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DVD Review: N.Y.H.C.

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The classic documentary N.Y.H.C. was released this year on DVD. It was originally an hour and a half film. This two-disc release from Halo Eight features that film plus previously unreleased live performances, deleted scenes, bonus footage, and director's commentary from Frank Pavich. Eight hours. EIGHT FREAKIN' HOURS OF NEW YORK HARDCORE! The interviews and performances include Crown of Thornz, District 9, Madball, No Redeeming Social Value, 108, 25 ta Life, Vision of Disorder, Murphy's Law, Agnostic Front, and The Cro-Mags. Best of all are "where are they now?" follow-up interviews with Roger Miret, Freddy Madball, Lord Ezec, Rick ta Life, and others.

This is an excellent documentary and in fact has won several key awards at film festivals around the world. Like Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization, it examines a vibrant music scene as it is happening. Unlike that film, however, where it seemed that Spheeris was an outsider, Pavich seem to be on intimate terms with the subject he is exploring. And although American Hardcore was also made by insiders and the book's author Steven Blush says "[it] ain't no revisionist history," it is inevitable that some measure of rosy nostalgia affected the interviews. N.Y.H.C. doesn't pretty it up. It never was pretty, anyway.

Although there is a distinctive New York hardcore sound, the bands and the band members' lives were diverse. From suburban Long Island kids to South Bronx Puerto Ricans, from Hare Krishnas to beer-swilling drunks, from parents to the childless and hoping to stay that way… what all of these people had in common was hardcore. The filmmakers' question, "What is hardcore?" got many answers, but the bottom line is, as Rick ta Life (25 to Life) summed it up, "This music is not for everyone." A 108 member described hardcore as "no frills… the essence" and felt that his Hare Krishna practice and hardcore were one and the same. Kevin Gill (SFT Records) echoed the continuing DIY ethic derived from punk in discussing how neighborhoods were turning into collections of chain stores, and how hardcore rejects all that.

While some of the interviews were more serious, others were funny. Lord Ezec (aka Danny Diablo) of Crown of Thornz was very entertaining. From his early comments ("Hardcore has some of the ugliest people…") to his "where are they now?" interview in Los Angeles, where he lives with a one-eyed pit bull named Ajax, his reflections on his bands, lyrics, and life were hilarious. (By the way, his band Skarhead is performing at Studio B in Brooklyn this Saturday, May 24, with Lordz of Brooklyn, Maximum Penalty, and others.)

It was tough to watch interviews with the guys in District 9. Those kids had it hard. It was good to see the later interview with Myke. Glad to see he's still kicking it.

Instead of interviews with one band at a time, as with Spheeris' film, N.Y.H.C. is loosely arranged by topics that flow into one another. The musicians discuss things like the scene, side jobs, spirituality, boozing and chasing women, labels, money, and tattoos. Some of the transitions are jarring. For example, the film shows No Redeeming Social Value band members performing with their pants around their knees and their junk hanging out (drunk, of course) and then shifts into profiling 108, a straightedge Hare Krishna band. Kinda makes your head spin. Diversity, right?

Although the bands profiled are '90s-era hardcore, the film includes interviews with Roger Miret and John Joseph. Their bands, Agnostic Front and The Cro-Mags respectively, were still active in the '90s but were established in the previous decade. Miret is interviewed in the hospital after breaking his back at a Madball show. Now, Agnostic Front is still touring. The band will be in Europe in July. Some of the other bands in this film have broken up, however.

And speaking of Madball, there are pictures of a seven-year-old Freddie Madball singing with his brother Roger's band, Agnostic Front.

The second disc contains updated interviews, among other treats. Toby H2O is interviewed with Freddie Madball, but unfortunately Sick of It All is not profiled in the original documentary. All of the interviewees comment on the decline of the New York scene, with the loss of important venues and perhaps the negative influence of Guiliani. In fact, the musicians all commented on how they played outside the city much more often than in the city. All music scenes ebb and flow, so I guess that's to be expected. There's some rosy nostalgia, but most of the artists are still living the life and creating music. But I guess with age, things change a little: as Freddy Madball said, "I can't wait for the day when I can sing about the Rolexes."

Highly recommended.

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