Interview with Brian Peterson: Author of Burning Fight By M.Avrg

Jan 18, 2011

The 1990s were an interesting time for hardcore punk. A lot of changes, good and bad, happened during those ten years. By 1993 hardcore was a very different beast from what it started out as. There were more divisions and genres. It wasn’t just hardcore punk anymore. There were bands that were more metal than punk, yet claimed they were hardcore. The straightedge scene really blew up, perhaps bigger than ever before.  And, some hardcore bands had traded in raw and fast for melodic. Emo became a dominant genre.

But, no matter what you listened to, the one uniting element in all of this were the many discussions occurring within the hardcore scene. People and bands were talking about sexism, class privilege, veganism, building community, spirituality, and more. Whether you liked these debates or not, you have to acknowledge people talked about things of substance instead of talking about record collecting. I like to think everyone during that time came away a different person as a result.

Brian Peterson had the insane idea of putting together a book on that decade, Burning Fight. I must admit I was skeptical about the book. However, when I started reading it, all doubts melted away. He did a great job capturing the climate of the times. As I read some of the interviews I found myself mentally debating what some of these folks said much like what I did back in that decade. Krishna and Christianity in hardcore? It’s a hot topic that was never resolved, but one that continues to get a reaction. It’s in the book from all sides. Animal rights? It’s in there as well. All the hot topics are presented within the pages and Brian did a great job of getting as many different voices on each subject represented.

What I like about this book is that it’s not some museum-type piece of a bygone era. Readers will have their opinions challenged and reinforced. I came away with some questions after reading the book, so I decided to get in touch with the author and get some answers.

Interview with Matt Average and Todd Taylor

M.Avrg: The obvious question—and one you must have been asked many times—why write a book on ‘90s hardcore?
Brian Peterson: Hardcore opened up the world to me in so many different ways. Just by becoming a part of the scene, I was immediately thrust into a variety of thought-provoking conversations that really opened my eyes to things like human rights atrocities from the past and present, the positive health and environmental impact of a vegetarian diet, the alarming trend of corporatization throughout the world, and spiritual and philosophical ideas that challenge notions of mainstream western thought. Exposure to these ideas pushed me to figure out what direction I wanted to go with my life.
Ultimately, I became a high school teacher and a writer. I credit my time in the scene—and the exposure to almost every conceivable political, philosophical, spiritual, and social perspective or idea—with helping me to do just that.
As for why to cover the ‘90s, the ‘80s era has been well-documented in books like American Hardcore and Dance of Days. Why not try to cover an era that hadn’t really been documented yet? I had never taken on a project anywhere near this scope. I’d written for some magazines—Punk Planet, Thrasher, Skyscraper, A.M.P.,Copper Press, Rockpile, and dozens of others—and websites but had never written an entire book. It was a daunting idea.
“Where the hell do I start?” I remember wondering. [laughs] But something about this era—these bands, these people, these ideas—pushed me to want to continue on with it. Every era of hardcore, of course, inspires the same feelings from people, but this was the era I really became myself. I was confused a lot as a kid, but this time in my life gave me the confidence to actually pursue the passions and ideas that interested me. I know many others who had similar reactions—then and now. If any era of any kind of art makes this kind of impact on people, it’s probably worth documenting.

Todd: What is in your curriculum that you can accredit to hardcore?
Brian: Not a lot of content specifically other than trying to get kids to understand principles like DIY and exposing them to a variety of viewpoints about political, social, and philosophical ideas; much like what happened to me in the scene.
M.Avrg: What, from your perspective, defines hardcore in the ‘90s?
Brian: I don’t know that there is one thing that “defines” ‘90s hardcore. For every example you give for a trend or movement, there are other examples of people who went the exact opposite route. That said; my overall impression of this era was that people were “searching”—searching for self, searching for new ways to express themselves artistically, searching for things to believe in. I suppose that explains every era of hardcore in one way or another. [laughs]
From my recollection, however, it seemed to be an era united and divided by movements within the scene. Sure, it was frustrating at times as there were a lot of heated debates, but it also pushed you to figure out who you were and what you believed in. While going to shows, meeting people from all over the country—and the rest of the world—reading zines, you had to think critically about how you felt about so many things
M.Avrg: I definitely agree that people were searching for something in the ‘90s, maybe even more so than the ‘80s, and what we have today. Debating seemed to rule the day, for sure. I was living in the Bay Area, which is really sort of like living in a bubble compared to the rest of the country. For me, that area, that place, was defined by what is and what is not politically correct: veganism, white male guilt and sexism, taking DIY as far as possible, and on and on. Did these same things affect where you were?
