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Interview with DJ Spermicide – Part II.

DJ Spermicide (Marlene Goldman) interview originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 4. (You can read the first part of the interview here: Part I.)

CTM – Please tell me a bit about the early history of Crucial Chaos. When did you join the station? How did you start your radio program? How was the first broadcast? Who was the first guest/band in the studio?

DJ Spermicide – I was a journalism major and went up to the newspaper to see about joining. It looked dreadfully boring and across the hall was the radio station, which looked a lot more fun, so I decided to pursue that instead. When I joined the radio station there was nothing in the way of a punk or hardcore show. I joined the radio station as a volunteer in 1985. To get a time slot back then you had to start on the AM station, which was only broadcast to the NYU dorms. You had to make tapes of yourself as air checks for the program director to review. I wanted to host the New Afternoon Show, but it was faster to get on FM if you had a specialty show. I proposed Crucial Chaos and since there was a void at the station, I was given the Thursday night time slot for the show. My first broadcast was hectic and nerve wracking, but it was a lot of fun. Murphy’s Law came up to the show and brought pizza and beer and their then new album release, which we had played on the New Afternoon Show, as well. Green vinyl, I remember, so it was hard to see where to cue up the songs.

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CTM – Why did you choose this name for the radio program?

DJ Spermicide – Back then the word Chaos was being used a lot by bands as was the word Crucial. I thought the two words together would perfectly describe the idea of the show—crucial to a music scene that didn’t have a radio voice in NYC at the time and chaos because I knew playing one-minute or shorter songs would be just that.

CTM – Freddy Alva told me that your sidekick on air was Johnny Stiff, an old school Punk Rock dude who’d been around since the beginning and booked some legendary shows. He was famous for being cranky to people calling in to the show. Please tell me about him!

DJ Spermicide – Stiff! He was just as you are describing, a cranky old-school punk rock guy who had booked shows and drove vans for bands and had tons of contacts in the scene. When I first started Chaos I went down to the CBs hardcore matinee every Sunday with promotional flyers about who was going to be on the air the next week and when the show was, etc… Stiff had heard about the show and asked if I needed any help answering phones, putting away records and all that. I really did need tons of help on those fronts and once he started getting involved he was key in getting a lot of the bands to come up for interviews and live sets. He was also good at helping keep order in the studio when there were a dozen kids or whatever cramming in the tiny space.

CTM – As far as I know it was an important concept that you had a kind of anti-mainstream, outsider mentality, the “if you’ve heard it somewhere else, you won’t hear it here” stance that keeps noncommercial stations around. What was your approach to putting together a setlist, a radio show? How did you choose the bands that are playing?

DJ Spermicide – I really wanted it to be a mix of old-school punk, which I still love, and the new hardcore music, not just New York, but of course helping local bands as much as possible. I used to get to the studio early and pull out which records I wanted to play, along with some local cassettes. Those were always a challenge since the quality was often pretty poor. I would go to Venus Records day of my show and Some Records on a regular basis and try to find what was brand new, plus Stiff would sometimes come up with new releases to play. But I really wanted to keep that generational component, mixing 70s and 80s punk in with the hardcore music. I tried to vary the bands played so it wasn’t the same show every week. We also took a lot of requests from listeners. Phones were always ringing off the hook.

CTM – I read somewhere that the main DJ area was pretty typical looking for a college radio station, and a large window separated that from the small room where the bands played. How should we imagine the wall of the studio? Posters, tags, stickers, graffiti on the wall?

DJ Spermicide – The studio was used for all the shows, so there were stickers and posters, but not just punk and hardcore. No graffiti on the walls since it was on university property. The radio station office had file cabinets covered in stickers. Both the studio and room for live bands were pretty small. I had to put people’s names on a sign-in list with the security guard downstairs. There were always extra guests that needed to be signed in. Fortunately the guard was really nice and sometimes asleep.

CTM – What was your unique calling card – whether that’s a catchphrase, intro, or style?

DJ Spermicide – Hmmmm. I suppose just the name I used on the show, Spermicide, with all variations of nicknames. I don’t know that I had a style except trying to keep order amidst the chaos.

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CTM – Some Records was one of the catalyst for the hardcore movement too. This record store (operated by Duane) was a great place to hang out, it was a great meeting place for hardcore bands and folks, fanzine editors and people that would help launch that second wave of New York hardcore. Duane was like a big brother to every hardcore kid who stepped into his store, kids heard every record before it came out. If I am not mistaken Some Records was one of the sponsors of Crucial Chaos for a while. Could you talk about this, and would you mind sharing some memories about Some Records?

DJ Spermicide – Some Records was one of the sponsors. There was always a small scene down at the store though I didn’t hang out there as much as some of the kids. I got a lot of 7-inch records there from smaller, local bands for the show.

