Words by Timmy Pamphlet
New York hardcore in the 1980s, and even into the 90s, was a goldmine for amazing demo recordings.
I’ve often wondered why New York was the one place with such a high volume of great demos, and I think that it comes down to environment and circumstance. Look at the place compared to the more polished record-releasing cities such as DC, Boston, LA etc, whose scenes were mostly populated of kids who, while still fucked up and disenfranchised, were from safer suburban backgrounds than their NYC counterparts.
Then there was the city itself, which by all accounts seems like The Warriors made it out to be nicer than it actually was. The photos and stories from the place between the early 1970s and the mid-90s are just insane. Crossing the river on the train to go to gigs in 2006 at Korova in Liverpool, I might have been made fun of occasionally for my appearance, and very rarely maybe even the threat of minor physical conflict. In 1982 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, you’d probably have to fight knife-wielding gangs outside A7, and have to swerve crooked coppers, crackheads and bums all the way home, most likely via what was renowned as being one of the most dangerous public transport networks of all time.
I think all of this, coupled with the relative lack of resources kids had compared to more affluent scenes such as DC, pushed the NYC kids to scrap together whatever they could whenever they could. They knew that Rick Rubin wasn’t gonna be knocking on their door any time soon, so why wait around? The result is some incredible raw recordings, and some of what I see as the most influential demos in rock history.
There was a few classic tapes in the early 80s of course, but really the golden era for this stuff was 1985-1989, when the scene was populated and evolving in a million different directions. I was born on the other side of the ocean while this was all going on, but I still love the aura (can’t believe I typed that) surrounding this shit; the raw sounds, the scrappy live sets, Don fucking Fury, the trading of members, the lineup changes, the mysterious demo only bands, the even more mysterious comp-songs-only bands, the style, the stories.
(I often wonder though, were they satisfied with these recordings? Or were they unhappy with tracks that are worshiped as hardcore canon over 30 years down the line? I wonder if MADBALL were striving to create ‘Infiltrate The System’ the whole time when they were recording ‘Ball Of Destruction’…food for thought)
Below I’ve attempted to put together a top ten of my favourite NYHC demos, including Don Fury live demos. This was very fucking difficult and I hope you can appreciate that. I must be some kind of sadist, I love punishing myself with impossible and pointless decision-making lists. Anyway, onwards.
TOP TEN NYHC DEMOS SORT OF IN ORDER BUT NOT REALLY:
THE ABUSED DEMO TAPE
Not to be that “I prefer the demo” guy all the time, but I really do prefer the Abused demo over Loud And Clear. The sound has so much bite to it, blown out to hell and the guitars cut like a chainsaw. Unfortunately you don’t get ‘Loud And Clear’ and ‘No End In Sight’, but you do get 12 other hits, the more vicious vocal delivery (especially this version of ‘Just Another Fool’) and it’s also got my favourite Abused song, RULE ON YOOOOOU!
BREAKDOWN ’87 DEMO
From just outside of the five boroughs comes arguably the most influential demo in hardcore. I’ve gone for this one over the Runnin’ Scared demo as I like it a bit more and I didn’t wanna include two from the same band. I can’t say much about this game changer that everyone doesn’t already know, but I can say this: most imitators disregard the PUNK aspect of this band, and always fall short as a result. Breakdown popularised that NY hiphop influenced bounce-beat style that’s never left hardcore since, and Perlin delivers some of the coolest vocals in the biz, further pushing the rap elements in places. The fast parts are sick, ranging from the wild NYHC paddle style to borderline D-beat, mixed in with slower groove bits and some of the hardest breaks of all time. Topped off with perfect raw production, this is hard to beat.
MADBALL BALL OF DESTRUCTION ’89
This one was comprehensively covered here (read, it’s a good laugh), but I’ll say a few words anyway. It might be mostly covers, but fuck, if your record is gonna be mostly covers then you can do worse than your big brother’s band AGNOSTIC FRONT. Call me mental, but I actually like this more than Victim In Pain. Only slightly more, but more all the same. Freddy was 14 bloody years old and it’s also Stigma’s best guitar work in my opinion, world’s worst opening chord included. Perfect songs, perfect production, perfect length, perfect HARDCORE!
