowd", "Your Problems" and "Life of Bullshit" are letters of hate to future opponents. They're rationales for violence. That's what makes the 87 demo so celebrated. What was past was simply a prologue of bitching about problems and all that was left to do was start smashing people about it.

2. & 1. Raw Deal - 1989 & Raw Deal - 1988
Formed by three members of the Breakdown 87 demo lineup, Raw Deal was the sound's next evolution. For as raw and as imposing as the 87 demo is, the Raw Deal demos took everything to the next level. The lyrics are bitter, jaded, and combative. The music is far more calculated than the 87 demo as well. Imagine someone who knows that throwing punches and strikes hurts someone. They throw as many as they can until they've put their opponent away. That's the 87 demo. Now imagine someone who knows what to hit and where and how many times. Those are the Raw Deal demos. They're every bit as intense and powerful as the 87 demo but with much more understanding of what its trying to be.  The demos reflected an attitude of a scene that was beginning to crumble. By then, New York hardcore had become, please forgive the pun, a warzone. Brooklyn and Queens had emerged as viable scenes, drugs were a rampant problem, and gentrification caused the scene to clash with any normos that got near it. You can call the Raw Deal demos anything you want. Say they're the end of an era or the beginning of another, but what you can't deny is that they served as an important crossroads moment for an entire scene much in the way when Age of Quarrel was released.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Top 10 NYHC LPs Of All Time

Before anyone grossly overreacts: I did not count any crossover records that were out of bounds from the NYHC scene. This includes Agnostic Front's Cause For Alarm, later Cro-Mags records, and Carnivore.

Honorable Mentions:

Madball - Set It Off
Leeway - Born To Expire
Gorilla Biscuits - Gorilla Biscuits
Gorilla Biscuits - Start Today
Crumbsuckers - Life Of Dreams
Bold - Speak Out
Nihilistics - Nihilistics
Sick Of It All - Blood Sweat And No Tears
Crown Of Thorns - Mentally Vexed
SFA - New Morality
Judge - Bringin' It Down
Youth Of Today - Break Down The Walls
Kraut - An Adjustment To Society
Sheer Terror - Just Can't Hate Enough
Beyond - No Longer At Ease
Token Entry - From Beneath The Streets
Warzone - Open Your Eyes
Murphy's Law - Back With A Bong


10. Underdog - The Vanishing Point
One of those bands whose demos are lauded as the highlight of their career. The Vanishing Point is such a great album for two reasons: the rhythm section (one of the best ever in hardcore) and Richie Birkenhead's vocals. Birkenhead's vocals are a bit of a gem when it comes to hardcore. The man's voice was always too good to be a part of this, but the man himself lived for being a part of this. On TVP, we got to hear Birkenhead's vocals for Underdog truly done justice. It wasn't just the guy who got stabbed outside of CBGBs and played a show in the same night anymore, it was the guy who would go on to Into Another.

9. Sick Of It All - Just Look Around
Another album I'll catch flak for picking, but there's so much more going on Just Look Around that it merits a lot of discussion. The album's eponymous track features one of the best bass intros of all time. The track's lyrics, whose chorus dealt with the ongoing racial tensions in Crown Heights, are dripping with more political cynicism than a hundred anarcho-punk records combined. The scary thing is that this is the downtempo song on the album. The rest of the album are Sick Of It All songs tuned lower and so they come in hard and fast the entire time. The other thing that makes this album worthy of note is that by the time it was released, most of the NYHC scene had moved on from hardcore. Either people were in crossover thrash acts, post-hardcore bands, or moved on entirely. Sick Of It All were one of the few who stuck around in this era (especially as holdovers from the previous era). The band never loses perspective of where they came from while producing something that spoke the times they lived in.

8. Supertouch - The Earth Is Flat
The first time I ever took ecstasy, I listened to this album. I frantically called every friend in my phone book that I had determined the greatest NYHC album ever. All they could ask me was "James, are you on drugs?" I quickly said yes and they proceeded to hang up. The Earth Is Flat is not the greatest NYHC record ever, but it is a very special one. For one thing, it is the perfect bridge between NYHC and the post-hardcore movement that would take over New York a short time later. Mark Ryan's lyrics and vocals are some of the ambitious from the scene (mirroring scene contemporary Richie Birkenhead). Everything on TEIF is about nuance and subtlety. Rather than try and drive in as much as possible, the idea was to create a soundscape putting listeners in a sonic desert. Despair, grief, and fear come in many shapes and forms. Supertouch did it completely different than anyone else in the scene, serving as a forerunner to New York post-hardcore.

