Sunday, February 21, 2016

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.

5 comments:

  1. The drums on the Raw Deal demo sound like a car crash and that's the highest compliment. I absolutely worship Krakdown. The NYU set don't get me started. I think Max Pen is my third favorite demo. Beyond too.

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  3. Great list. Thanks for adding SFA (although I thought maybe "Tanx a Lot" was a little better than the "1987" demo).

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