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The Pyramid Club / A hardcore-fanatic’s guide – Part V.

Originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 5. (Click the picture for bigger size.)

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In the late 80s New York was still dangerous and not yet gentrified. East of Avenue A was still a wasteland. The Pyramid Club was (and still is) a nightclub in the East Village, located at 101 Avenue A in Manhattan. The institution named for a pyramid motif in the building’s original tiling, opened in 1979. What made this club unique was that the inclusivity across all cultural lines, mixing disco and hardcore/punk, pop culture and high art, straight and gay. The Pyramid Club shows were organized by many members of the NYC hardcore scene. It was the first time in NYC during this era that the bands actually made up the bills. The shows ran on a semi regular basis from 1987-1989.

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Alex Brown, Sammy Siegler, Chris Burr, and Dylan Schreifels in front of the Pyramid Club

You can check out a video about what the place was like between 1983 and 1988 on youtube: “Drag Queens, Skinheads, Artists and Some Girls: the Pyramid Club of the 1980s.” In this video Raybeez and Jimmy Gestapo attempted to describe what made the Pyramid special (5:51)!

– Pyramid matinees were some of the best hardcore shows, Absolution, Warzone, Side By Side, Youth of Today, Underdog, Collapse, Sick Of It All, Token Entry, Hogan’s Heroes, Judge, Gorilla Biscuits, Krakdown, Life’s Blood, Killing Time, American Standard, Project X, Under Pressure, Uppercut, Our Gang had a couple of very memorable gigs there.
– Security included Jimmy Gestapo, Raybeez and Richie Birkenhead, while doorman Bernard Crawford kept out the yuppies and junkies.

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Raybeez and Jimmy Gestapo

– The Pyramid Club is the place where Ray Cappo and Raybeez were booking shows together, most of these shows were Saturday matinees. The first matinee gig was a benefit show for Some Records. “Starting April 11th at the Pyramid Club, 101 Avenue A we’re gonna have hardcore matinees between 2:00 and 5:30 every other Saturday, starting April 11 so you gotta check it out! The first show is with Sick Of It All and Token Entry and you know, we’re headlining, word up! Check out the Village Voice!” – Warzone interview on WNYU’s Crucial Chaos radio show.

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– The Pyramid Club is the place where Sean Penn and Madonna got into a heated public argument in 1986. A fight erupted into violence as an obviously inebriated Penn shoved his wife up against a wall, then carried their shouting match out into the street.
– The Pyramid Club is the place where Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers played their first New York City concerts.
– The Pyramid Club is the place where Into Another performed their first show.

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– The Pyramid Club is the place where Warzone cameout with a fog machine, and they used so much dry ice that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face in the pit. Warzone was playing and the smoke machine went off while Ray Cappo was on stage about to do a stage dive, it burned his leg.
– The Pyramid Club is the place where Warzone played a show with a go-go dancer on stage, which was very likely an influence from the “Licensed To Ill” era Beastie Boys.
– The Pyramid Club is the place where Djinji Brown (Absolution) broke Jules Masse’s (Side By Side, Alone In A Crowd) nose during a show.
– The Pyramid Club is the place where the really underrated Altercation played a gig with Death Before Dishonor on May 23, 1987. Shortly after that Jay and Paul left Altercation to join Warzone so the band broke up.

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.

A hardcore-fanatic’s guide – Part I.

Intro – Things to check out in NYC, a hardcore-fanatic’s guide

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A few years ago, one member of Death Before Dishonor asked: “Why are all the people posting about A7 club even most of you never been there before what’s going on here?”. To be honest, I thought a lot about this and I’m afraid the question missed the point. I truly believe that hardcore is still alive and well, but keeping the tradition is really important. Hardcore has a lot of history and I think it is relevant for the kids to know about the bands that came before them and influenced their current scenes. I really enjoyed the NYHC Chronicles documentary, it was fun to read the “New York Hardcore 1980-1990” book and “My Riot: Agnostic Front, Grit, Guts & Glory” book, despite I was never part of the early hardcore scene. I want to believe that these guys are happy that the new generations show interest in music from previous generations.

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Everyone’s background in hardcore is relative. For me, I missed out on the first wave of New York hardcore and I missed the second wave too, I never went to A7 or some of the earlier clubs, I never saw the Psychos, Gilligan’s Revenge or Outburst live. I don’t have memories about these infamous places and legendary bands, for two simple reasons. Firstly, I’m in my thirties. Secondly, I was born in Europe and I’ve been living here since my birth. Regardless of these things, I feel a mystical connection and attraction to these places. Last year (2016) I got the chance to spend some days in New York City and make one of my bucket dreams come true, so needless to say, I visited and explored these legendary locations… (Originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 5.)

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WNYU’s Crucial Chaos

WNYU’s Crucial Chaos (WNYU-FM (89.1 FM) is a college radio station owned and operated by New York University) was really popular in the ’80s 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. 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. Crucial Chaos (hosted by DJ Spermicide) has had many classic NYHC bands on air such as Supertouch, Breakdown, Our Gang, Underdog, Token Entry, Warzone, Fit of Anger, Beyond etc.

DJ Spermicide (Marlene): “Some Records for a while was one of the sponsors of Crucial Chaos, meaning they would give us records in exchange for an air mention. It was a great place for smaller bands to get noticed and for everyone to mingle.” (New york Hardcore 1986-1993, by David Koenig)