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"

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


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

Friday, February 5, 2016

Artist Profile: Jake Ballesteros

Jake Ballesteros has worked with your favorite bands and you don't even know it. For almost a decade, the Austin-based artist has worked with the likes of Power Trip (Ballesteros has become de facto resident artist for the watershed thrash band), No Warning, and Iron Age. Over the last few years, Ballesteros' art has continued to grow and evolve along with the bands he works with. This is why a lot of bands feel so comfortable working with him over time. It is a special relationship when a band keeps referring to the same artist. It means that the artist is able to see what the band sees and is able to put those ideas to paper. If you're in a band and you've ever commissioned something, you know how frustrating it can be communicating your ideas to an artist. It can be even more frustrating trying to find an artist who encapsulates those ideas perfectly in a visual presentation. This is true with Joe Petagno and Motorhead, Antichrist Kramer and Inquisition, and few others. Ballesteros' biggest strength is the ability to take concepts and, through his vision, create illustrations that really evoke the necessary reactions from them.

Originally from the beach town of Corpus Christi, Texas, Ballesteros had made a home in Austin for the last decade. On his passion for art, Ballesteros comments, "art has been apart of my life since i could walk, all through out grade school i looked forward to art class, or drawing cartoon like renderings of my friends at lunch. my fascination with comics and cartoons was endless, I'm not the biggest reader unfortunately, never was, but the illustrations on book covers, and the graphic details of comics had me judging books by the cover for sure." His influences include Alphonse Mucha, Aubrey Bearsley, Brian Schroeder (more commonly known as Pushead), and Florian Bertmer. Ballesteros credits these artists with their "unique style and attention to detail challenge me to push the design, to add and add and add, cracks and hairs and folds blood splatter and drips."

Ballesteros is available for commission and can be contacted at

Thursday, February 4, 2016

New Band Spotlight: Indignation

Featuring members of Infernoh, Perdition, and Nomad, Indignation are New York City's newest champions of the raw punk sound. Following in the lineage of contemporary punk greats Perdition and fellow NYC noise punk rippers Zatuson, Indignation picks up where they left off. The band's demo is a full on d-beat noise assault. It does not let up from its blown out vocals, grating drums, and surgical hits of noise. More importantly, the people behind this band have made it clear through their careers that this is what they do and who they are. Indignation is not a sonic experiment so much as it is a lesson in the genre. With the band's pedigree on full display, it is evident from the outset that Indignation are poised to become one of punk's more beloved bands in the near future.

Outside of the demo's tape circulation, their live performances, and word of mouth discussion, Indignation have received little notice from the rest of the country. While Indignation spent much of the 2015's second half tearing apart shows with the likes of Severed Head of State (the band's first show) and Aspects of War, the band's profile has remained relatively quiet. When both the Framtid NYC show as well as the Death Side shows were announced, Indignation's inclusion left many everywhere asking the simple question: "who is Indignation and why are they on these shows?" Indignation is the future. If you don't already know, you will soon enough.

Punk's best kept secret won't be for very much longer.

This was the best demo from 2015.

Available exclusively from Justified Arrogance in digital form; special thanks to the band for allowing us to put it up

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Sweden has two proud subculture traditions: d-beat and death metal.

D-beat and crust have a very special connection to the metal world. There's a reason why there is always a heavy crust presence at the Maryland Death Fest (a fact which became comedy in 2013 when Phil Anselmo asked that security confiscate all bullet belts for fear of being assassinated). There is a reason why a lot of crust bands bear a metallic tint to their sound. It isn't supernatural that so much of the earliest crust scene in the UK made the leap to metal. Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, Sacrilege are just a few of the bands that would find their beginnings in the British crust scene only to arrive in the metal world. The same can be said for Discharge who, while not crust per say, would become a crossover act by the mid 80s with the release of their polarizing album Grave New World. In the USA, much of the crust scene has strong connections to metal's sonic and visual aesthetic with bands like His Hero Is Gone, Hellshock, and Stormcrow being prime examples. It is no coincidence then that labels like Earache (oft considered one of the premier metal labels in the world) had early catalogs that were connected to the British crust punk scene. Metal seems to be a natural progression for d-beat and crust punk.

This natural progression was also evident in Sweden. By the late 80's / early 90's, the country's death metal exploded. There were dozens and dozens of quality death metal bands producing demos and then moving on. Some would go on to become headline acts like Entombed, Dismember, Carnage, and Grave. Even in the early going it was clear that these bands bore a punk influence. Entombed's earliest incarnation, Nihilist, used d-beats and showed what a fusion between the two looked like in the Scandinavian country. Sweden's death metal scene is so essential and expansive that its only comparison can be to the New York hardcore scene of the same era. There is virtually no throwaway during this time period. Every demo is required listening. Every piece of ephemera and anecdote worth catalog and discussion. This point is driven home by the fact that there have been two books written to exclusively discuss the Swedish death metal scene. The first is Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth and the other Encyclopedia of Svensk Dods Metall by Nicola Constantini (this fabulous volume exclusively covers Swedish death metal demos from 1988-1992 only). Sweden's scene did not take the big plunge into the realm of metal like the UK did. Rather the two scenes stayed relatively divorced from one another. Outside of Anti-Cimex's Scandinavian Jawbreaker which featured a cleaner sound and bore some elements of thrash to it, the punk scene continued to do its own thing.

Enter Disfear.

Forming around 1989, Disfear took elements from both crust and death metal scenes to effectively reinvent the Swedish sound. It is from Disfear's influence that we have seen the likes of Martyrdod, Warcollapse, Wolfpack (now Wolfbrigade), and countless others. Disfear simply took the things that made the Swedish death metal scene so effective such as ferocious / anxious vocals and pummeling drums and put them into the arena of d-beat punk. The result added new dimensions to the genre's sound. First, it took the genre's immortal war aesthetic and added vocal inflection of legitimate horror and dread to it. When bands like Discharge talked about war, it wasn't a sight to behold so much as it was a political point to be made. Taking the vocal inflection of a genre whose primary aesthetic is the morbid and macabre and applying it to lyrics about the reality of war was a logical and appropriate connection that Disfear made. The second thing Disfear did was place more emphasis on the drums. While the band's first release, a self-titled EP, didn't actualize this vision, the band's second release, A Brutal Sight Of War EP realized the band's original goal for the drums. On A Brutal Sight of War, the band weaponizes its drums. The drum mix is turned up and its sound lowered. The band wanted the drums front and center to use as artillery. Much like in death metal, the goal of the drums is to put a beating on the listener. In most genres, drums are used to keep the rhythm and beat going, but in death metal the drums have been used to impose the band's tone rather than simply keep it.

Arriving on the scene in Sweden, the band would tour with much of Sweden's metal royalty such as Entombed and Dismember. This happened in part because the band did not have many sonic contemporaries in Sweden at the time. Another innovation made by Disfear was the shift from political commentary on war to the fatalistic and psychological impacts war makes. Again, the band's lyrics also showed influence from the realm of death metal. Gone were the cries for peace and protest against government warmongers and replaced by the resignation that the war was lost. The band's debut LP Soul Scars spells this out perfectly. Themes of psychological trauma and irrevocably broken lives from war replaced the politically charged battle cries that Discharge once made. The band's next album Everyday Slaughter, released in 1997, would prove to be the band's swansong as the entity it began as. The band would lose drummer Robin Wiberg and, more importantly, its original vocalist Jeppe Lerjeurd. While Tomas Linberg (of At The Gates fame) would be Lerjeurd's replacement, the band was never really the same following the 1998 departure of Wiberg and Lerjeurd.