Built To Last

New York City hardcore could never have been born anywhere else. The music was built in the city, for the city. It came stripped-down, muscled-up, and overloaded with all of the frantic energy and violence of the streets. It was designed to intimidate. The musicians were homeless, AWOL, and just plain crazy street kids who felt fed up with the chaos of early ’80s New York. President Reagan’s economics had knocked the poor to their knees. Unemployment and a raging drug epidemic tried to finish the job. New York hardcore gave that madness a voice. It took form slowly, in shitty clubs and even shittier rehearsal rooms. Agnostic Front built the sound and the snarl. The Cro-Mags gave it spirituality. Murphy’s Law made it fun. Every word meant something. When Cro-Mags vocalist John “Bloodclot” Joseph sang, “Strugglin’ in the streets just trying to survive/Searchin’ for the truth is keepin’ us alive,” you felt it. The handful of bands took over clubs such as Rock Hotel, Max’s Kansas City, A7 (where the motto over the door read “Stay in peace or leave in pieces”), and later moved to the Mudd Club, Pyramid Club, and CBGB’s. Other kids picked up the sound and built on it, giving birth to Sick of It All, Gorilla Biscuits, Madball, and others. INKED caught up with a few of the faces that built New York City hardcore at the tattoo shops, temples, and beaches they now call home.
VINNIE STIGMA » Agnostic Front
AGE: 52
PHOTOGRAPHED: New York Hardcore Tattoos, New York City
RECOMMENDED LISTENING: Agnostic Front Victim in Pain

THEN: “I always used to talk shit with Johnny Thunders about making meatballs,” Agnostic Front guitarist Vinnie Stigma (real name Vincent Cappucchio) jokes about the deceased musician. “I still make better meatballs than him.” Nearly ten years older than most of the musicians in hardcore, Stigma is the godfather, a true New York City character and one of the few from the scene old enough to catch the city’s ’70s punk scene. “I saw everybody,” Stigma says. “The Dead Boys. Johnny Thunders. Everybody.” Raised in Little Italy, Stigma played with his first band, The Eliminators, before forming Agnostic Front with musicians he hand-picked, including iconic frontman Roger Miret. “We played our first show in 1981,” he says, remembering the when but not the where. “It was probably in some basement on the Lower East Side. Maybe the 2+2 Club or A7.” Agnostic Front appearances were notorious for chaos. “We had a big riot at the Palladium once,” Stigma says. “The bouncers were being assholes to the kids, so we flipped on them. They had to call in the police. It was one of many riots.” In 1983, Agnostic Front released United Blood, considered the first New York hardcore record, which led to a string of tours, albums, break-ups, and reunions. “I had other bands but once I started Agnostic Front, after all these years, it’s my life.”FIRST TATTOO: “I was about 16. I got a dragon on my arm. Over the years, I’ve seen tattoos come and go, change styles, and even change the way they’re made. Forget about it.”

NOW: Co-owner, with Murphy’s Law singer Jimmy Gestapo, of New York Hardcore Tattoos on the Lower East Side. They are currently fi lming a TV pilot about the shop. Stigma’s acting debut in the gangster movie New York Blood premiered at the 2008 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival and is now on DVD. He performs with his new band, Stigma.

AGE: 40
PHOTOGRAPHED: New York Hardcore Tattoos, New York City
RECOMMENDED LISTENING: Murphy’s Law Murphy’s Law
THEN: “I’ve been hanging out on the Lower East Side since I was 13,” explains Murphy’s Law singer Jimmy Gestapo (real name Jimmy Drescher). Born in Queens, Gestapo was still a teenager when he worked the door and the DJ booth at A7. “It was an illegal after-hours club,” Gestapo says. “Myself and Raybeez, from Warzone, worked the door. We spray-painted on the wall above the stage, ‘Out-of-town bands, remember where you are!’” During a 1982 New Year’s Eve show featuring MDC and Reagan Youth, Gestapo jumped on stage with friends and made up songs. “It just kept rolling from there,” he says. “That was my first and only band.” With songs such as “Beer” and “Panty Raid,” Murphy’s Law became New York’s party band with Gestapo appearing on stage with a chainsaw, giant dildo, and other props. Their wild shows led to a tour with the Licensed to Ill-era Beastie Boys and plenty of out-of-town trouble. “We had a full-scale riot in Fort Lauderdale,” Gestapo remembers. “The kids threw everything into the pool. The cops beat the shit out of me and threw me in jail. We had to play lots of shows to pay that off. The funny thing is that the opening band was Marilyn Manson.

FIRST TATTOO: “I got my first tattoo in Vinnie [Stigma]’s kitchen. It’s a duck on my ass. It was the second tattoo that Elio Espana [of Fly Rite Tattoo Studio] ever did. I got it on my ass because I was 14 and my father didn’t want me to have a tattoo. But by the time I got home he already knew because my friend ratted me out.”NOW: Co-owner, with Agnostic Front guitarist, Vinnie Stigma, of New York Hardcore Tattoos on the Lower East Side. The shop is currently fi lming a TV pilot. “Our shop is the way it’s supposed to be, where you begin a friendship with the artist and you hang out with them and have a relationship with them. It’s a scene and a family.”