Brian: Every generation—whether they are involved with hardcore or whatever sort of subculture—is always going to be searching for truth, meaning, and purpose.
There were definitely a lot of debates happening in the Midwest. Whether it was about straight edge, animal rights, politics, religion, D.I.Y., race, gender, or sexuality, it seemed that every show featured really intense discussions.
I hear what you’re saying. There were definitely times when if a person didn’t fit into the guidelines of what many in the scene dictated as important—in the early to mid-‘90s it was probably straightedge and veganism—they probably weren’t taken as seriously by some. From my experience, I had friends who were on opposing sides of many of these issues and could often—sometimes after a long conversation—see each other’s point, even if they didn’t necessarily agree.
In their early shows, Racetraitor would literally castigate the crowd—they also pointed the finger at themselves, too—about people in the scene being privileged and, therefore, we all needed to recognize that we are all—hardcore/punk kids included—benefiting from the system of western colonialism. Many in the scene were bothered by that as they felt just by being involved in hardcore/punk they were immune to such criticisms, but the band brought up some interesting points. If we are truly to fight oppression and question our privilege, shouldn’t that constitute more than just buying records and going to shows?
Todd: Was there any solution to this? If you’re a product of a much larger society, the only action you have to rectify the situation is to move out of any western nation and never come back.
Brian: I don’t know. I wasn’t a member of Racetraitor and can’t speak for the band. Again, just trying to show an example for people to investigate on their own in the book.

Todd: Did any bands see the grey area between becoming ex-pats and becoming socially aware and living a conscientious life?
Brian: It seems that most have taken the latter approach, though I know some people— Kim Nolan of Bark and Grass fanzine, one of the members of Spitboy, and others—who moved to other countries to start a new life. Perhaps Racetraitor was extreme in their approach and possibly even dismissive of the nuances surrounding issues of the working class, but regardless—the intense way they brought up these topics made you uncomfortable and made you think, which was exactly the point. I think most of these debates about these and other issues were healthy and productive. Sometimes these conversations turned into arguments or feuds, but at least people were thinking about something.
Todd: Isn’t the drummer of Racetraitor now in an ultra-successful band? I can’t remember the fuckin’ name. Someone on Fueled By Ramen. Did he rescind his ideals?
Brian: Yes. Andy Hurley of Fall Out Boy. That’s a tough question. In some ways, I’d say yes because of their catering to mainstream trends as far as their sound. At the same time, the guy pretty openly speaks about political and environmental issues to a much larger audience than most from hardcore. Who knows how many people listen, but my guess is that at least a few do. But I’m not him or a member of his band. Just trying to get across what their overall message was at that time.
Todd: Were people in hardcore actually spending their lives beyond music into communities, activism, or large-scale reform?
Brian: Yes, many people moved on from the scene, but moved further into these issues. Jose Palafox (Swing Kids) has been an immigration rights activist, a writer, and a professor; Dan Yemin (Lifetime) is a child psychologist/therapist; Moe Mitchell (Cipher) is a community organizer in New York City; Mani Mostofi (Racetraitor) works on legal issues pertaining to the Middle East; David McClure (Downcast) and Alexia Exarchos are social workers; and A.C. Thompson is an investigative reporter. These and many others are involved in political or social work and/or pursued higher degrees in order to get involved in these issues on a deeper day-to-day level.
M.Avrg: What was your first exposure to hardcore, and what about it made it click for you?
Brian: My first exposure to hardcore was from my childhood friend, Dylan. I grew up in a town called Minot in North Dakota. I was really into hip-hop and was enamored with the socially conscious lyrics of groups like Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Paris, and many others. I loved how there was so much more to hip-hop than just a rhythm to dance to. Dylan found the same thing in hardcore/punk. He was a skater/BMX kid and tried to turn me on to the stuff he was into. I didn’t really understand the screaming at the time, but I appreciated the intensity of the music. A few years later I got into bands like Nirvana. I’d read interviews with them and they would talk about Black Flag, The Misfits, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Bad Brains—all that stuff that Dylan had played me a couple years earlier. Somehow it now all made sense.