7. Leeway - Desperate Measures
I'm going to catch flak for this pick but the fact is Desperate Measures is the better album. Born To Expire has the hits, but pound-for-pound this album blows it out of the water. While BTE tracks has a lot of the attitude that other NYHC records of the day had, DM bears a lot of cynicism about life on the streets that were destroyed by drugs. The riffs on DM coupled with Eddie's vocals tackling the reality of a city that basically lost the war with drugs is so tragic. The album being able to maintain its intensity makes it hard to ignore what's really going on with DM. From the opening track "Make Me An Offer" to "The Future", DM takes listeners down a path of addiction and a feral will to survive in such a beautiful way that only Eddie Sutton's vocals could do it justice.

6. Rest In Pieces - My Rage
Everything about Rest In Pieces is off-putting. It is an album that personifies the ugly side of NYHC. A scene of drug-addled, drunken goons out looking for a fight. The album itself is a perfect soundtrack for street fights. The funny thing about Rest In Pieces is that these were the songs that weren't used for Sick Of It All or leftover from Straight Ahead. The virtuoso guitarwork of Rob Echeverria really shines on this record (including the underrated solo on "Balls N All"). Whereas Sick Of It All wrote anthems about making a point, Rest In Pieces made a point to demonstrate that they were degenerates and would have no problem putting you through the street to remind you of this fact.

5. Killing Time - Brightside
Following the two best demos in NYHC history, Killing Time (formerly Raw Deal) released their debut LP Brightside. Most of the songs from those demos comprised the track listing on the LP. The songs are grating in their purpose. The idea was to incite violence. It was a reflection of the times. By the end of the 80s, everything in NYC had to be resolved by violence. The scene was in a losing battle on every front: with the city, the incoming gentrification, with each other. All that was left was violence and Killing Time provided the songs to paint a picture of what was left of old NYHC in the face of its destruction.

4. Warzone - Don't Forget The Struggle, Don't Forget The Streets
A lot has been said about Raybeez as the years have gone by. A lot of what he did later in life and what he did before hardcore punk. I don't care about any of that. I know that when this record came down, he lived for every single block of the Lower East Side. I know that this album was written expressly for the kids coming into the NYHC pipeline. This was the album to let them know this was the code of conduct and their philosophy from now on. Every single track is a subculture Art of War lesson. It is so goddamn easy to say "Don't Forget The Struggle, Don't Forget The Streets" but so few really understand it. Add in Jay Skin's riffs which never lose potency alongside an excellent rhythm section, this album is more than just a few catchphrases.

3. Bad Brains - Rock For Light
The band who brought hardcore to New York. Before they came along, there was punk in New York but the Bad Brains brought the city vision on just what they could do with it. There can be argument on whether or not the Bad Brains can lay claim to New York City, but anybody from New York who was there will adamantly tell you they're a New York band. This record by itself is perfection and an amazing encapsulation of them harnessing their sound. Before this, the goal was to play as fast as possible, on Rock For Light the band understood that they could use a lot of the rhythm they knew how to use and put it toward their hardcore punk songs. The result was classic songs like "Coptic Times" and "We Will Not".

2. Agnostic Front - Victim In Pain
This is the album that made NYHC, NYHC. Before this it was just hardcore punk in New York. Agnostic Front minted the scene with this one. They were no longer the city between Boston and DC. This album put New York on the map and gave everybody after them the way to go. Every single song is biting and raw from Miret's vocals to Stigma's riffs. It's all completely untouchable. It also laid out a lot of themes we'd see later in NYHC such as patriotism ("United & Strong") and inner-scene conflict ("Fascist Attitudes"). Agnostic Front didn't just do it first, they did it best.

1. Cro-Mags - Age of Quarrel
This album personified an entire lifestyle. By 1986, NYHC's ranks had fully developed. The world was in the death throes of the Cold War. AIDS was destroying entire areas of New York City. Gentrification was in full swing and the concrete jungle was on its way out. This album was basically a reminder to all New York hardcore kids who they were as they looked the world in the face. There's a reason why NYHC originals look back on this record with such fondness. It inspired them to fight harder than they ever had. It's remarkable how far we've come in thirty years on Age of Quarrel. The songs still teach kids about hardcore as a way of life. This album is in every initiated person's DNA.