AGE: 41
RECOMMENDED LISTENING: Sick of It All Built to Last

THEN: “None of us fit in at school,” remembers Sick of It All guitarist Pete Koller about his introduction to hardcore. “One day Armand [Majidi, Sick of It All drummer] told us to come with him to CBGB’s to see some bands play. That was it. You put up with shit at school and at home, but Sunday was when you met up with your friends. It was the one place where we all belonged.” Born and raised in Queens, Koller started Sick of It All at 17 with his brother, singer Lou Koller. “I learned a barre chord and thought, ‘Let me see what I can do with this,’ and I wrote ‘Friends Like You’,” Koller explains. A year later, in 1986, they played their first show in Long Island, sharing a bill with Youth of Today and Straight Ahead. Koller also saw some legendary shows. “The record release show for Agnostic Front’s Victim in Pain was absolutely fucking insane,” he laughs. “As soon as I saw the crowd I knew, ‘This is where I want to be.’ That was the first time I saw people with tattoos on their heads. It was fucking great.” Nothing about the crowd surprised him. “Listen to the Cro-Mags demo or Agnostic Front’s United Blood,” says Koller. “It’s 20 percent musician and the rest is all psychopath. There’s something very disturbed about being into hardcore.”

FIRST TATTOO: “I was 18. It was still illegal in Manhattan so I went to Long Island. I got a crappy skull on my chest that cost me $10 and I had to scrape around for that $10. Later, me and Toby [Morse] from H20 let Civ [singer, Gorilla Biscuits] practice tattooing on us.”
NOW: After 22 years, Koller is still touring and recording with Sick of It All. The band recently released Death to Tyrants on Abacus Records. “This is what we do and this is what we like to do. It’s in the fi bers of our body.”

AGE: 39
PHOTOGRAPHED: Lotus Tattoo, Long Island, NY
RECOMMENDED LISTENING: Gorilla Biscuits Start Today

THEN: The frontman for one of New York City’s most-treasured hardcore bands almost missed his chance to join. “I never thought about starting a band until I was asked. I had no real musical aspirations,” explains Civ (real name Anthony Civarelli). “Walter [Schreifels, guitarist] moved to New York and told me he wanted to start a band and asked if I wanted to sing. I thought, maybe.” When someone else offered to take his place, 17-year-old Civ joined rather than be left out. Born in Queens and raised on metal and early ’80s hip-hop, Civ drifted into new wave (“Because the chicks were hot”) before finding punk and hardcore. “The first show I went to was at CBGB’s in 1985. The bill was Agnostic Front and Youth of Today,” he remembers. “I saw what was happening at the shows and thought, this shit is for me.” He bought his own stereo and his first record, Murphy’s Law’s debut album. “Playing that for the first time on my own stereo sticks out in my mind. I played it a lot.” After overcoming his stage fright, Civ performed in a basement for a friend’s birthday party before Gorilla Biscuit’s first official CBGB’s gig with JFA and Token Entry. “There wasn’t a formula or a protocol or a way to act,” Civ explains. “It was just people doing what they felt. You never knew what was going to happen. The rules were just being written.”

FIRST TATTOO: “The cover art from the Gorilla Biscuits seven-inch was my first tattoo. Hot Cindy from Peter Tattoo in Long Island did it. Then I started tattooing and all the guys who hung around wanted to get tattoos because it was free or really cheap.”
NOW: Tattoo artist and owner of Lotus Tattoo in Long Island, NY. “I’ve owned Lotus for 14 years,” says Civ. He hasn’t given up hardcore. A Gorilla Biscuits reunion show before the closing of CBGB’s led to a U.S. and European tour. “We’re doing everything leisurely. It’s just us. Want to do it? Cool. Let’s go.”

AGE: 45
PHOTOGRAPHED: Sri Sri Radha Govinda Temple, New York City

THEN: Cro-Mags singer John “Bloodclot” Joseph is the product of nearly every social institution. Born in Queens, Joseph (real name John Joseph McGowan) bounced from foster homes and orphanages to the Navy and prison.“ I was so crazy that the night we shipped out, I bought three bags of angel dust and went to boot camp dusted,” Joseph remembers. He went AWOL in Virginia and plugged into D.C.’s punk scene before returning to New York City as a roadie with the Bad Brains. “Nobody ever could or ever will fuck with those guys when they are burning on all cylinders,” says Joseph. The band encouraged Joseph to sing. “I was trying to be a drummer but I sucked. [Bad Brains vocalist] H.R. told me in a nice way, ‘You got too much energy to be behind that drum kit.’” He hooked up with ex-Stimulator Harley Flannigan and the original Cro-Mags lineup. Their groundbreaking album Age of Quarrel mixed Lower East Side menace (“Street Justice”) with Joseph’s growing dedication to the Hare Krishna faith (“Seekers of the Truth”). Cro-Mags shows were infamous for their violence. “There wasn’t none of this moshing or whatever they call it now,” Joseph explains. “It was brutal shit. Stage diving feet first and taking motherfuckers out. It was insane. Totally fucking chaotic.”

FIRST TATTOO: “I was in boot camp in Great Lakes, WI. Me and this dude escaped and went all the way to Chicago. I got a tattoo on the outside of my left biceps that says “Death Before Dishonor” with a skull. We came back right before the morning muster. The Chief Petty Officer called me into his offi ce and said, “Let me see it.”
NOW: Last year, Joseph published his autobiography, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon (available at punkhouse.org), which details his turbulent life in orphanages, foster homes, jail cells, and his days in the Cro-Mags. This year, his new band, Bloodclot, released their debut CD, Burn Babylon Burn.

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