Loud New York, 1985-1994
by Chuck Eddy | February 3, 2014
The period stretching from the middle Ed Koch years to the dawn of Rudy Giuliani (with lots of David Dinkins between) was dangerous and transitional in all sorts of conflicting ways for New York City, many of which were reflected in high-decibel music being concocted there by young working-class toughs and bohemian smarty-pantses alike. Basically you could map it out this way: Starting in the mid-'80s or so, remnants of cueball-head hardcore collided with speed metal, avant-garde cacophony, clumsy white-kid curiosity about hip-hop, and maybe even some goth-like moping around, resulting in sundry fractious factions that overlapped, crossbred and either literally battled or somehow managed to ignore each other.
Of this playlist's 30 tracks -- one per band -- more than half came out in the '80s, and only four date later than 1991. Almost all originate from pretentious Manhattan or blue-collar bridge-and-tunnel outer boroughs, though two of the earliest (Adrenalin O.D. and Whiplash) were technically Jersey bands -- part of a sometimes violent, sometimes rather jokey mid-'80s regional thrash/punk crossover continuum extending from Anthrax, Overkill and Carnivore (who sowed seeds for Type O Negative) to Murphy's Law, Agnostic Front and the confusingly Hare Krishna-inspired Cro-Mags. At the same time, a more outwardly cerebral noise-rock brigade was evolving out of scrap heaps of Lower East Side no wave: Swans, Ut, Big Stick, Pussy Galore (who'd moved north from D.C.), Missing Foundation (who despised gentrification so much that they stenciled their tipped-over cocktail glass logo on every surface in town).
In retrospect, though, the most prescient of the '80s-born art-noise bands might be White Zombie and Prong, who saw commercial and/or creative potential beyond college students or latter-day beatniks, seeming to actively seek out the great metal and street-punk unwashed as well. Before long, insular art-noisers Band of Susans begat chart-bound Helmet, and from such developments also sprang Gotham's early '90s alt-metal hordes: Unsane, Quicksand, Life of Agony, Surgery (who formed way up at Syracuse University). Thuggish rap-metalcore (Biohazard) and even doctrinaire Krishna-core (Shelter) still thrived to some extent in the '90s, and nth-generation subterranean noise crews (Dustdevils, sample-happy Cop Shoot Cop) didn't disappear either. But mainly, opposing forces melded into one big metallic mess.