An in-depth analysis of the history of Agnostic Front, interview with Spoiler (Stigmatism, Omegas, Justice, United Stance). This interview originally published in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 6 (2018). Pics by Crucial Times fanzine, Randall Underwood, Amy Keim, Krissy Bedell, Jessica Bard, Harley Flanagan.
CTM – Yo Spoiler! Could you please introduce yourself to the readers? And who is the greatest guitar player of all time?
Spoiler – What’s up everybody it’s me, the Spoiler! The greatest guitar player of all time is VINNIE STIGMA!!! If you like Hardcore you might know me as the bassist in Justice, Omegas ormy new band Stigmatism, our E.P. comes out this summer on Beach Impediment, what’s up Big Shub!!!
CTM – What was your introduction to Agnostic Front? Was it love at first sight?
Spoiler – In the early nineties I was the youngest in a family of metalheads growing up in Northern Belgium. My dad and older brother always bought copies of a Dutch metal magazine called Aardschok and they had a Skinhead on staff who reviewed and interviewed Hardcore bands. His name was Onno Cro-Mag. I was into Death Metal, but I had just missed the golden era and now all the bands were putting out their progressive bullshit albums. So I was bored with Metal and starting to learn about Hardcore. It sounded a lot more fun, but I hadn’t actually heard much of it. I had a Sheer Terror tape since I was 12 but thought it was Metal. Then a high school buddy made me a tape with Citizens Arrest and Slapshot and I got more interested in Hardcore. In 1996 I switched schools and at my new school there were a few Skinheads and Punks who I befriended right away. One of the Skinhead girls named Lies sold me her Agnostic Front Last Warning CD for cheap andI loved it right away. At first I was more into the live recordings because they had crossover appeal to me as a metal head, but soon I fell in love with the bonus tracks: the United Blood EP. There was something so raw, so insane about the music. I had heard Punk bands like the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys and Chaos UK who I liked, but thought were silly. To a metal head, Punk music sounded like a contest to be the most obnoxious. The United Blood EP was different. It sounded like Punk, but there was nothing silly about it. It was intense, it was tough, it was a real mess. I fell in love with it and I still love it to death.
CTM – Agnostic Front took the sound of the streets to the masses. Abandoned tenements, drug raids and overdoses, the homeless on the Bowery, social change without social media, decadence and general full-scale mayhem. The early Agnostic Front records really capture the vibe of New York and all its boroughs in the ’80s. What do you think made the band so unique in that timeframe?
Spoiler – It’s like Vinnie says in the Flipside interview: Agnostic Front are from the ghetto. Those guys came from poor families and hard lives. It shows in the music, not only because they were expressing their reality, but also in the more literal way – these guys didn’t have money for good equipment, practice time at nice studios or music lessons. A lot of people from the early NYHC scene came from more artistic backgrounds. They weren’t rich, but they came from arts communities, parents who played music. There was nothing artistic about Agnostic Front in that sense, but of course that allowed for a really raw and pure expression of their lives.Agnostic Front didn’t want to be artistic. They didn’t event want to be musicians. They were angry street kids who wanted to mosh. That’s the one thing that truly set Agnostic Front apart from their contemporaries: Vinnie Stigma picked his band members exclusively on their capabilities as moshers, with absolutely no regard for for their musicianship. Vinnie was a visionary who could see that moshing, the interaction between band and audience was the biggest difference between Hardcore and Punk. There were already bands playing Hardcore music, there were already mosh parts, but Vinnie was the first to pay attention to the moshers themselves. He realized they were as important to the scene as the bands, and they understood the music better than some of the musicians.
CTM – They recorded the final version of “United Blood” on June 3 1983, and the EP came out in November 1983. When the band released “United Blood”, they started using the term “hardcore” because they wanted to separate AF from the druggy and artsy punk scene. Content, lyrics and message wise why do you think this record is exponentially important?
Spoiler – The United Blood EP has to be the most powerful music ever recorded by people who couldn’t play their instruments. At that point in time, all Punk and Hardcore bands said they couldn’t play because it was still the era of arena rock, when the standard of playing music was Led Zeppelin or The Eagles. In comparison, of course Hardcore bands couldn’t play. But looking back at it now, a lot of early Hardcore bands like the Adolescents, the Bad Brains or Die Kreuzen for instance were phenomenal musicians. Compared to those bands, Agnostic Front could actually not play. But somehow, they were able to create an incredibly powerful, menacing, insane sound. They were inspired by DC bands like Iron Cross and SOA who also couldn’t play, but those bands seemed to know what their limits were. Agnostic Front did not. They played like they were in a fist fight with their own limitations. Raybeez couldn’t keep a beat to save his life, but instead of sticking to simple beats he tried to overcome himself by playing really chaotic, busydrum beats with a bunch of crazy drum fills all over them. Agnostic Front didn’t want to admit they couldn’t play, not to themselves and not to you. Other early New York Hardcore bands who couldn’t play were goofy kids who sang funny lyrics about how they couldn’t play. Agnostic Front were Skinheads who sang about how they were going to beat you up. Their message was simple: people had been fucking with them their entire lives and they weren’t gonna take it anymore. The intense atmosphere around this record changed NYHC forever. It showed people that you didn’t need to make fun of yourself for not being good at something that you cared about. It showed that you could make a statement even if you had nothing.
CTM – If we are talking about Agnostic Front, then we must talk about the Psychos too. Before the “United Blood” EP, the Psychos were a better and more popular band than Agnostic Front. “Discriminate Me” and “Fight” originally were the Psychos songs, finally both songs ended up on AF’s classic debut 7 inch. The Psychos are the true representation of what NYHC sounded like back in early 80s, but they are really underrated. What’s the reason for this?
