We Got Power! An Interview with Dave Markey

By Tony Rettman

 

Back when I was just a mere nipper, a college buddy of my brothers’ moved out to Los Angeles to witness their then burgeoning hardcore punk scene first hand. He would send package after package of seven-inches, fanzines, and tapes of Rodney Bingimheimers’ radio show and yes, it blew my little brain clear out of its holder. Ever since then, I have been mildly obsessed with that time and place, and snatch up any piece of plastic or paper that wields insight into its creation.

And now here comes Dave Markey and Jordan Schwarz rendering all this crap littering my shelves obsolete with their 300-page monster of a book entitled We Got Power: Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980s Southern California. It reproduces all six issues of the We Got Power fanzine they produced back then–which is pretty boss in itself–but the real treats here are the essays and photos that accompany the ‘zine re-prints. Everyone from Pat Smear to Rollins to Keith Morris tells their tales of LA Punk highs and lows and the combination of these present day scribbled insights, with these back-in-the-day pics, is nothing short of mind-crippling for a nerd like me. But maybe you’re made of stronger stock.

Nevertheless, I tracked down WGP co-creator Dave Markey for a chat and he was kind enough to let me pick away at his brain.

VICE: What was it about the SoCal Punk scene that made you want to start up the fanzine, We Got Power?
Dave Markey: There was just so much going on in Los Angeles' music underground in 1980 and '81. It was an incredibly dense time for underground music in Southern California. There were three to four shows worth going to a week, easy; often times conflicting great shows on the same night. It wasn't all just "Hardcore" either. Tons of subgenres coexisted because there simply wasn't anything to keep it from happening. Later on, everything became segregated, but there was a glorious period where all different kinds of bands--whether they be Middle Class, Suburban Lawns, Christian Death, Fear, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, The Blasters, Nervous Gender, Red Cross, 100 Flowers, The Gun Club, 45 Grave, Wall Of Voodoo or The Minutemen--would regularly share bills together. Besides the great music, there was just this amazing energy around all of it. On some nights, you’d be happy just to hang out at Oki Dogs or Errol Flynn's, an abandoned estate in the Hollywood Hills and a great place punks hung out into the wee hours of the morning. There was a happening after hours thing, too, with the Zero One. There were always house parties to go to as well. We took the bus! It was always an adventure, and sometimes just getting there was half the fun.

Were there any leftover folks from the early Masque scene, or was it strictly "Hardcore" by that point?
There were a handful of Masque survivors at the time. A lot of the bands like Black Randy and the Metrosquad and The Deadbeats had broken up or changed names. Like The Dils became Rank & File or The Urinals became 100 Flowers. All the first bands I saw were Masque-era bands;  X, The Dickies and The Go-Go's. When I first made it up into Hollywood as a 16-year-old, there seemed to be a transition going on that was made very dramatic with the death of Darby Crash. From that period on, the small, insular "Hollywood 40" crowd was witnessing an influx of kids my age on the scene.  Us kids didn't have the same frame of reference.  We weren't coming from glitter. We didn't go to art school. Some of us were coming from New Wave. I mean, me and the Schwartz siblings were way into Devo, The B-52's, The Specials, Talking Heads, etc.  That's the music we were into right before we discovered the LA Underground. We were just kids! We were all the way out west in Santa Monica. We were separate from the hustle-and-bustle of the Greater LA Basin. It was like living the opening credits of Three's Company where we lived. We didn't drive. We didn't know a lot about music, but we knew something was on the horizon. I remember being really excited when I bought The Ramones End of the Century when it came out. But then we stumbled on to something a little harder at our local record shop's Punk section; The Decline Of Western Civilization Soundtrack , which was out like a year before the movie was. That lead to X's "Los Angeles" and Black Flag's brand new one at the time "Jealous Again." We also listened to Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit from Rotting Vegetables religiously, and the Germs G.I., DOA's Triumph Of the Ignoroids, & Something Better Change too. These records would be our transition into "Hardcore."  And what a mind-blowing experience that was! Time seemed to stop when we listened to these records. We knew something heavy was going down.

So, once you heard these records, was the only thing that mattered music-wise Hardcore?
For the time being. For a while these records just kind of obliterated everything else. We put our Elvis Costello and XTC records aside for the interim. I mean, I eventually got back to all the music in my collection. But yeah, these records kicked off a whole new standard at the time. And so much stuff followed. In a larger sense, this would be the beginning of independent music.