Friday, February 12, 2016

An Open Letter To Ian Connor

Dear Ian,

We need to have a talk, king to "king".

First, I must admit I did not know who you were until yesterday when a picture of your client surfaced wearing a jacket that emulated an American Nightmare album cover. While Wes' jacket was inspired by a Jim Goldberg photo book, given your age and understanding, I'm going to assume your inspiration was not the same. Second, I must admit that I am a bit of a neophyte to the fashion world. Last year at a club in New York, a drunken Alexander Wang bumped into me. I did not know who he was, so I shot him a glare to let him know he had invaded my space. The doe-eyed designer quickly scuttled off and I returned to speaking with my friend. Starstruck, she told me, "James, that was Alexander Wang!" All I could respond with was "who the fuck is Alexander Wang?" You see, Ian, I am not a fashionista. That is not my world. It is yours. My world is hardcore and punk. It is where I come from and who I am. The problem I have is that you have made a name for yourself in that world claiming to represent mine.

I took the time to learn about you today. You've become quite the celebrity from the work you've done with your client. I learned you once showed up to a meeting with him in beat up Sketchers. The press loved you for that. Vogue said you had a "cool-kid sense of personal style" for it. You revealed to Viper Mag that you found serial killers 'amusing and interesting'. No doubt a claim intended to induce shock in your interviewer and audience. You have quite the resume, I must admit. Making your rise in the A$AP Mob until you were contacted by Virgil Abloh (who I'm sure took a shine to your infantile understanding of the subculture) and of course now, where you are hailed as your client's muse. Quite the journey for a kid who was run out of the Atlanta scene after he stole a box of shirts from the hometown hero band and bragged about it.

Now to the matter of why I am writing to you today. I think we need to establish some particulars on the identity you have crafted for yourself. You have boldly claimed to be the "King of the Youth". You (and your former employer for that matter) have made a living out of cheaply representing themselves denizens of the subculture. I believe the more appropriate term I have heard is "culture vulture". You claim to represent an initiated knowledge of the subculture and apply it to your cutting edge visual arts degrees. The result is not wild innovation or visionary constructions. The results are cheap derivations of the original content trotted out to an audience too stupid to know the real deal. That is the one thing you and I see eye-to-eye on, Ian. We both know your audience is the lowest common denominator. That your ideas are thrown into an ocean of fools. We both know that your near zero knowledge of the subculture wouldn't get you past the status of a mark fan in my world, but to your client's sister-in-law? I'm sure you sound like a young Andy Warhol. A trail-blazing Bohemian who grinded it out and made it. Deep down, you must be laughing at your client. Here he is, the self-proclaimed greatest musical artist of all time, deferring to you for style decisions, you, once self-proclaimed Warhound fan.

Moreover, I see you rubbing elbows with some of my friends still in the subculture. Friends who have made it to their own stratosphere of success. Their association with you is not what I take exception to. It is your choice to associate with them. You do it because it is easy. It is easy to hang out with those of us who made it. You maintain your status with the ever-ogling eyes of the paparazzi while upping your fraudulent cultural capital among your peers. The subculture isn't a way of life for you. It's people, not your friends. For you, it is an accessory to a brand. Props to the grand production of fiction that has become your persona. I don't think you ever knew what it really meant to be a part of this. I can't believe someone who did would abandon it so readily. It is easier to believe you were a tourist all along.

This isn't about liking certain bands since day one. It isn't about going to every show ever or having the rarest band shirts or even the best taste in music. It's about the willingness to stick it out in the trenches with your friends because that's all you have in those trenches. You don't understand that being in the subculture is hard work. In a lot of ways it kind of sucks. By choosing to be a part of this you undergo hardships financially, socially, mentally, and emotionally. We lose a lot from being involved in this. We gain a lot from being in it too. We know what we're doing in those trenches are ahead of everyone else, on our terms, and for each other. Being a part of this means making our own families, our own styles and brands borne from our identity and locale. You don't know anything about that. You never will. All you do is look down at the rest of us while you cherrypick what you determine "cool", shine it up and serve it on a platter for people who could never understand the place and people you took it from.