What made it click for me? Probably the combination of intense music and thought-provoking and emotional lyrics. I remember hearing Henry Rollins screaming on one of Dylan’s tapes: “We are tired of your abuse. Try to stop us it’s no use.” Hearing Youth Of Today’s We’re Not in This Alone and their final 7” blew my mind, too—songs like “Prejudice” addressed racism, “Live Free” (“I want to live free—won’t settle for this mediocrity”) tackled blind patriotism and jingoism, “Modern Love Story” and “Envy” dealt with the darker side of relationships and our own desires.
I’ve always been attracted to music that conveys a personal or political message. When I started going to hardcore shows in the early’90s, there were all these bands saying things from the heart on stage and you felt like what they were saying really meant something to them.
One show in particular I remember was seeing the Midwest band Empathy at The Fireside Bowl in Chicago. I believe they were opening for Snapcase. They were a band that played a really emotional style of hardcore. Just before they were about to play, the band members informed the singer that this was  their last show. The singer, Jay Palumbo, looked like he was in shock—this thing that he loved was being torn away from him right in front of his eyes, with no warning, in front of a large crowd of people, and there was nothing he could do about it. He spoke from the heart about his shock. This wasn’t just an abstract political dialogue. it was his raw emotion and we were all sharing this moment with him and his band. Man, it makes me tear up just thinking about seeing that. [laughs]
Sure, there were probably a fair share of folks up there spinning their wheels, but I met many, many sincere folks who were trying to work out so many things in their music. Man, seeing bands like Guilt, Trial, Damnation A.D., Nema, M.K. Ultra, Coleman, Split Lip, Los Crudos, Drop Dead, Disembodied, and Falling Forward, you could literally feel the anger, sadness, elation, and frustration that was pouring from their hearts while they played. It sounds cheesy, but it was all there—echoing in the reverberations of screams and riffs.
I was a pretty shy kid and had a hard time fitting in anywhere, even in the scene early on. That said, hardcore enabled me to build up my confidence a bit and start talking to people more. The more people I met, the more I felt I found my home. That community aspect is so vital.

M.Avrg: Before we go on further, how would you define hardcore? Is it a style of music? A state of mind? Both?
Brian: It’s a combination of things. I don’t think there is one definite “sound” that defines hardcore, though I suppose there are parameters that you perhaps can’t step outside of. Intensity, energy, and volume are givens. I actually think hardcore is more about the ethics, ideas, and the community aspect. It’s kind of like KRS-One’s definition of hip-hop. It’s not just a genre of music—it’s a culture that surrounds the music.
M.Avrg: What was the first show you went to?
Brian: It was at a venue in the Quad Cities called Smile Coffeehouse. When I moved to the Quad-Cities, which are located on the Mississippi river on the border of Iowa and Illinois in 1992, I started to hear about these underground “alternative” shows—most of which were indie rock or alternative types of bands. I remember hearing the same thing in North Dakota, but I never actually made it to a show. I ended up meeting some kids who told me about Smile and this somewhat thriving underground music scene. So, I decided to check it out. I don’t remember exactly which out-of-town band played, but I remember a local band named Shove and a band they invited from out of town that featured a singer that blew fire out of his mouth when they started playing. Literally! Kind of a crazy show. [laughs] Soon after, I ended up meeting some amazing friends and playing in a hardcore band with them called Crosscheck. After that, there was hardly a show I missed for several years!
M.Avrg: Was there any particular idea or ideas from the ‘90s that you, to this day, abide by?
Brian: There are a lot of things from that era that play a role in my life today. The overall striving to search for self and how to improve my community plays pretty heavily in my life. I’m a high school teacher and try to give back the best I can on a daily basis. I’m still vegan, straight edge, and as politically and socially aware as possible. I never was militant about any of these things, but they are all still important to me.
