‘Fight’ Club

Book, benefit shows chronicle ’80s, ’90s hardcore movement

Apr 22, 2009 at 5:00 am
Image taken from the front cover of "Burning Fight." The book hits stores in early May.
Image taken from the front cover of "Burning Fight." The book hits stores in early May.

Who says hardcore died in 1986?

Not Brian Peterson.

The Chicago schoolteacher has spent the last six years corralling anecdotes, data, lineups and vintage photographs for “Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution In Ethics, Politics, Spirit And Sound” (Revelation Records Publishing; 503 pages).

With a specific focus on hardcore bands of the late ’80s and mid ’90s, Peterson interviewed roughly 150 people about the music, politics and activism of that time.

Most important to this sphere are the oral histories on Endpoint and Guilt.

“Those two bands among several others definitely played a role in shaping ’90s hardcore,” Peterson said.

We know.

If you’ve read “Slamdek A to Z” — Scott Ritcher’s book on the history of his independent label — or perused louisvillehardcore.com, you won’t find much that’s new in these sections. Peterson’s oral histories of the two bands break a little bit of ground — Duncan Barlow says he hopes Endpoint’s 1993 album After Taste will one day be remixed — but for the most part, the excerpts we’ve seen are personal ruminations from Barlow, Endpoint singer Rob Pennington and Guilt guitarist Kyle Noltemeyer.

The book is by no means comprehensive, a fact Peterson sounds like he can live with. “I’ve gotten some criticism — ‘What about this band and that band?’ I’m not trying to write an encyclopedia. No one’s gonna publish a 1,500-page book on 1990s hardcore. I started with bands that impacted me, and that I grew up with in the scene in my area. They took what they knew from the scene and channeled it in a different way.”

The release of “Burning Fight” coincides with a benefit show in Chicago on May 2. Guilt is reuniting, along with contemporaries Split Lip/Chamberlain, who are using the reunion to promote a beefed-up re-release of their 1995 album, Fate’s Got a Driver.

In what perhaps is a torch-passing moment, Frontier(s) and Young Widows open the show at Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088) May 1. Tickets are moving fast.

Nostalgia, however you choose to characterize it, is a powerful thing.

The following are excepts from Burning Fight.

Vocals/Guitars: Duncan Barlow (1991-1996)
Guitars: Lee Fetzer (1991-1992), Kyle Noltemeyer (1991-1996)
Bass: Christian McCoy (1991-1994), Ashli State (1994-1996)
Drums: Jon Smith (1991-1996)

Select Discography:
Empty (MCD/7”, Initial, 1992) (Barlow, Noltemeyer, Smith, Fetzer, McCoy)
Synesthesia (CD/10”, Initial, 1994) (Barlow, Noltemeyer, McCoy, Smith)
Bardstown Ugly Box (CD/LP, Victory, 1995) (Barlow, Noltemeyer, State, Smith)
Further (CD/10”, Victory, 1996) (Barlow, Noltemeyer, Smith)
Bittersweet Blue (7”, Nerd Rock/Initial, 1997) (Barlow, Noltemeyer, State, Smith)
A Comprehensive Guide to Anger Composed in Drop D (CD Discography, Nerd Rock, 1999)

Kyle Noltemeyer: Synesthesia was really the core beginning of Guilt. We had ideas about creating a lot of hype around a band before it even existed. We talked about using colors and symbols for song titles. We weren’t trying to get big or anything; we just thought it would be fun to add an element of mystique to the music. It was also kind of a backhand slap to everyone that used gimmicks to get big, actually. The music really took off after we put the band together. When you have the attitude of “Let’s enjoy ourselves, and do what we want to do,” then it makes the whole experience that much more freeing. There was no formula for us. We didn’t care. We would write metal songs, noise songs, whatever.

Bardstown Ugly Box
Barlow: Bardstown Ugly Box was a way of looking at myself. Bardstown Road is the strip in Louisville where we all grew up. I really liked the way it sounded more than anything. It came to me one day when I was visiting my mother in the hospital shortly before her death. We also wanted to mix our influence of indie rock and metal.
Kyle Noltemeyer: That was the next step for us. I’ve never really found a category for it. It was heavy, but it wasn’t metal. At the same time, it wasn’t exactly hardcore either. We were trying to bridge the gap between genres. That record was the essence of what we wanted to do musically. We had long songs, lots of time signature changes — we went all over the place.

Working with Bob Weston
Barlow: Bob is a great guy, one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. We had a great time recording with him at Steve Albini’s old home studio. The drums, vocals and bass sound phenomenal; however, we were a bit unhappy with the guitar sounds — they sounded flat — but he asked us what mics we wanted, and not knowing much about mics at the time, we said to use whatever Nirvana used while recording with him, so it’s partially our fault. Now that I listen to the record, it’s really something special, very different sounding than all of the other bands that came out in the ’90s.

Barlow: I was trying to add more melody into the music. I became friends with some of the people in Kerosene 454, and really liked the melodies on their first CD, and wanted to see if I could add pop-type melodies in our aggressive music. One of our major influences on that record was Neurosis. I was a huge fan of their music, and I saw them do this drum piece live once, about a year before they actually released Enemy of the Sun. We used it for a while, and it just ended up on that record a few years later.