The fact is, you don't know what cool is. I know that me and you can walk into a record store in Japan and I will pick the right records and shirts because I made it my business to know what is good and what isn't. You will blindly swoop in and buy up this rack of shirts and this box of records. You'll go back to your studio and match up that vintage Discharge shirt you paid triple for to your client's wife's dress. That doesn't make you the king of anything. It doesn't make you an authority on the subculture. It means you're no better than one of the thousand automatons graduating from FIDM every year. The difference between you and them is that you saw Harm's Way live once.

I'm sorry that our introduction had to be like this. However, I can't say we would have ever talked in person. If we did, it would have been brief. What would we have to talk about? Would we debate if Eric Casanova did it better than JJ? Would I ask if you knew my friend from Philly? Would you reminisce with me about a certain live band's performance?  I don't believe you would.

You seem to have done well in the fashion world and I really wish I could congratulate you for it. There is nothing more beautiful to me than seeing a fellow hardcore kid or punk make it big in the world. However, I can't say 'congratulations' to you. You're not a hardcore kid making it. You're just another person. The only reason I am writing to you today is because you are just another person stealing from the world that me and so many of my friends have chosen to make their reality. I need you to know you're false because everything you're doing makes this cheaper for the rest of us. It makes it as manufactured and plastic as your client's in-laws.

"This is my world so get the fuck out and try that shit with someone else" - No Warning "My World"

Sincerely,
James Khubiar
King of Subculture

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

200,000 Hits / Thank You

The blog just crossed 200,000 hits. I don't know what that means. I've replayed the number in my hundreds of times now trying to think of what it means exactly. Here is what I've concluded. If I had gone on to doctoral school and published some papers in a sociology quarterly as an academic, even if I was a good one, 200,000 people would never have read what I had to say. In some ways, I feel really vindicated knowing that.

I don't really have words to describe how grateful I am to know people read this. I'll be honest, I don't think anyone is ever reading. I tell myself that when I write. It's the only way I can suspend all of the deep-seeded insecurities I have long enough to write something and hit publish. The whole Justified Arrogance moniker is a big joke. Anybody who knows me, knows I am the most insecure and self-conscious person you'll ever meet. If someone had told me my writing was no good when I started, I would have stopped.

If you guys will indulge me for a moment, I'll tell you a story about how Justified Arrogance came to be and why knowing people reading this means so much to me.

I started writing Justified Arrogance in August of 2014. I didn't do it trying to make a name in journalism. I didn't do it because I wanted to flex knowledge on people. I didn't do it to groom future hardcore kids and punks. No. The original reason I started Justified Arrogance was because I needed it.

In July 2014, I came back to my parents' house in Maryland after spending three months in Los Angeles. It was in Los Angeles that I lost myself, was beaten with verbal abuse almost daily, I realized I was in love and then had to deal with the heartbreak of losing that person. At my parents' house, decompressing and in social isolation, I began to unravel. I was trying to cope while facing the growing pressure of finishing writing my TV series. All the while, I tried desperately and hopelessly to prove my love was worth acceptance. I fell into my own subconscious. I had nothing left. Do you know when you have nothing? When yesterday never existed, you're numb to today, and tomorrow is just a word.

I spent most of August 2014 waiting by the phone. When you know why you're waiting for someone to call, it feels like forever. Prisons come in many shapes and forms. Waiting by the phone for a call you don't think is coming is one I don't wish on anyone. Much in the way inmates wait for the day their time will come for freedom from their prisons, I tried finding anything to pass the time. I saw a thread on some social media group for younger kids looking for new music. I had a ton of music on my computer and nothing but time so I started posting links with brief explanations of the bands. That was honestly it. The thread got deleted and kids kept messaging me for links. I had a leftover blog and took what I was doing there. As pathetic as this sounds, that kept me going for that month. I started writing about bands I had grown up with like Power Trip and Iron Age. The blog got more personal. And that was that, I had a format. 

All a writer ever has are words. That's it. We do our best with what language allows us to use to make our feelings and convictions clear. Most of the time it is because we fail to make those clear across other avenues. We're mutes that life afforded us an outlet to. At the end of the day, all they are is just words. People give those words life. They laugh and cry and discuss what you've written and that means those words don't just exist in your head or on paper anymore. Your words connected with someone. For someone who doesn't feel connected with almost anyone, knowing that my words connected with someone, now and after I'm gone, matters.