There’s also a really positive vibe that often comes along with hardcore that has become ingrained in me, too. In life, we’re periodically faced with challenges. These challenges can easily get the better of us. I know I have my fair share of ups and downs. There were times that I felt like giving up, but, luckily, I had some really amazing friends there for me. It reminded me that all those lyrics about friendship, as cheesy as they sometimes are, really are important. Without having others to lean on once in a while, we can suffer greatly. But I can’t count the number of times that listening to a particular record, remembering some lyrics, or going to the right show gave me that lift I needed to keep me going. Still does.
M.Avrg: What do you think you may have been searching for when you got into hardcore? Did you find it?
Brian: I’d say I was on a search for “self.” I don’t know that I’ve found my “self” yet, but I know that hardcore has helped me further along the journey than just about anything else in my life. When I was younger, I felt isolated and alienated from a lot of mainstream culture. “Why the hell did it matter if you wore Guess jeans or not, right?” I remember thinking that in junior high. There was this unspoken pecking order in social groups and I always fell toward the “dorks”—mostly because I was quiet and didn’t speak up.
It took a long time for me to develop confidence in myself. I don’t know exactly why, but hardcore played a massive role in helping me do just that. I had all these curiosities and opinions about various things, but I lacked the know-how to formulate them properly. My experiences in hardcore taught me to question, debate, think, re-think, and speak up. I’ve always been a more introspective person who doesn’t like confrontation, but hardcore gave me some courage to stand up when I needed to. I remember there was another band in my local scene that used to play with my band. They were nice guys, and still are, but many of them seemed to be more into hardcore for the aggressive sound as opposed to the message. Some in this group even openly ridiculed bands that spoke on stage about politics or whatever. Anyway, there was some unspoken tension between our band and theirs because we felt that if you’re going to be into hardcore you should care about something—it didn’t matter what it was—but we felt hardcore should inspire you to learn, think, and grow.
So, we were all at a local show one Sunday night and someone in their band came up and asked our singer if we were pissed at them because this guy felt some “animosity.” Our singer, who normally was pretty blunt, just said, “Yeah, I don’t know what the deal is,” and played dumb about it. I was standing nearby and I found myself suddenly jumping in and saying, “No, that’s not true! In fact, we all need to go have a talk about this.” Everyone was shocked that I forced this conversation because I was normally the shy, awkward guy, but this music and my friends had taught me to speak up more, and so that’s what I did. We ended up talking it out and we all ended up sort of agreeing to disagree, but I was proud of the fact that I spoke up. I’m by no means any sort of brash, ultra-confident dude these days, but I realized that I am me, and even a dork like me can “take a stand,” as Youth Of Today once said, when something really matters.

M.Avrg: Were there some bands you had hoped to get in Burning Fight, but could not find? Did anyone refuse to be interviewed?
Brian: It would have been great to include Born Against, but Sam McPheeters declined to do an interview. I only had so much time and so many opportunities. Some people were more elusive than others. [laughs] I knew going in that I couldn’t talk to everyone, so I just tried to cover as broad a range of folks as possible and go from there.
M.Avrg: What, if any, criteria did you apply when selecting who you wanted in Burning Fight?
Brian: I wanted to focus on bands that played a role in some of the major debates of the era—straight edge, animal rights, DIY, politics, and spirituality. I talked to a lot of friends and even interviewees and asked their opinions about particular bands to talk to. Most of the ones in the book seemed to be on the minds of others, too. There were some pretty obvious ones from the era that were synonymous with these debates: Earth Crisis, 108, Shelter, Mouthpiece, and Downcast, but I also felt it was important to include some other bands that I felt were ignored at times over the years like Endpoint, Groundwork, Spitboy, and Disembodied.
As far as people in general, I wanted to get a diverse range of experiences—from both coasts, and the Midwest. I knew I couldn’t hit every scene or location, but I tried my best to cover a wide range of territory. If you look at the bands featured in the book, the split among West Coast, East Coast, and Midwest is pretty even.
M.Avrg: What about a band like Drop Dead? They were singing about animal rights and on the outspoken side of things politically. Plus their music was not typical of what was largely happening at the time.
Brian: Yes, they were an amazing band, but I just could not cover everybody. I contacted them through their website or MySpace but I never heard back from anyone. I saw them play in Chicago a couple of times in the ‘90s and they were amazing. It would have been awesome to include them. And you’re right—they do fit several of the themes I was focused on in the book, but it just didn’t happen. They are a band that an entire book could probably be written about unto themselves. [laughs] There were also space issues in the book. It’s already at about five hundred pages. I can’t imagine a book with too many more bands. It would be more like an encyclopedia, which was never my intention.
