Lewis Dimmick: NYHC poet !

Il y a deux ans, le label War­dance Records réédi­tait offi­cielle­ment pour la pre­mière fois la com­pi­la­tion New Breed, sor­tie sur cas­sette en 1989. Cette tape demeure la man­i­fes­ta­tion ultime du son hard­core new-yorkais, à l’image des deux autres disques-repères de cette scène : NYC Hard­core — The Way It Is et NYHC — Where the Wild Things Are?. Parmi tous ces groupes, dont cer­tains sont morts dans l’œuf, il y avait Our Gang, des mecs qui voulaient jouer plus vite que les autres, «straight ahead» comme avant.

À l’heure où chaque scène hard­core se doit de pub­lier son livre (ou son doc­u­men­taire) en trou­vant des ronds via un crowd­fund­ing quel­conque, Lewis Dim­mick, gui­tariste de Our Gang, a choisi de revenir sur sa jeunesse dans les 80s à tra­vers un recueil de poésie en prose et de nou­velles, This Music. Et c’est une nou­velle fois War­dance qui se charge de le pub­lier. Pas­sionné par la musique et la lit­téra­ture plus que par les ten­dances qui se sont suc­cédées dans la scène entre 1984 et 1990, Lewis, aujourd’hui prof de let­tres, est revenu avec moi sur quelques pas­sages de son livre, le témoignage d’un type lambda sur une péri­ode qui était loin de l’être.

L’interview en français est à lire sur VICE.


Who were “The Doty Avenue Dirt­bags”, the first gang we find in your book ?

That was a nick­name we had for kids from a dif­fer­ent street in our neigh­bor­hood. We called them dirt­bags because they always seemed to have dirt on their faces and they were gen­er­ally nasty char­ac­ters. They liked to curse and throw rocks at any out­siders pass­ing through their street. It was there that I heard live music for the first time. A band in a garage was play­ing heavy metal and I was mes­mer­ized by the power of the sound.
I like that piece because it embod­ies the approach of the whole book—to focus on small moments and details and bring them to life. It’s a book about hard music, like metal, punk, and hard­core, but it has a poetic approach, and I think that makes it unique. It’s not a his­tor­i­cal account of the music, but a per­sonal account. That was impor­tant to me. Any­one can do inter­views and pub­lish the answers. I wanted to tell sto­ries that were unique to me. I wanted to write the book only I could write.

You said “Inti­macy is cru­cial” in the hard­core scene. The word seems out­dated today.

I meant that hard­core shows are best suited for small venues, where the energy can fill the room and make the room feel like it’s going to explode. Most impor­tantly, inti­macy is cru­cial so that the band and the crowd can have close con­tact with each other. A hard­core show in an arena, for exam­ple, would be absurd.
In that piece I talk about see­ing Adren­a­lin O.D. at CBGB’s. The bass player punched some­one in the crowd. I was only 15 when I saw that and I was pretty amazed by that kind of atmos­phere. Just the year before I had seen my first con­cert ever, Iron Maiden, where the peo­ple in the front row were still pretty far away from the band. I was very impressed by the dif­fer­ence. So inti­macy is cru­cial because hard­core music, I think, is meant to exist on a small scale. It’s meant to be “under­ground.”

“Hard­core scene” is not your busi­ness any­more, right ?

It’s true I don’t feel con­nected with the hard­core music of today. Most bands don’t play fast any­more, and I think speed is the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of hard­core. Most bands sound extremely metal. I would rather lis­ten to actual metal than metal that passes itself off as hard­core by adopt­ing a cer­tain image.

“Today even pop stars look like punk rockers”.

That’s what I’m talk­ing about ! Pop music has adopted the image of hard­core, just as bands that sound totally metal pass them­selves off as hard­core by adopt­ing the image.

Speak me a bit about this “police line” around CBGB set up in 1988. Was it the begin­ning of the end ?

