If you’ve ever found yourself stuck in a room with a bunch of record collecting nerd types arguing over who was America’s first Hardcore Punk band, the name of Santa Ana California’s Middle Class had to be thrown around more than once. Their debut seven-inch EP from 1979 Out of Vogue is considered by many to be one of the precursory, blueprint records for the Hardcore scene along with Bad Brains Pay to Cum, Stimulators Loud Fast Rules and Black Flag Nervous Breakdown. And now, thirty-six years after its release, a video for the title track from the seminal EP is being released on the one-year anniversary of the bands’ guitarist Mike Atta death to cancer.
To commemorate the release of the video, I called up the vocalist for The Middle Class, Jeff Atta. We spoke about the video, the violence of the early LA Hardcore Punk scene and the bands’ withdraw from it in 1982 via their unheralded post-punk classic LP, Homeland.
Noisey: How did this video for “Out of Vogue” come about?
Jeff Atta: The guy who did it was a friend of Lisa Fracher (Frontier Records owner) who liked the band for a number of years. He and his buddy just did it on their own. We had no idea of it until Lisa sent me the link to it.
What do you think of it?
I think it’s great. When Lisa sent me the e-mail telling me that some guys made a video for “Out of Vogue”, I was kind of dreading watching it. I thought it was going to be this dark, death and destruction type thing with people slam dancing around. So, it was a pleasant surprise. I thought it was a good idea to just take it in this completely opposite direction of what you might think the video would be like.
The Middle Class came from Orange County, but you came into the L.A. punk scene prior to the huge suburban influx that spurred the Hardcore scene out there.
Yeah, that’s right. As far we knew, we were the only people in Orange County besides maybe one or two others who listened to The Ramones or The Dictators. Later on, we found out there were groups in Fullerton at the time like The Mechanics and Agent Orange. Soon after that, all that stuff in Huntington Beach stared to bubble up. But we had no idea, we were completely isolated. As far as we knew, we were surrounded by white boy who liked Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull and cholos who liked oldies.
Was Out of Vogue self-released? I always wondered if the label it was released on – Joke Records – was your own imprint?
No, that was put out by a guy named Billy S. Starr. I think it was all set up through (Middle Class bass player) Mike Patton. He also managed to find these guys who wanted to be investors by buying us a new amp or something like that. The second EP we did in 1980, Scavenged Luxury, we did ourselves simply out of necessity.
When did the L.A. Punk scene crossover to more of a Hardcore vibe?
The first time I noticed a really big change was when we played The Fleetwood with The Germs. I think T.S.O.L were on the bill as well. There was a real change in the attitude of people in the audience. There were tons of fights breaking out. There was a different vibe that was really grim. It was…
Yeah! And there were no more girls coming to the shows it seemed! There also seemed to be a fashion element to it that we didn’t fit in with. We always seemed caught in between these two things – the Hardcore thing and the earlier Hollywood punk thing – and we didn’t fit in with either one.
So did the Hardcore thing put a damper on the punk scene in L.A?
It got a point where some club would have one show and someone would call the police and the show would get shut down. The Whisky A Go-Go would have punk bands for a week or two and then the bathroom would get trashed and that’d be it for a while. They’re started to be hardly any places to play. When it started to get more and more Hardcore is when we started playing our music differently.
So the more post-punk direction the band went towards on the 1982 LP Homeland was something of a response to the L.A. punk scene going farther into the Hardcore mold?
Yeah. A week before we went in to record it, we threw out our set list and decided to write all these new songs. We were listening to bands like Wire and Gang of Four and wanted to see how far we could stretch ourselves.
Was there disdain from the Huntington Beach contingent of new punks that you were not sticking to the style you had on Out of Vogue?
No, but I don’t think it really connected with any of them either.
Do you remember what the overall reception to Homeland was at the time it was released?
Well, I remember it took six months for it to be released. The guys from the label we were working with (Pulse Records) told us they were shopping it around to bigger labels but ended up releasing it themselves. To tell you truth, I think they wanted to release it all along but said they were shopping it around so they could sit on it and release it eventually.
By the time Homeland was released, the whole punk scene had become splintered. You were either Hardcore or Post-Punk or Psychobilly. We were more associated with Hardcore and I think people were confused by the record.
There’s all these records that came out in 1979 that many Hardcore Punk historian types like to argue is the first American Hardcore Punk record. Some say it’s the Bad Brains Pay to Cum. Some say it’s Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown. Some say it’s Out of Vogue. Do you have any opinion in this heated debate?
It wasn’t like we had any idea in our mind like “Let’s make a new genre of punk rock!” As young kids, our interpretation of punk rock was simple and fast; so that’s what we did. We weren’t trying to be different from what anybody else was doing. Who knows? Maybe the Bad Brains Pay to Cum 7” came out a few days before Out of Vogue. It’s not like we kept records from the pressing plant so we can go back and say who was first. For us, it’s just nice to get any recognition at all!
For those unfamiliar with The Middle Class, be sure to pick up some of the re-issues Frontier has done in the past few years and bone up on your Hardcore history.