M.Avrg: When interviewing the bands about their perspectives, were you surprised by any revelations?
Brian: Everyone I talked to had interesting things to say, but I don’t know that anything anyone said really “surprised” me. Some people feel the exact same way about things as they did back in the ‘90s. Tim McMahon from Mouthpiece, for instance, is just as fired up about straight edge as he was back then. Kevin Doss from Downcast, for example, is a father and a firefighter in South Central L.A. Although, he hasn’t been in the scene for years, he risks his life for the lives of others every day. Sure, being a firefighter isn’t any sort of political statement, but hardcore also taught us to help others and give back to your community. If we limit the “giving back” to only people in our scene, then we’re cheating the impact hardcore’s influence can have on the world.

M.Avrg: How much influence did Hardline have on the scene? From the perspective of living in the Bay Area, they just seemed like some small blip that no one took serious. I get the sense it was different elsewhere. Did their ideas do more harm, or more good?
Brian: I suppose it depended on where you lived. Like anything else in hardcore—now or at any time—different movements and ideas become a bigger deal in certain areas. Hardline was a pretty big topic of discussion because of that organization’s militant stance on animal rights and their pro-life beliefs in the Midwest in the ‘90s. Some of the most outspoken members lived in Indiana and Tennessee and were members of Hardline bands like Raid and Hardball. They also took on active roles in animal rights activism and were mouthpieces for Hardline’s goals on stage and in zines.
Most seemed to reject Hardline as a movement due to its pro-life stance and puritanical stance on sexuality. At the same time, Hardline made people think about their own beliefs in regards to what they consumed. Anytime an extreme viewpoint becomes present in the scene, it forces everyone to take a stand, one way or another, and really think about the issue at hand and their own perspectives on these things. At the same time, too much militancy can burn people out and propel them to move away from the ideas altogether. They inspired a lot of both. [laughs]
M.Avrg: Was Hardline fascist and where did you, personally, stand on these issues?
Brian: I’m a writer trying to give an overview of these issues. People should check out the book and draw their own conclusions. My view of many of these topics is that they are all complex.
I thought that though some in Hardline had good intentions as far as human rights and animal rights activism, as well as diet. It became a cult-like organization that became more focused on minutia and calling others out—often, others who felt the same way they did about many of these issues—as opposed to affecting change on a broader scale. Even Sean Muttaqi of Vegan Reich, Steve Lovett of Raid, and Ryan Downey of Burn It Down and Hardball—three of the most influential people in that movement—all speak of their frustrations with these very things in Burning Fight, which is why they all left the organization.
M.Avrg: What about Krishna? You were living in the Midwest during this time. Did Krishna have any influence on people in the scene?
Brian: Krishna and the debate about spirituality and its role in the scene definitely played a big role in the ‘90s. Even people who hated Krishna—or Christianity—were exposed to the ideas and, at the least, these ideas made them firm up, or at least formulate, their own views. Conversely, many had their minds opened to spirituality by some of the Krishna ideas. They may or may not have become devotees, but they learned something new. Topics pertaining to karma, vegetarianism, and philosophy were really interesting and presented in an inclusive way by many Krishnas. For instance, I remember reading one of Vic Dicara’s zines and he wrote this really interesting and intense article about vegetarianism that broke down the issue so succinctly that it inspired me to give it a shot, something I had thought about for a while but had yet to try.
I think most in the Midwest—and probably other parts of the country—were at least curious enough to check it out for themselves. I remember being into 108 and Shelter and picked up some of the zines that were going around at the time like War on Illusion. I bought a Bhagavad-Gita at a show. I read it and thought it was a really amazing book. Its views on karma, self-realization, and searching within for one’s purpose were really inspiring. At the same time, I started to meet people who had experiences that were a bit sketchy with people from Iskcon (International Society of Krishna Consciousness). Some of them had had great experiences and learned a lot, but others had suffered psychological or physical abuse at the hands of a few corrupt people in the organization. Consequently, my interest faded in that particular institutional body, though I consider myself someone who respects spirituality, provided it’s being done for personal or community growth, as opposed to grappling for power or misuse. I’m attracted to spirituality, but at the same time repelled—mostly by all that has been done wrong in the name of these paths. I think a person can get something positive out of it if they choose to. But the problem is that no matter how “perfect” a spiritual path supposedly is, we’re all imperfect.
