iLivExtreme’s Dan C catches up with legendary ‘zine editor and publisher David Markey to discuss the 80’s and the key moments of US Hardcore.
There are two sides to the 80’s. One is syth pop, Duran Duran and early MTV. The Alternative 80’s on the other hand spawned indie rock, hip-hop and hardcore punk, but these scenes developed far away from the media spotlight, meaning that if people where going to hear about the bands then some brave soul would have to get the news out there themselves.
David Markey was one such soul, a young guy growing up in southern California who decided to start publishing a fanzine called “We Got Power” about the raw and increasingly aggressive punk bands of the day. The Zine became a staple of the west coast scene and accidently ended up documenting the development of Hardcore. From 1980 until it stopped publishing in 1983 it was one of the defining voices of the era.
Now thirty years later a hard back compendium of the mag has been released, complete with essays from the key player and exclusive photos, and I caught up with David to chat about the old days.
What was your first experience of Punk Rock (not necessarily just the west coast scene)?
I heard about punk rock long before I became involved with this music. Probably around 1976, a childhood friend was going on to me about Iggy Pop. I would have been 12 at that point, a little too young to really get it.
What inspired you to start “We got power”?
A combination of wanting to document and promote this music that was being ignored or worse misrepresented by mainstream media, and teenage boredom.
When punk and hardcore reached the suburbs (Orange County ect) did you notice a change in the kind of kids that were attending the shows?
The audience for this music was getting younger and more aggressive. The old guard LA Punk scene was bowing out for the most part, and the kids gave it a new life. It was a mixed bag with the gangs that were forming, at first as a reaction to the beat downs the kids were facing by the rednecks and the police, and then becoming more of a problem, as a militaristic, non-thinking element came in that was not entirely welcome by everyone. We were never involved with these so called gangs, other than knowing a few people that were involved with them.
When did you realise the scene was first starting to grow into something more than just a local thing?
Probably from the get-go. Hardcore was mostly birthed out of Southern California, by bands like The Dils, Middle Class, Rhino 39, and the Angry Samoans, and spread throughout the few that were able to get on the road back then. But still the biggest selling bands (Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Fear, Circle Jerks, Germs) were moving 50 to 70 thousand records, and that was a massive success at the time. We loved this music and these bands, and there was a very healthy, diverse, and musically inventive quality that was happening. But still it was only a handful of bands were getting traction on a national level, that started to become apparent in 1982 or so (Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Husker Du). And then a whole bunch of other bands were starting up in their wake. There was a definite strength in the collective.
Would you say there was an exact moment in time when the old school punk sound gave way to the more aggressive Hardcore vibe?
That would be 1981, the year hardcore broke (I say with my tongue in my cheek, as I did in 1991). But really it was a not exactly a massive movement, it was more local and home grown. Small scenes were springing up in various pockets throughout the country. It was as real as it gets.
How did the gang related violence of groups like Suicidal Tendencies and T.S.O.L. change things in L.A.?
That was also spread by sensationalistic media reports on this music, which in turn brought in the element that I discussed a couple answers back. I don’t know if it helped or hurt, it just kind of went with the territory.
The zine was coming out about the same time as The Decline in Western Civilisation was in theatres, was it an accurate portrait of what was going on?
The Decline was really important because it got out there, and really seemed to define the scene at the time. I’ve the heard pangs of those who decried it as some sort of manipulation by the filmmaker that I didn’t exactly agree with, but really it helped establish all the bands that were in it on a national level. No one else was documenting this music back then. You couldn’t hear this music on the radio, outside of a tiny few that were playing it (mostly on college radio after midnight). But in LA, it was really Rodney Bingenheimer that first gave these bands airplay on a commercial FM radio station.
“We got power” stopped publishing in 83, did you feel that was the end of the scene?
It wasn’t exactly the end, that would come in the next few years, at least primarily for the bands that blazed this trail. Of course, the genre was established, and never really went away, it just kind of receded and brewed back underground for years, with the occasional band doing something new with it along the way.
Years later how did it feel to see bands like Bad Religion, the Vandals and Social Distortion on MTV?
You mean the 90’s? That was certainly a weird time. Well, it was certainly a long time coming, and had everything to do with the massive success of Nirvana. But that too was a mixed bag. A lot of crap got picked up and put out by major labels, who didn’t really get it. They were just looking to cash in. This kind of stuff has been going on in the music business for generations. As far as the older bands that managed to stay active and release new music through out the years, I’m sure none of them resented their new audiences. It was just a question of, well is this music still any good? The answer varies from band to band, and in my opinion most of the work wasn’t even close to as good as it was back in the early 80’s. There are the exceptions of course, bands like The Melvins and Meat Puppets seemed to survive intact.