CTM – It was really interesting that Outburst put the word out that they were looking for a bass player on Crucial Chaos. Turns out Mike Welles just happened to be home that night listening to Crucial Chaos make the announcement and he responded. They rehearsed a handful of songs at his place one night, then they tore up his kitchen and he was pretty much in the band after that. Would you mind sharing some funny stories about the radio sessions? Please tell me some backstage secrets, funny stories about the radio sessions!
There are some shows that are truly iconic. 01 The Warzone interview was really funny with the hyper active Raybeez and ‘zone guys. Interviewed the same day as Youth Of Today, both bands were promoting records they were about to release: “Break Down The Walls” for Youth Of Today and the “Lower East Side Crew” EP for Warzone. What about some of the personalities or characters in the scene at the time, like Raybeez? What are your memories of this interview? Do you still have that orange Lower East Side crew tee?

DJ Spermicide – That was definitely a memorable night. I didn’t think Warzone was going to make it on time, but they did. Ray Cappo was pretty easy going compared to a lot of the personalities I had on Chaos. Raybeez was always a great person to be around, so much positive energy. Not sure I have that t-shirt, but sadly did find recently the Raybeez memorial show t-shirt from CBs. I happened to be in town that weekend for that after I had moved away. The biggest challenge for interviews with some of the big talkers was keeping them on track talking about their music and getting to play tracks without running out of time.

CTM – 02 Supertouch played live on St. Patricks Day (03.17.1988.), the same day Murphy’s Law did a radioset. This live set has inspired an entire genre of bands playing hardcore today. Some of the tracks like “Strugglin’ To Communicate” and “A Death In the Family” were never recorded outside of the WNYU Studio. Any memories from this session?

DJ Spermicide – I do remember it sounding great. I didn’t realize that was the only time those were recorded. There was a record label at one point interested in putting out some of the live sets on vinyl and calling it the Sperm Sessions. I gave them the material, but it never happened, unfortunately. Looks like a lot of the live sets are up on Youtube or other sites, which is great.

CTM – 03 What are your memories of the Straight Ahead interview? They were known as a straight edge band, but the members labeled their band as a “unity band” in your Crucial Chaos interview. How did you interpret this response?

DJ Spermicide – I knew those guys pretty well. At the time there were so many micro-labels dividing the hardcore scene—skinhead, straight edge, peace punks. I think some of the divisions were causing schism in the scene, so the term unity band was in my opinion meant to distance Straight Ahead from all that. I also think some bands were taking the labels too seriously and all the rigid restrictions implied by being straight edge would be hard to uphold.

CTM – 04 One famous radio event was the Born Against versus Sick Of It All debate in 1990. How did/do you feel about the bands releasing records on larger labels? What are your memories about this debate?

DJ Spermicide – Ahhhh. The Debate. Yes, I remember that well. I remember it was more like being a referee than an interviewer, especially with the size of the studio and everyone crammed in there. I think I was on the other side of the glass if I remember correctly. I really didn’t really have a problem with bands signing to larger labels if the music stayed the same, which was the case with Sick of It All. Back then there was a fine line of bands just trying to get more exposure and bands selling out. Look how that all turned out. Sick of It All is still touring like crazy and bringing the NYHC scene to the world. I just saw their 30th anniversary show. They somehow found a way to make the music their life’s work without having to tone down their sound or make it more generic. Seems like such an ancient problem. Now the only way bands make money is from touring and selling their merch at shows.

CTM – What was your toughest interview and why? What were your funniest interviews and why?

DJ Spermicide – The toughest ones were always with the young bands just coming out who sometimes didn’t have much to say. I would mostly try to promote their shows in that case. Funniest, probably some of the characters like Murphy’s Law, Raybeez, oh and the Nihilistics who I was just trying to make sure didn’t curse on-air the whole interview. I had GBH up live once. They were pretty hilarious to be around.

CTM – I feel that most of your interviews are classics too, there are some choice quotes in there. Did you listen to your own shows after they aired? “White power, black power, yellow power….take a shower!”, “Everybody mosh it up, break everything in your house!”, “Public Enemy is just as bad as Skrewdriver.” What are some of your favourites?

DJ Spermicide – Sometimes I listened to the shows. Been so long I would have to listen back.

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CTM – Bands were incredibly exciting to play on the radio. Why didn’t these bands like Youth Of Today (only interview), BOLD, Raw Deal, Straight Ahead (only interview) etc. play a live set in the studio?

DJ Spermicide – I’m sure we asked at least some of those bands to play but it wasn’t always easy to coordinate. Also, at the beginning, we weren’t really set up that well for the live sets. But once that became a popular part of the show our amazing sound engineer got the sets to sound great.

CTM – Why did you quit WNYU? I heard that you went and lived in Australia…

DJ Spermicide – A few reasons. Yes, I left to live in Australia for a year, but also there was a rule that to be on the radio station you had to be enrolled as a student. I had been in grad school, but my time was running out and it was expensive to keep registering for even a credit or two just to stay at the station. I hosted a few guest shows after I got back from Australia in ’91 and ’92 but moved to San Francisco in 1993. The first time I ever spoke on KUSF, which was just to announce some ticket giveaway at around midnight on someone else’s show, someone called and recognized my voice—said he had taped my interview with the Adolescents. Then I kept having New York transplants calling to ask if it was me and I ended up using the name Spermicide since there were a lot of listeners who already knew me from my WNYU days.