I can understand why people would be suspicious of Krishnas in the scene due to the bad experiences people often have with organized religion. Iskcon also has quite the checkered history with drug and kidnapping scandals in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And there were people in the scene who got into Krishna who have gone on to document some of the abuses in that organization—some of the people from 108, for instance. At the same time, Iskcon is just the western form of an eastern spirituality that goes back thousands of years. It’s also changed the lives of its practitioners for good. As long as people are using it to improve their lives, without infringing on the lives of others, then I think it can be a good thing.
M.Avrg: Were there many Christian bands in your area? The only ones I was aware of were the bands coming out of Orange County, like Focused and Unanswered.
Brian: There were several Christian hardcore bands in the Midwest. Some of the ones you mentioned—plus Strongarm—were from other parts of the country, but I know a number of kids from the Midwest who got into hardcore through hearing these Christian bands. Maybe they saw them at Cornerstone or heard about them in a religious music magazine? Whatever the case, these bands became popular in Christian circles first. Many of the bands and their fans only, or predominantly, listened to Christian music, and a lot of them rejected so-called “secular” hardcore, which is ironic because it’s not like hardcore developed only in the Christian music scene.
On the other hand, a lot of Christian hardcore kids found out about other hardcore bands that weren’t necessarily Christian because bands like Focused, Strongarm, Zao, Sustain, Training For Utopia, and others played shows with all kinds of bands. Eventually, a lot of these kids saw that that there was more to hardcore than just the Christian perspective. This didn’t necessarily mean that all these kids dropped their faith. Perhaps they developed a more nuanced and mature outlook on religion or spirituality due to interacting with many others in the scene who had other beliefs… or perhaps even none at all. Others, however, remained fixed on their original views and refused to consider any new ideas.
Anyway, I remember there being a general controversy in the ‘90s in the Midwest and in other areas because some people in the scene strongly felt that religion had no place in hardcore, while others felt that anyone could have a voice to scream about whatever was on their mind. Just like with any other population of a subculture, there were some cool Christian hardcore kids, some close-minded ones, and some who just didn’t have much of an opinion about substantive ideas but rather just enjoyed hardcore purely for the music. The same could probably be said for a number of vegan kids, political kids, and Krishnas.

M.Avrg: What about a topic like sexism? I feel like that was a confused topic of discussion for the decade. Somewhere in there, sex suddenly became bad. Like you had to justify your attraction to whomever, as long as it was not strictly a physical attraction.
Brian: I think hardcore had the same dilemmas that other subcultures and even the mainstream did in the ‘90s. Looking back, this problem you’re talking about stemmed from legitimate reasons. Our culture has always been male dominated and, naturally, when people gravitate toward a subculture, they are going to question these values. I remember the ‘80s being a very masculine, jock-oriented culture as far as the mainstream—it reminds me a lot of what is going on now, actually. People were pacified by Pac-Man, sports cars, Rambo, Magnum P.I., and their “toys.”
It was an extremely materialistic time period—at least that’s the impression that was pushed by the mainstream media: buy, consume, spend. There wasn’t a lot of value placed on deep thought, similar to what is going on now in the mainstream with this backlash against intellectual ideas and thoughts.
Anyway, a lot of the major issues that rose up in the sixties sort of got swept under the rug with this focus on materialism in the ‘80s. Punk, hardcore and other underground movements questioned this mindset. By the time the ‘90s came around, people in hardcore had already spent years questioning the status quo— including issues pertaining to gender.
Other movements in punk, such as Riot Grrrl, started to bring these issues to the forefront. There were a lot of amazing women in punk and hardcore who wrote zines, played in bands, or who just simply shared their experiences on a personal level. These perspectives not only influenced underground music, but they started to impact mainstream culture. Popular bands like Nirvana came from the punk scene and carried these ideas into the mainstream, even going as far to tell fans, in interviews and record liner notes, to “fuck off” if they were sexist or homophobic.
