Monday, November 16, 2015

Full Speed Ahead (Yet Again): A Look At Youth Brigade's Complete First Demo On Dischord

I suppose I have to sound like a snob and ask why did bands like this ever need to cut demos?

That's not to be entirely cynical about it but instead to highlight how immediate most of the early Dischord releases sounded. I mean, it's really hard to imagine bands like Youth Brigade rehearsing too much back in 1981, or recording demos like real professional musicians. One imagines them running into the studio, plugging in, playing for about 10 minutes -- all one-takes, of course -- and then running out again like The Monkees, only with ripped tees and leather jackets and Doc Martens.

Looked at with the benefit of a sense of history, I'd say that it's a strength that they were not professional musicians, no matter how good these cats became later, drummer Danny Ingram especially; I suppose you've seen my many Dot Dash posts by now?

Complete First Demo by Youth Brigade was recorded in the summer of 1981 by Don Zientara and Skip Groff (he of the famed Yesterday and Today record store in Rockville, Maryland). The 8 cuts here positively burn with youth, to sound a little bit rosy-eyed about things. This is literally the birth of harDCore we're hearing in these brief 9 minutes. "I Object" was on the 20 Years of Dischord box set and "Last Word" showed up on Flex Your Head, but the other 6 cuts are previously unreleased versions of YB songs and together they make up, more or less, the Youth Brigade canon.

And guess what? There's not an ounce of fluff here. The closest we come to any extra touches are the Stooges riffs that Tom Clinton seems to be channeling on the intros to "Full Speed Ahead" and "Waste of Time" -- all 47 seconds of that one. That's it; everything else here on this release is the very best sort of "1, 2, 3, 4!"-punk that the Ramones made melodic and Minor Threat made vital. Incendiary and pounding, these 8 cuts seem of the moment and never meant to even stick to the tape past 1981. I mean that in the very best possible way. When you listen to hardcore like this, especially American hardcore of the era, there's something about the music that sounds like the performers don't expect it to last beyond the length of the recording itself. And that's a great thing, really. And that spark and sense of life is what gives this music such vitality now...nearly 35 years later.

The line-up here in 1981 was Nathan Strejcek (The Teen Idles) on vocals, Danny Ingram (The Untouchables) on drums, Bert Queiroz (The Untouchables) on bass, and Tom Clinton on guitar. In 2011, during my lengthy interview with him, drummer Danny Ingram explained how he came to join Youth Brigade:

"The Teen Idles had recently broken up...and as Nathan was/is my best was impossible to say 'No' when he asked me to start a band with him. I've always regarded YB somewhat bemusedly. Naturally, you think you are great at the time...but it was at this point that I realized the limitations of my musical ability…and the emerging gap in talent between some of the bands that were starting up.

It was fun...but other bands, like Government Issue, Minor Threat, the Bad Brains were so musically superior that I started to feel a bit self-conscious about my drumming...and had realized that YB had gone about as far as it could go. I'm grateful that Ian [Mackaye] and Jeff [Nelson] decided to release the single and put us on Flex Your Head. It helped establish the band as one of the progenitors of the nascent Dischord scene...but our musical contributions were quite modest."

Danny's modesty aside, the legacy of Youth Brigade looms large even still. Sure, Minor Threat probably still have more name recognition, but Youth Brigade seem just as important when you hear Complete First Demo. While this music predates the whole "straight edge" thing, the sound here is very much the blueprint for most of the pre-"Revolution Summer" stuff on the Dischord label. As the fine film Salad Days (2014) illustrated, the early Eighties in D.C. was a helluva time to be a punk and what you hear now on this recording is the sound of a bunch of D.C. area kids confident in their ability to throw down an awesome racket and -- perhaps accidentally -- attempt to define what would later come to be known as the very sound of this city for so very long.

Nathan Strejcek is in The Delarcos now. Bert Queiroz was in other bands like Rain and Manifesto after this. Tom Clinton? I have little information about that guy. And drummer Danny Ingram was in a boat-load of bands -- as this interview explains -- up to and including his latest project, the esteemed Dot Dash -- just check the tag on this site for more information.

The band reunited in 2012 for the Salad Days (2014) gig at the Black Cat with Steve Hansgen of Dot Dash and Minor Threat taking Clinton's place on guitar and you can see pics and video of that gig here.

But, really, if you want to know why this band was -- is! -- so important to the musical history of this fine city, listen to the 8 tracks on Youth Brigade's Complete First Demo, out next week on Dischord.