Spoiler – The Psychos could never keep a line-up together. Every time they gained some momentum, someone would quit the band and they would have to start over again with a new member. The core member of the band, Billy Psycho, was an actual psycho and I imagine it wasn’t easy being in a band with him. They were like NYHC bootcamp, you started out playing in the Psychos and then you would start your own band.
The Psychos at A7 (Roger on bass)
CTM – “The socially relevant message of Agnostic Front: we were all underdogs and it was us against the world.”Agnostic Front against society’s system (“Remind Them”), Agnostic Front against the NYPD (“Blind justice”), Agnostic Front against anyone else (“Your Mistake”). These early AF songs took the us-versus-them mentality, they hate society and they are here to fight. What’s your opinion on this?
Spoiler – Agnostic Front’s message can be summed up in one quote from their hero band, Iron Cross: Unite Against the Enemy. Roger always told his crowd we’re all in this together, and I’ve always, to some extent, believed in the message of unity that Agnostic Front spread throughout their lifespan. I have always interpreted it as an all-inclusive invitation to anyone who genuinely doesn’t feel at home in greater society and wants to create something better for those who feel the same. As I get older, and live through the terrifying political climate of 2018, I can’t help but see mistakes in the way that Agnostic Front applied their idea of unity. Whether you’re talking about the NYHC or the society you live in, you can’t tolerate extreme right wing ideologies. In the eighties, AF allowed that to an extent, because those people said they’re also underdogs, and they deserved to be part of that underdog scene. But these kinds of people don’t have good intentions towards everyone else in thecommunity. They’re there to spread hate. They’re against the unity, or the inclusiveness that’s allowing them to be there in the first place. When it comes to Hardcore, these people’s politics are directly against the people of colour that created the original NYHC scene and music in the first place. So in that sense, I think the us-versus-them mentality can be dangerous if you aren’t careful with who you allow to be on your side. But I understand that the eighties were a confusing time and I’m glad we can learn from their mistakes. It’s important to talk about, but it shouldn’t be the focus. Agnostic Front did so many positive things for Hardcore and Punk and I’ll always be grateful. We still have to unite against the enemy, but remember who’s the enemy.
CTM – Stigma still lives at the same address printed inside the gatefold sleeve of Victim In Pain. A few years ago I visited NYC, I knew that I wouldn’t have much free time so I decided to use in a way that would fit my tastes in the best way possible. My first thing was to go to Little Italy, and ate some meatballs at Cafetal on Mott Street. Vinnie Stigma lives upstairs of this building, but he wasn’t home.
Spoiler – He was probably cooking some meatballs!
CTM – Stigma was sometimes criticized for not being able to play well. What do you think about the United Blood 7″ and Victim In Pain album musically? Critics deride Vinnie Stigma’s guitar talents, or lack thereof but Stigma is the only guitarist on those classic first two Agnostic Front records.
Spoiler – United Blood and Victim In Pain are easily their best records. People who make fun of a guitarist like Vinnie Stigma are the kind of people who will never write a good song in their entire lives. These are the people who spend all their time worrying about technique, guitar tone, pedals and gear. They can flawlessly imitate every guitarist they worship, but no one will ever know their name. None of that bullshit matters if you can’t write a good song. Vinnie Stigma didn’t need anything to create the sound that changed music forever. It was just him and his visionary mind, sitting at his mother’s kitchen table in Little Italy in 1977, writing Power. The people that make fun of bad guitarplaying will never understand the absolute genius of a song like Power.
CTM – What do you think about the infamous cover of “Victim In Pain”? The cover was taken out of a World War Two book, and lot of people misunderstand that. (The original picture of “Victim In Pain” was a completely different cover, it was a picture of Miret on top of the crowd at CBGB’s.)
Spoiler – I have never understood the controversy. It’s an image of victimization on an album called Victim In Pain. It’s an image showing the horrors of fascism on an album with anti-fascist lyrics written by a person of colour. What is the controversy? In 2018, we could say that the victim in the photo is Jewish, and none of the band members in that line-up are (their former bassplayer Adam Mucci is), so you could say it’s cultural appropriation – but in 1984 no one cared about that, so what was the controversy then? You could say it exploits war imagery, but what classic Punk album doesn’t? Would they say the same about Crass or Crucifix records? I think it was really a matter of people wanting to believe that they were Nazis using a photo of a Nazi, and they didn’t want to listen to what Roger and the band had to say about it. They believed the gossip mill in the pages of MRR, written by a guy who performed in a Hitler moustache!
CTM – “Victim In Pain” has just come out at the time when Roger Miret was asked to join the Cro-Mags and sing for them. (He played bass for the Cro-Mags first show when Eric Casanova was the singer, Paris was on guitar and Harley played drums.) What would have happened if Roger had joined the Cro-Mags?
Spoiler – The Cro-Mags would not have been as good with Roger singing, and Agnostic Front would not have been as good with someone else singing. Everyone made the right choice. The Cro-Mags sound was much more developed, with much more going on rhythmically than AF’s music. Roger’s singing style is straight forward and simplistic, and it would not have matched the Cro-Mags music that well. But it works perfectly for Victim In Pain. Even as frontmen, the Cro-Mags needed John Joseph’s wide range of high energy moves to go with the rhythms. Miret has a more laid back, straight forward style that doesn’t rely as much on moves but on pure charisma, exactly like AF’s music.
To be continued soon!