Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s 97A's "Better Off Dead" 7-inch. Listen to a few 97A songs and read Schnipper’s thoughts after the jump.
About two minutes before I tripped over a log or something and fell on my face, I asked some dude from New Jersey if 97A was from Edison. He said no. I was pretty sure he was wrong. Then I said goodbye and fell down. I took a cab home. 97A was from Wayne.
That was just after the second Trash Talk show I went to that night. The first was in Manhattan, with drink tickets and a balcony, at Bowery Ballroom. Trash Talk opened for Alexisonfire, a Canadian band with an alternative, gelled hair, slant on hardcore. No one was there for Trash Talk. In the middle of the floor was a large empty circle, drawn out of courtesy for the potentially ensuing pit. It never materialized, just a few kids floor punching back and forth like they were in Frogger. Trash Talk’s singer Lee kept doing front flips into a semi-receptive audience. At least no one complained enough for him to stop. Lee’s got a scar below his lip like a Z missing its bottom line. I assume it’s from something purposefully violent.
It’s been a few years since I’ve been actively interested in hardcore. Since writing about Trash Talk and Ceremony on TheFADER.com, a number of people have questioned, to me in person and just in general on the internet, why The FADER is writing about hardcore. It’s a good question. Hardcore generally falls outside of our scope of coverage. But listening to a lot of bands I’ve missed since turning my focus more “FADER” in the last few years, I realized I’ve missed a lot that is just super good and, as a service provider, I feel like I should tell you, the reader, about what is good. So: listen to hardcore.
97A were a strange hardcore band to me. I grew up in Connecticut, so I saw my share of Hatebreed and the like style shows, not quite tough guy hardcore, but somehow jockish. The main spot for shows was CT Bike Exchange, where the bands played on skate ramps. A few hours south, in New Jersey, the scene was, far as I could tell before the internet, based more around skinny youth crew hardcore, post Youth of Today bands, with similar riffs and singalongs. Lifetime was a huge band then and they sounded more like pop-punk than hardcore. From afar, I always looked at New Jersey bands as maybe a little self-serious and a little samey. Though I saw plenty of shows in New York City as soon as I was old enough to drive to ABC No Rio (daytime matinee show meant I made my curfew!), I never made it to New Jersey.
Sadder still, was that I never made it to California. I was obsessed with all the bands coming from the Bay Area playing something that got jokingly dubbed “power violence,” which then stuck. I would make my mom order records from stores over the phone using her credit card, I’d get probably old dudes on this hardcore email list to buy me records at shows and send them to me. I was pretty much obsessed and, with few exceptions listened to nothing but hardcore through my first year of college. Then I discovered that free jazz also sounded kind of brutal and it’s a slippery slope from there to here.
Anyway, back to 97A. They certainly looked the part, a straight edge band with songs about the perils of smoking and friendship gone sour. But they sounded more like a hybrid of a slick Jersey hardcore band with the aggro thrash from California. The singer had more of a high yell than the rough from the guts threshing coming from these West Coast dude’s bellies, but they were quick and tight and fully angry. Honestly, they sound a lot like Trash Talk. I’m glad, in a lot of ways, things haven’t changed. But I’m going to figure out how they have. Next time I go to a show to figure that out I probably won't wearing this shirt at two shows in one night. That was kind of embarrassing. Sweet shirt through, right?