Yes, it was. Maybe because neigh­bor­ing busi­nesses started to com­plain about the large num­ber of peo­ple clog­ging up the street out­side the club, it was decided that peo­ple would have to wait on line. Maybe you could argue that the mati­nees were get­ting too pop­u­lar. Too many new peo­ple were com­ing to shows who didn’t truly under­stand hard­core, and the vio­lence they brought with them was the rea­son CBGB’s stopped putting on mati­nees.
Before the police line, peo­ple would hang around out­side the club and talk to each other. It was a com­mu­nity. But once peo­ple were made to wait on line, it felt like you were at just any other club. Get in line, pay your money, fol­low the rules, etc. It seemed to con­tra­dict the essence of a hard­core show.

Cru­cial Chaos was really deter­mi­nant in the sec­ond wave of NYHC. How did you dis­cover it ? It seems this radio pro­gram was a pre­req­ui­site for all the scene.

I don’t remem­ber exactly how I dis­cov­ered it, but it was excit­ing to hear all the local bands play on the radio and do inter­views. I had the sense that I was expe­ri­enc­ing some­thing special—great music being made inde­pen­dently by peo­ple in my own city. That radio show was def­i­nitely a big part of the hard­core scene dur­ing that time. If I knew a band like War­zone was going to be play­ing live on the radio, I had to tape it! I wanted to be able to lis­ten to it again later on, to be able to enjoy it again. You never really heard good music on the radio. It was all pop­u­lar music, noth­ing under­ground, noth­ing out­side the main­stream, espe­cially hard­core. So to hear Under­dog on the radio, or Token Entry, Krak­down, etc, was very exciting.

Is it true you got ALL of the broad­casts on tape ? Peo­ple redis­cov­ered it when you put it online or peo­ple asked you about before ?

No, I didn’t get them all. I got a lot though. In 2003 I put them online and they spread quickly. They had not been avail­able before then. Not many peo­ple, for exam­ple, had heard the inter­view with Straight Ahead. Peo­ple loved that band and sud­denly they had this piece of the band’s his­tory avail­able to them. It feeds into the excite­ment that peo­ple feel toward this music. It keeps the music alive. For that rea­son I’m glad I had the good sense to record all that stuff back then. As I men­tioned before, I taped these bands just so I could lis­ten to the tapes again myself, for plea­sure, but I shared them online as a way of pre­serv­ing them for a long time. The more peo­ple that have them, the less likely they are to dis­ap­pear. They become part of the his­tory of the music that is always avail­able for peo­ple to dis­cover.

“Hard­core music rejects the idea that the band is supe­rior”. You make an excep­tion for The Bad Brains.

Yes. I did that because they are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered one of the great­est bands of all time. Hard­core was appeal­ing because it seemed like any­one could learn to play an instru­ment and start a band, but you were out of your mind if you thought you could ever sound like the Bad Brains. Their tal­ent was phe­nom­e­nal. There’s a magic there that you can aspire to all your life and never come close to reach­ing, but to them it was nat­ural.

About the AF’s “Vic­tim in Pain” record released in 1984, you say in the book this was “the realest thing” you ever seen. The cover is still shock­ing today ! Is this the ulti­mate NYHC record ?

Yes, it is the best New York Hard­core record of all time. All the bands after it adopted its sound and themes. The sound was a mix of fast parts and slow (mosh) parts and the themes were of unity and being an out­cast from soci­ety. For me, that record is what hard­core is sup­posed to sound like. So when I hear a new band and their mosh parts sound like Pan­tera, it doesn’t work for me.
The cover was a throw­back to punk rock because it was intended to shock the viewer, and it did that very well. It made you think. It drew you in. Good or bad, it got your attention.


We know Peter Steele from Carnivore/Type O Neg­a­tive later wrote songs and music for AF, included the con­tro­ver­sial “Pub­lic assis­tance”. Do you remem­ber how this was per­ceived by the rest of the scene ?

I don’t have any spe­cific mem­o­ries around that. Agnos­tic Front were already leg­ends at that point. I think the only per­son who got worked up about that song was Phil Don­ahue. I think the peo­ple who really knew AF and loved them knew a song like that wasn’t the essence of what they were about. Their essence was cap­tured in songs like “United & Strong” and “Fas­cist Atti­tudes.”