All of these views permeated hardcore in the ‘90s, which brought about a lot of amazing dialogue and awareness about gender issues. I personally remember meeting women at shows in the Midwest who spoke with me about their experiences in a male-dominated scene and society—judged by their looks, their ideas scoffed at in the scene or in classes at school. These experiences can be scarring and I try to always keep this in mind.
But, as you said, perhaps gender/sexism was a confused topic at times, especially in regards to how people applied these ideas to their personal relationships. Because many were more aware of these issues, there was more sensitivity about them, and maybe even some fear? There were, of course, some people in the scene who took these issues to an extreme—some bands even going as far as to charge men more money to get into their shows in order to help compensate for the inadequate gender balance and bias often associated with the scene—but the same thing happened with pretty much every issue at the time.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about hardcore is that it’s a scene of people—mostly kids—who are struggling to find their place in the world. They are going to fuck up, say outrageous things, piss each other off. It’s a given. We’re all imperfect. Personal introspection and evolution can be a painful process, but, overall, growth is positive.
M.Avrg: What in the ‘90s was a particularly Midwestern contribution to hardcore?
Brian: Because the Midwest is trapped between both coasts, where much of the most widely known hardcore had occurred in the ‘80s, there was a diverse mixture of sounds. Kids in the Midwest were just as influenced by the D.C./Dischord sound as they were by Black Flag. There was a unique blending of sounds from both coasts, as well as what was going on natively in the Midwest. Many of these bands had a large influence sonically, even if it took them breaking up for others to catch on. Threadbare, Coalesce, Endpoint, Guilt, Integrity, Metroschifter, M.K. Ultra, Cap’n Jazz, The Promise Ring, and many others not only influenced hardcore/punk but even a lot of music outside of the scene.
A lot of the memorable fests in the ‘90s took place in Ohio like More Than Music, Cleveland Hardcore Fest, and Krazy Fest. Fests now seem to be more of a coastal thing—This Is Hardcore, Sound And Fury—but most of the larger ones in the ‘90s happened in the Midwest.
M.Avrg: I remember hearing stories about Endpoint shows in the Midwest. That the crowds were massive and the energy was unbelievable. Could you confirm this?
Brian: Endpoint never came to the towns I lived in, and though they played Chicago a lot, my friends and I always heard about their shows too late. Remember, this was the early-’90s—before you could find out about most shows on the Internet. I was on some hardcore list-servs and e-mail groups, but unless we actually made the trip to Chicago for a show, we didn’t hear about many other shows. If we did hear about one, we’d go to it—at The Fireside Bowl or wherever—and we’d grab as many flyers as we could find for future shows.
M.Avrg: Also, I heard the complete opposite about Charles Bronson shows. That not many people seemed interested until they were breaking up. Any truth to this?
Brian: Charles Bronson shows were really fun. They were from DeKalb, about an hour west of Chicago. I remember seeing them play with Los Crudos and M.K. Ultra in DeKalb at the area university and being totally blown away. They played so fast and just had this aura to them that was a mixture of sarcasm, humor, and anger. They played a lot in Chicago and in other places in the Midwest. For instance, we had them play the Quad Cities a couple of times. They always sounded so tight, which was impressive considering how fast they played.
They started as a smaller band that was supported by a tight network of friends, but as they put out more records people everywhere started to take notice. They had a really unique aesthetic sensibility—record sleeves and liner notes—and played about as fast and furious as anyone. They also caused some controversy because of their lyrics. Mark McCoy touched on everything from Victory Records and their hatred of the label, to those he felt were posturing in the scene. The more they played and the more records they put out, the more people took notice.
They were one of those “word-of-mouth” bands that didn’t tour a lot, but kids in the Chicago/Dekalb area saw them and told their friends. Their blazing fast sound and unique, tongue-in-cheek artwork turned a lot of peoples’ heads. Just as they were becoming more popular, they broke up, which seems to be pretty standard for hardcore bands. [laughs] But word continued to spread and over time they’ve become a band people grew more curious about.
M.Avrg: What sort of crowd did Crudos draw in your region, and what were their shows like there?