Justified Arrogance wasn't a claim I made to be cocky. It was a claim I made to stay alive. That sounds stupid but I can't sit here and tell you I would have survived that first month without it. I escaped back to Dallas in October 2014 where I used the writing from here to get a freelance gig with the Dallas Observer. I used that to get noticed by Noisey and used that to make friends east where I would move to in January 2015. Justified Arrogance gave me a reason to want to live again.

Special thanks to Jay Chary, Hayden Robertson, and Jakke Sullivan for contributing to this blog. Thank you to Riley Gale, Matthew Adis, Jake Ballesteros, Luke Kislak for doing interviews and profiles with us. Thanks to anyone who has ever consulted on a list. Thank you to the other blogs who share our link. Lastly, thank you to the kid who recognized me in line for the Isterismo after show during New York's Alright last year. You told me you liked my writing and it was the first time a stranger ever acknowledged any of this. Between that and the company I was with, it was honestly the best feeling I will ever have, so thank you.

Thank you to anyone who has ever read this, shared it with anyone, that loved or hated it

- James Khubiar

4-31

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Artist Profile: Luke Kislak

Black and white illustration is the bedrock of art in the subculture. Forgetting the superstructure of art itself, at its very root is an artist with a vision in their hand and a simple instrument to visually realize that vision. When done right, a black and white illustration is one of the most special types of art. It is stripped down and evocative. It doesn't give you time to think about subtext and symbolism so much as it is drives its imagery directly into your mind. Perhaps this is why b/w illustration has become such a celebrated subculture: for its blitzkrieg expressiveness. With roots in the Renaissance work of Gustav Dore, the subculture has seen amazing b/w illustrators come along such as 1980s New York's L.W. Harvey and Japan's Sugi and Kazuhiro. Most recently, Pittsburgh's Luke Kislak has begun to make a name for himself with his chaotic and nuanced style of b/w illustration. Make no mistake, he is a rising star in the subculture's art world.

Usually, we fit the artist's answers to our questions into a biography write-up, but Luke's answers were just so verbose that we thought it would be criminal to not let him tell his story in his own words. Take it away, Luke:

I'm originally from Homer City, Pennsylvania. It's a small town beside the college party town of Indiana, PA, about an hour away from Pittsburgh. These days I currently reside in the area known as Lawrenceville, the mecca of what is "hip" in Pittsburgh these days.

I play bass guitar in EEL and vocals in Decapitators. Those are the only two bands active at the moment. Every now and then, Psycho Baits return to existence and I sing for that group. Ammunition (vocals) is taking a break for a while or maybe it's forever, it's still unclear. Past bands: Liebestod (PA) (noise guitar), Drug Lust (vocals), Thrak (vocals), Casual Male (noise), Free Clinic (drums), Holy Life (drums), and Varney's War (lead guitar). Starting a new band soon with some local freaks that will hopefully sound like United Mutation. I might also be playing noise guitar for "A Hell On Earth".

I've been making art since I was probably 3 years old. I've always loved to draw, paint, etc. But it wasn't until the past couple of years were I took it a little bit more seriously and taking time on projects. The main thing that has inspired me when it comes to making flyers and posters is shitty, pixelated, half-assed, photoshopped flyers for shows with sick line ups. I think that the flyer is a big part of an event and should be held up with the rest of the aesthetic of what makes the gig. So instead of bitching about shitty flyers, I decided to start making flyers that I thought would look "sick as fuck".

My major influences are from the works of Pushead, Morbid Mark, Kazuhiro Imai, Akihiko Sugimoto, Toyo, Skinner, and Pettibon. Nods to Amphetamine Reptile records, Japanese Hardcore, 80's punk & metal flyers, Nazi propaganda, communist propaganda, Mountain Dew Baja Blast, obscure black metal demo tapes, motorcycle culture, weed smoke, and more..

So far I've done artwork for Blood Pressure, Ammunition, No Time, Concealed Blade, The Brass, EEL, Decapitators, and soon to be Prison Moan and Fuck You Pay Me. Looking forward for more killer bands hitting me up for artwork in the future.

Luke is available for commission and can be contacted at teenagemutilator@gmail.com