Crossover was born (and draws the atten­tion again with the book “Louder Than Hell”). Anthrax named their band NYHC. Was it a shitty period ? Or a musi­cal effervescency ?

Crossover was great. I still love the stuff C.O.C. and D.R.I. did at that time, along with bands like Agnos­tic Front, Ludichrist, Crumb­suck­ers, Lee­way, etc. Every­one was very upset at the time that hard­core was incor­po­rat­ing metal influ­ences. That seems funny now. Hard­core sounds much more metal now than it did then. The biggest down­fall about mod­ern hard­core is that the whole tough guy approach has become a given. Hard­core is not about hav­ing tat­toos and mak­ing mean faces. It’s often about being a total weirdo. It’s about NOT fit­ting in, being dif­fer­ent, doing what you want regard­less of what any­one else thinks. I think hard­core has lost a lot of that.

You talk a bit about Dave Insur­gent from Rea­gan Youth. RY seemed to be apart from the scene. Dave’s life been a real tragedy.

Rea­gan Youth were def­i­nitely apart. They were much more punk than many of the other hard­core bands. They were in your face with their polit­i­cal mes­sages. They were not afraid to be shock­ing. For exam­ple, they put a Ku Klux Klan mem­ber on the cover of their first record. Their songs had strong ideas. Dave had sub­stance. He was intel­li­gent and cre­ative and charis­matic. As Ray­beez from War­zone said in the book Amer­i­can Hard­core, Dave Insur­gent “knew what was going on—he was a true punk.”

Then you formed OUR GANG. Was it hard to dis­tance your band from all the other ones born in this era ?

Not at all, because we just did what we wanted with­out wor­ry­ing about any­thing else. We played faster than most bands at the time, and that set us apart. NYC May­hem, the band that became Straight Ahead, was a big influ­ence on us. We were influ­enced by the early ‘80s hard­core bands. We wanted more of a punk influ­ence than metal. We wanted to play fast while most of the other new bands wanted to sound heavy.

There’s a funny pas­sage at the end of the book when you tell your short expe­ri­ence with Side By Side ! It’s reveal­ing of the Youth Crew scene, that was a lot of pose ! Do you still meet guys of that era ?

Yes, the youth crew was very image-oriented. They weren’t nec­es­sar­ily open to hang­ing out with just any­one. You had to look the part. You had to be cool. You had to be in with the cool kids. Even back then, peo­ple com­plained a lot about that, how image-oriented straight edge was. Hard­core is sup­posed to be the oppo­site of that. It’s sup­posed to be ok to be the reject.

Another funny moment is when your fam­ily lis­tens to the Our Gang discog­ra­phy. 30 cruel minutes !

It was excru­ci­at­ing! Imag­ine my aunt and uncle sit­ting there lis­ten­ing to the record. They had never heard hard­core before. They were prob­a­bly so con­fused. Fast, noisy music with scream­ing vocals. It prob­a­bly didn’t even sound like music to them. They were prob­a­bly think­ing, why would any­one ever put this on a record???

How can we go from NYHC to teach­ing, it’s not very common.

I took cre­ative writ­ing classes in col­lege and devel­oped a pas­sion for it. I won some awards and grad­u­ated with hon­ors and the fol­low­ing year, at the age of 24, I found myself in front of the class­room, a teacher! Very sur­real. I think you’re right. It’s not very com­mon, but it shouldn’t be much of a sur­prise. Hard­core music encour­ages orig­i­nal thought. At least that’s what it’s meant to do. That’s what it did in the begin­ning.

OUR GANG discog­ra­phy
FREDDY ALVA interview

4 Commentaires

  1. Sunset Park Skin

    Pas trop mal l’interview, mais pourquoi la pub­lier sur Vice ? Ça ne nous rend pas ser­vice tout ça.

    Aussi, on dit “tell me about” et pas “speak me about”.


  2. ROD

    Ren­dre ser­vice à qui ?

  3. jc

    Pas trop mal l’interview, mais pourquoi la pub­lier sur Vice ? Ça ne nous rend pas ser­vice tout ça.

    => It’s meant to be “underground.”

  4. Matth

    Si les gens lisent Vice dans le métro ça restera grave UG!


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