Brian: Los Crudos shows were incredible. They brought out an extremely diverse audience—everyone from south side Latino punks to suburban straight edge kids. To this day, Los Crudos shows were some of the most memorable I ever attended. Their songs—well, all of them but one—were in Spanish but Martin would take the time to explain each song beforehand. He would talk about issues with immigration, racism, class, and poverty, but he spoke from an authentic perspective. And the way he delivered his message was so passionate and articulate. He just has a gift for communication—which is perhaps why it’s natural that he’s a high school history teacher now. So, on one hand, you’d go to a Los Crudos show and learn something. On the other hand, their music was extremely fast and intense, but with this sharp melodic edge that stuck in your head. Kids sang along, started circle pits, and all-around went nuts. I was fortunate enough to see them six or seven times and each show was memorable in its own way.
M.Avrg: What was your favorite show from that time period?
Brian: Is it a cop out to say that there were a dozen? Seriously, there were so many that it’s hard to recount. I could list a few: Los Crudos at The Fireside Bowl several times, Damnation A.D. in a loft in Chicago, Disembodied at Smile Coffeehouse, and then playing roller hockey with them afterwards, Trial playing with Modest Mouse—believe it or not—in the basement of a bar known as The Cavern—which was literally shaped like a cave.—Guilt in the basement of a church, Racetraitor playing an ARA Fest in Columbus, OH and then seeing them proceeding to call out the entire fest for political inconsistency—they felt that although the organization was anti-racist, many of the members were adamantly nationalistic—which led to skinheads rushing them and the show shutting down and turning into an all-night argument/discussion.
M.Avrg: What is the one album, or EP, that for you is the best record of the ‘90s? The one where when you hear it totally captures the energy and passion of that time?
Brian: I’m going to say that there were way too many records that represented that era to me. I couldn’t just choose one. However, some of the ones that I think capture the passion, energy, intensity, and spirit of the times are: Unbroken: Life. Love. Regret., 108: Songs of Separation, Groundwork: Today We Will Not Be Invisible Nor Silent, Inside Out: No Spiritual Surrender, Burn: Self-titled 7”, Endpoint: Catharsis , Downcast: Self-titled LP, Trial: Are These Our Lives?, and Los Crudos: Discography. Really, I could go on and on as I think there are dozens of examples of records that reflect this era.
M.Avrg: Are there any interesting discussions happening in today’s hardcore scene?
Brian: I still hear bands talking about political, social, and philosophical issues. Bands like Soul Control, Cipher, Liberate, Sick Fix, Coke Bust, Sin Orden, and The Effort all address political or socially relevant topics like immigration, the lingering effects of institutional racism, the political and business ties of corporations, and third world dictatorships. At times, the overall focus becomes more about moshing or fashion going on in the periphery, but even during those times there is always some sort of thought-provoking element that draws people in.
M.Avrg: From your point of view, what is the most important thing people could learn from the ‘90s?
Brian: That hardcore is, like the fest’s name, “more than music.” What do we do with all these ideas when we go home from a show? Are there ways to take all the passion, energy, and knowledge and transpose it in our lives outside the scene?
There are many examples of people from this era who did exactly that – Rob Pennington from Endpoint, for example, has been a special education teacher for over a decade and recently attained his doctorate in that field. Matthew Strugar from Virginia became an activist-friendly lawyer who has worked on the S.H.A.C. 7 ( several members of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty Group who went to prison for alleged “stalking” and “terrorism” charges were from and/or influenced by hardcore music) case and many other progressive issues. Brent Decker from Racetraitor works for a violence and gang outreach organization called Ceasefire and has helped train similar violence prevention organizations in Iraq and other areas of the world.
People like these, and many others, were inspired by a lot of the ideas from the scene. But instead of just yelling about them on stage, they took that passion and energy and have impacted people both in the scene and even more who have never even heard of hardcore. They grew as human beings but retained many of the core ethics that they formed during this time. When people can take these ideas and ethics to other people and places, it’s a wonderful thing!
M.Avrg: Any plans to write another book?
Brian: Yes, I’m currently working on some fiction ideas, as well as a couple things that are hardcore related. Greg Bennick and I are currently working on a book called Unrestrained. The book is an attempt to document exactly what I was saying in the previous question—how can hardcore inspire us to make changes on a broader level? We are interviewing dozens of people for the book and are inspired by what we are hearing.