WARZONE SOME RECORDS TAPE 1986
Another Don Fury special, this was a live-in-the-studio tape from 86, and features a lot of stuff that ended up on the ‘Don’t Forget The Struggle…’ LP. This one sounds fucking rough, but in the best way possible. At times I actually prefer listening to this over the LP, I think it gets that street vibe of the band across much more than the record does. This is worth listening to for the between-songs stuff alone. WARZONE ROCKS!
MERAUDER DEMO ’93
The latest entry in the list, but it’s just as classic as the rest, the infamous Merauder demo with Minus on vocals. This was probably the first example of a hardcore band taking influence from death metal bands of the day (with all the fast parts cut out!), just listen to that guitar break in ‘Life Is Pain’. The whole thing sounds so menacing, and just like Breakdown it’s a style often imitated but bands very rarely get close to hitting the mark. It’s not often to can listen to a band and just KNOW that they are bad lads. Just listen to that double kick part in Final War, unmatched fucking hardness!
NYC MAYHEM DEMO
Yeah ok so I am that guy, I like this more than STRAIGHT AHEAD. And I love Straight Ahead. Some of this is so retarded it doesn’t even begin to make sense. Riffs and songs just start and end whenever they feel like, at tempos that would have gotten them a speeding ticket even at the most extreme metal show in 1985. The intro to ‘Epileptic Death’ may also be the first use of the rap style bounce beat in hardcore too, would mosh. Probably have moshed in my room. I can never listen to this just once, I always wanna throw it straight back on when it finishes. FUCKIN LOSER PIECE OF SHIT FUCKIN DUMB SHIT SLOB PIG!
BIOHAZARD ’89 DEMO
Forget the faux-sketchy 1988 demo (actually has a lot of jams), this is the fucking one. If Breakdown popularised the bounce, Biohazard took it to the next level. Danny Schuler is one my favourite drummers in hardcore and he absolutely slays on this. I love the first Biohazard LP, but the production holds it back a bit, especially the triggered drums. No such problems here, this thing is raw enough that ODB would probably pit with no shoes on. I back the intro-into-another-intro style, with the second one being that “what the fuck IS this??” riff from the start of the FLOORPUNCH Final Mosh video. ‘Scarred For Life’ is a certified banger, and I love the early version of ‘Wrong Side Of The Tracks’. Fuck I love Biohazard, I wanna see them again and dive onto more dads in their fresh ‘Hazard merch.
AGNOSTIC FRONT DON FURY REHEARSAL ’84
Essential AF. I can only assume this was a rehearsal pre-Victim In Pain, and it captures their live sound perfectly, before the second guitar player and the metal influences. People rip Stigma for his guitar playing, but he sounds great on this, with solid blocks of songs that have no gaps. 17 song set, discipline! United Blood songs sound great a year on, along with the wealth of other material, and there’s that timeless between-song chat.
RAW DEAL 2ND DEMO
It was hard to choose between this and the first demo, but I went with the 2nd demo just cause ‘Brightside’ and ‘Backtrack’ are probably my favourite Raw Deal songs. The recording is pretty good for a demo, and this one probably has a little more bite than the first demo recording. Raw Deal was mostly made up of lads that played on the Breakdown ’87 demo, and it really comes across. I actually like Raw Deal a bit more than Breakdown, the songs are a bit more interesting and better written. A sick thing about RD is that they did the bounce beat thing, but they took it and mixed it up with melodic elements and sick rock parts, they were totally doing their own thing at the time.
YOUTH OF TODAY ’87 DON FURY DEMO
I know there’s always that argument that YOT weren’t a New York band, but I say bollocks. Yeah the lads were from Connecticut, but that’s only up the road really. Bon and the Youngs were from Scotland and AC/DC are Australian as fuck, so whatever. Anyway, this is yet another beautifully wavy Don Fury session, and it’s basically made up of CCME/BDTW stuff. One of YOT’s party pieces is their manic looseness, and you definitely get that in buckets here, along with one of the more unique Cappo vocal efforts. I love how clearly the bass came out on this as well, you can hear all the sick little noodles underneath the din. Basically this is just some of the greatest hardcore songs ever being smashed out live in a tiny room and it’s fucking amazing.