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‘NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980–1990’ launch at PowerHouse Arena

Punk’s not dead! Music writer revives ’80s hardcore scene in Dumbo

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Get out your Doc Martens and your reading glasses.

A hardcore historian will bring the heyday of New York’s hardcore punk scene back to life at Dumbo’s PowerHouse Arena on Dec. 11. Music writer Tony Rettman will take over the bookstore for the launch of his new oral history of the scene’s early days, “NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980–1990.” The event will feature discussions with several legendary figures from the era, a DJ spinning classic hardcore tracks, and a market selling hardcore albums and merchandise.

Told in the words of the musicians and artists who made the scene what it was, Rettman said his book paints a picture more intimate and complete than any archivist could put together.

“Putting together a puzzle of how it went down is more important than putting my own two cents,” said the author.

Rettman, who grew up in central New Jersey, found his way into hardcore through his older brother, who started bringing him to shows in New York in the summer of 1984. He was only 12 at the time, but Rettman said it did not take long for him to take the do-it-yourself ethos of the scene to heart, putting out a fanzine with a friend in which he interviewed the members of now-legendary bands such as Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today.

New York’s hardcore scene has always had a tough, macho reputation, with bands such as Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, and Madball putting forth an image of veiny, muscular meatheads raised on the mean streets. But Rettman said he saw the rough reputation not as an affectation but as the reality of those musicians’ lives, and it didn’t keep them from being supportive of younger members of the scene. At one show, he remembers seeing a burly member of the band Stormtroopers of Death passing out a sack of bow ties and enthusiastically welcoming young concert-goers.

“These guys seemed like they should be beating me up, but they were super encouraging,” he said.

Rettman’s knowledge of the hardcore punk scene in New York fades after 1990, when he moved to southern New Jersey to open a record store. He said the idea for the book came to him after a piece he did for the Village Voice, which left him with far more interview material than he could ever squeeze into the article.

So he set about putting together a more comprehensive set of interviews with the major players of the 1980s New York hardcore scene, hoping to chronicle the era of the genre that he knew best.

“You could have a whole book concentrating on any one sub-scene, but that was just too much work,” he said. “At the end I just decided to focus on what I know.”

Joining Rettman at the launch will be Paul Bearer of Sheer Terror, Richie Birkenhead of Youth of Today, and artist Sean Taggart, who was responsible for a staggering volume of the do-it-yourself show fliers in the early days of the scene. Howie Abrams, the former label manager of short-lived hardcore imprint In-Effect Records, will disc-jockey songs from the era.

“NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980–1990” launch at PowerHouse Arena [37 Main Street between Water and Front streets in Dumbo, (718) 666–3049, powerhousearena.com]. Dec. 11 at 6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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