Interview with DJ Spermicide – Part I.

DJ Spermicide (Marlene Goldman) interview originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 4.

CTM – How did you first come in contact with the hardcore punk scene? What was the first hardcore record that made an impact on you and why? What were some of your first shows you saw that you would classify as hardcore in NYC?

DJ Spermicide – I was already into punk music my first year at NYU in 1984, so when I started seeing shows, there were usually local bands opening for them, some hardcore. I remember going to an Exploited/UK Subs show at the Rock Hotel on Jane Street and the Cro-Mags was one of the opening bands. They had amazing energy but the crowd was a bit intimidating. My dorm in the East Village was not far from where the hardcore scene was happening, so when I started to see shows, I became exposed to some of the local bands. Some of the first hardcore music I heard was actually on cassette tapes while hanging out in Tompkins Square Park, bands like Circle Kaos. I saw a lot of shows at CBs–Reagan Youth, Underdog, Murphy’s Law, The Mob, Agnostic Front, Kraut, Warzone, Youth of Today, Token Entry, Straight Ahead. I also went to some all-day warehouse shows in Williamsburg, which back then was more like a war zone (and I’m not talking about the band) than the hipster enclave it is now. As in, you were always happy when you made it back alive. Anyway, there were dozens of bands playing at those shows, most of the names I don’t recall, but it was definitely a scene.

CTM – Who influenced you to start your own radio program? Did you used to listen to the “Noise the Show”? (Tim Sommer was the creator and host of Noise The Show, a pioneering New York City-based hardcore punk radio show aired during 1981-82 on WNYU.)

DJ Spermicide – I mostly listened to WNYU’s New Afternoon Show growing up on Long Island, which featured more of the alternative, college radio music with some punk and local music mixed in. After Noise the Show, Jon Fox had been hosting Hellhole, which was more of a punk/metal mix. I had been hanging out in Tompkins Square Park and a lot of the small, local bands were playing their tapes for each other, but there was not really an outlet for their exposure back then. The loss of Hellhole had left a void and the time slot opened on Thursday nights. I started with a one-hour version of Crucial Chaos, which eventually went to an hour and a half to accommodate the interviews and live bands. Murphy’s Law was my first guest on my first show. They brought up pizza and beer for the occasion.

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CTM – Crucial Chaos was really popular and the radio show left a huge impact on the hardcore scene. It was so influential that kids would run to Some Records to buy the records that were played the night before on air. A lot of musicians mentioned how important it was for them to play on Crucial Chaos. Jeff Terranova (Up Front) said he left a cassette tape in his bedroom stereo and taught his Mom how to start recording when they played. In those years every hardcore kid in NYC would tape the whole show to catch up on new releases, listen for gig announcements, ticket giveaways, interviews, not to mention the live sets that everyone anxiously waited for and hit the record button. What was your message that you want to give to people through this radio program? What did you accomplish with the Crucial Chaos?

DJ Spermicide – Obviously Chaos was in the pre-Internet, music sharing era, so hardcore kids only heard about bands through word of mouth or some other outlets, like Pat Duncan’s show on WFMU. I really wanted there to be a sense of community in the New York scene that revolved around the music, so promoting shows and new bands was all part of that. Letting them speak and get their message out was also one of my goals. For a lot of the kids, the hardcore scene was their family, their life. A lot of the kids I met came from broken homes or rough backgrounds—not everyone, but enough that I started to realize how important having this hardcore family was to them. It brought together street kids, squatters, and a lot of people who identified with that music and energy.

CTM – In 1986-87, and particularly the summer of 1987, it was a really amazing time to be into hardcore in New York City. I know that the different cliques seemed to get along, shows featured diverse bands on the bills, and there were lots of shows. I assume that Crucial Chaos contributed to the popularity of hardcore… What do you think about this period? Who were some memorable characters from the NYHC scene?

DJ Spermicide – It’s easy to romanticize that time in New York because of all the great music back then and all the colorful characters that made it such a unique place to live. But this was a turbulent era in New York history, which was reflected in the angst of the music. The city was filled with heroin dealers, people shooting up in Tompkins Square Park, newly released Reagan-era mental health patients, escalating crime, garbage cans on fire, graffiti everywhere, and a lot of grit and grime that in a lot of ways in turn brought the scene together. There were so many characters back then. I moved into the city in 1984, which was when A7, which was pretty much the birthplace of the hardcore scene, closed. The CBGB hardcore matiness on Sundays ended up being as much a gathering place as a place to hear the music. People back then… Of course Jimmy Gestapo and, Raybeez, big Charlie, Ralphie, Harley Flanagan, Roger Miret, John Joseph, Vinnie Stigma, Stephan from False Prophets. I used to hang out with some the Avenue C squatters. Others like John Spacely -Gringo- who ended up in the Sid and Nancy movie.