Vocals: Rob Pennington (1987-1994)
Guitars: Duncan Barlow (1987-1994), Chad Castetter (1989-1994)
Bass: Jason Graff (1987-1989), Jason Hayden (1990-1991), Kyle Noltemeyer (1991-1993), Pat McClimans (1993-1994)
Drums: Rusty Sohm (1988-1989), Lee Fetzer (1989-1993), Kyle Crabtree (1993-1994)

Select Discography:

If the Spirits Are Willing (CD, Slamdek/Doghouse, 1989)
In a Time of Hate (CD/LP, Conversion, 1991)
Catharsis (CD/LP, Doghouse, 1992)
After Taste (CD/LP, Doghouse, 1993)
Last Record (MCD/EP, Doghouse, 1995)

If the Spirits Are Willing
Barlow: Our drummer borrowed some money from his friend and we did 17 songs for under $400. I think we did the entire record in three days. So many things influenced that record, as you can tell it runs the gamut musically; some songs sound like Metallica, some sound like the Youth of Today. We were 16 to 17 years old and, looking back, we were musical sponges, auditioning new styles and sounds. Rob and I were also developing our political ideas around that time.
Pennington: During that time, there were definitely different elements of punk: There was the angry, pissed-off kind of thing and there were those that came from a more artistic approach and dealt with feelings. There were also those from a more political perspective, and this had quite the impact on us, not to mention the things our eyes were opening up to in our community. I remember the police officers were so terrible to us at that time. We all used to converge on several parking lots on Bardstown Road and every six months we’d get booted off. We’d play kick-ball or hang out. I remember one time the police came up there and almost ran everybody over; they got out and started yelling at someone and grabbed a friend of ours who had been drinking and slammed his head into a police car. He didn’t react at all other than to say, “I’m sorry.” They threw him down and started kicking him and another friend of ours ran across the street to call the police station to tell them what was happening and then a car came by and picked him up, too! It was constant harassment! I was born in the suburbs and definitely had a sheltered life until that point. But it made me so angry. I remember also being very angry at the social class system that is set up at schools. Of course, now being an educator, I understand the whole shifting and sorting process of public education, but back then I had a sense that it was wrong. I always felt out of place back then and it came through in those early lyrics.

In a Time of Hate
Pennington: Louisville was more of a punk community, and everyone came to every show regardless if bands were hardcore or punk or whatever. As we started traveling and playing out of town, we started to realize there was this segregation in other cities between punk and hardcore kids. The more we traveled, we became more affiliated with the “hardcore” scene, and we made more connections in that circuit. One of the people we met was Dennis Remsing from Outspoken and Conversion Records. He and Tony Erba from Face Value helped us get on a compilation called Voice of the Thousands, which was kind of our first release. I remember we played in Middlesex, N.J., and it was one of our first big shows. People didn’t know our stuff and didn’t really react until we played the song from that compilation, and the whole crowd jumped on top of everybody. It was chaos. I couldn’t even see; it was a sea of kids crawling on the stage. Someone hit Chad Castetter in the groin, and he’s kind of an intense fellow. He picked up his guitar over his head and was using it like an ax. He went berserk and split two kids’ heads open, which got us all in some hot water. (Laughs) Eventually we went to Cleveland, and we knew Integrity recorded there, who we were friends with at the time. It was kind of a lame process. It was our first out-of-town recording experience.
Barlow: I was never a big fan of In a Time of Hate. We recorded for two days and drove home. It sounds horrible, and you can tell when you listen to it that there was a desire not to be there. We didn’t do the artwork, Conversion records did, and it came off a bit more “straight edge” than we really were as a band.

Barlow: We were looking for a name for [Catharsis] long before we began recording. Chad actually suggested the title. We had a list of about 20 possible names, and his suggestion was the best. The writing of Catharsis was a wonderful time; the band seemed to really hit its stride. We were the best of friends, and at times, the worst of enemies, but that volatile situation seemed to really work musically and lyrically.
Pennington: All the songs were about ourselves, and there were times that I would caution myself slightly, because I knew people were starting to listen to us, and I didn’t want to make anyone feel like an outsider. All the lyrics were extremely personal. There is nobody out there who has never been emotionally hurt somehow, and I think people could identify with a song like “Remember.” We were just saying out loud that this hurt. The song “Iceberg” was about me going into my head and retreating and getting caught in depression. All those songs were just direct incarnations of what was going on inside of us.

After Taste
Pennington: We were all growing and changing and listening to a lot of different things … Because we were listening to different things, we had moved farther away from the influences on our earlier records, which definitely affected our sound. I don’t think the lyrics changed a whole lot; they were still very personal. I just remember it being a really fun time, and I think we were at our prime at that point.
Barlow: [After Taste] was the least cohesive record we ever did, and the recording value drives me crazy! Most of this record developed out of confusion. Because of the popularity of Catharsis, we started thinking about expectations of the scene and that really caused a problem in my songwriting. We were still wrestling with depression and at times fooling ourselves that we had passed through it, but looking back it seems pretty obvious that we had not. I plan to remix the record one day, and perhaps then I’ll enjoy listening to it again.

The Last Record
Barlow: They were the songs that happened to come out of us. We weren’t really trying to generate a particular sound. I just sat down and began writing the songs on that record. Personally, I think that Catharsis and The Last Record were the best records we ever did. More specifically, Last Record was the best-sounding record Endpoint ever released. It really seemed to finally capture the angst and depression we felt.
Pennington: We felt we were as good as we could ever be. You get a sense of how far a band can go and whether or not it can be pushed to a different level. We all felt it was just time to stop. It started falling apart; it was taking a lot of unnatural work to keep it together. I was actually relieved after playing our last show. I remember going out back and cried a little bit and afterward. I was so relieved. It had become a big responsibility, and it felt good to let it go.



Q&A: Duncan Barlow