Was the SoCal early 80s Hardcore scene as violent as it’s said to have been?
There was violence but it was mostly regulated to those who were looking for it. I mean, I never once got into a fight in all those years. But yeah, you'd see that kind of stuff going on from time to time. It was no worse than what I saw going on at a High School football game for the most part. When the gangs started coming in and the thugs were grouping up and beating people up, that was unpleasant to witness. But it helped to know these people who were involved in some of these gangs. It was kind of like that line in Beach Boy's I Get Around, “The bad guys know us and they leave us alone." But mostly it was blown out of proportion by the media, and made worse by Daryl Gates era L.A.P.D. No matter how tough any of the punk gangs were, the cops always had to one up the punks and show us who was boss. And they did.

When you started WGP, were there any certain bands on the scene that you immediately wanted to talk to?
I was into photography and making films since I was a kid. I convinced Jordan to buy a camera and take a Photography class with me. Our friend Alan Gilbert also was into taking photos, and we started bringing out camera to gigs. We didn't really have much together for the first issue but just the sheer will to do something--anything. We had to document what was going down. By sheer chance we interviewed a new band called Circle One. Their singer, John Macias; his father just so happened to run a print shop. John hooked us up with his dad, who was way cool and hooked us up with the colored ink, glossy cover and quality paper.

In SoCal Punk folklore, John Macias is considered a pretty gnarly character. He went from leading a punk gang to becoming a born-again Christian to being shot dead by police on the Santa Monica Pier. Explain your relationship with the guy.   
By the time things got crazy with him, I was long past hanging with the guy. It wasn't like we were real close or anything. I was closer with the guitarist of his band, Mike Vallejo. Mike too had nothing to do with the gang. It seemed at first John was focused on establishing his band.  Then a couple years in, he was more about his gang, which he had quite a command over. They were into beating people up who didn't look like they belonged at the shows. If anyone had long hair or was too New Wave, forget it. That was disconcerting, and I wasn't into any of that. But I suppose the big revelation was seeing him in Another State of Mind leading a group of Hollywood homeless punks in a chorus of Christian hymns. They got into speed and Jesus. They squatted at The Wig Factory on La Brea. It was depressing.

On the other side of the SoCal Punk spectrum, the book gives brief mention to Gary Kail, I guy I always thought was interesting. How did you get to know him and what did you think of him?
Gary put together a series of great compilation LP’s on his label, New Underground. That's how I first met him. He asked my band Sin 34 to record for it, which we did. Around the same time he had Mike Glass, the guitarist of Sin 34, and me sit in on a show at The Galaxy in Fullerton with his band Mood Of Defiance, who I was a big fan of.  His main band was Anti. He also had a project called Zurich 1916. He was a nice guy, a little spacey. Sadly, things did not end well with him. He, like many from that era, is no longer with us.
 
It seems there was a time in 1984 where the whole first wave of American Hardcore people said 'Fuck this' and went in nine million different directions. Why do you think this happened?
Well, at least in Los Angeles by 1984, there was a collective yawn about much of it. Not that I didn't still love much of the music at the time, I did.  It was just that the scene here had suffered from a myriad of situations; namely the LAPD succeeding in shutting down all the clubs and the senseless violence. This coupled with a lot of the newer bands who were just recycling the riffs and sounds of the bands before them.  The scene just couldn't sustain itself and died.  But we sauntered on, informed by all that we had experienced.  Some would argue that what happened next  like SST and post hardcore was even more interesting.
 
If someone told you were told sometime in the mid-80's that you would be putting together this book of or that Sin 34 would get back together, would you have balked at them?
I certainly would have not guessed Sin 34 would ever play together again. First of all, I was not looking thirty years into the future at that point. Those were dense times, a lot of stuff happened in a short amount of time. It was a very creative period in retrospect.  I suppose I was one of the lucky one;  I survived the pit. I took the best of it with me:  the work ethic, the focus, the commitment, and the galvanization I felt  from all of it.  In a way it makes perfect sense that people want to look back and figure out what this was all about, since no one really knew at the time.

We Got Power: Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980s Southern California is available for pre-order here.

The release party for the book will be September 8th at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, California with performances by the Adolescents, Saccharine Trust, White Flag, The Last and Dead Issue. Info for that is here

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