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Judge's John Porcelly on the Band's Triumphant Return to Hardcore

The influential guitarist looks back on the old days of DIY venues and zines.

Hardcore punk is a distinctly nostalgic subculture. Want proof? Think of the song that received the biggest reaction at the last hardcore show you went to.

Which old school cover was it?

So when an iconic band from the past comes back from the dead and hits harder than they ever had before, and receives responses from crowds around the world that shock even its own members, our subculture gets to experience something we value more than anything: the reanimation of the glory days. That’s Judge in 2015.

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Judge is a reinvigorated hardcore juggernaut, returning to the legendary 924 Gilman street club over 25 years after their last visit. Unlike the band, and despite all odds, Gilman has stood the test of time, and will be welcoming the band back a quarter of a decade later without ever having closed its doors.

Guitarist John Porcelly’s ubiquitous influence can be felt on many of the classic straight edge records of the mid to late 80s, and also on many current releases that emulate the styles his various groups helped shape.

We spoke with Porcell about some uncomfortable truths he documented in his Schism fanzine, a project he worked on with Alex Brown of Gorilla Biscuits, Judge playing Gilman, and Noisey’s Judge documentary.

Noisey: Can you talk a little bit about the other times Judge has played Gilman? I know you played in ‘89 because there’s a video of it but I heard you also played in ‘90 as part of the “Storming the West” tour.
Porcelly: I can’t really remember the specifics. When you’ve played a thousand shows, the individual ones kind of start to blur together. But I do remember at one Gilman show I was wearing a red shirt with the sleeves cut off, because I’ve seen a lot of pictures of that show.

Gilman was always great. It was always nutty. They had that no stagediving rule but people stage dived anyways. [Laughs] It was just chaotic and crazy with people singing along. I even played there several times with Youth of Today and with Bold one time, and every show was jammed packed and sweaty and great.

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I do remember one thing specifically, although this might have been a Youth of Today show at Gilman Street, back in the day with Mike Judge on drums. But after the show we went out to eat with the guys from Operation Ivy, like Tim “Lint” [Armstrong] and all those guys. Then later on when they were in Rancid I was like “Oh crud! Those are the guys we went out to eat with that time!”

So we hung out with the Rancid guys way before they were even in Rancid. Mike and Tim had kind of hit it off, so it was cool.

It’s been 25 years since Judge played Gilman. But when was the last time you personally played Gilman? Did Shelter play there?
You know, I’m trying to think if Shelter played there. Hmm, I might not have played there since Judge last played, so this is going to be quite a show. I’m excited to get there and see what the club looks like and see some old friends.

It’s a small place and lots of the door money goes back to support the club, so you’re essentially taking a pay cut to play there. But you guys seemed really excited about it. So why exactly did you want to play Gilman so much?
We were already playing Rain Fest in Seattle. We were just talking about “Hey, maybe we should just book another show for fun.” It was actually our other guitar player Charlie’s idea. He always loved Gilman Street. For us it’s like the CBGBs of northern California, so it’s kind of an honor to play there.

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I don’t know how much we’re making or whatever. I usually find out about that afterwards. But first of all, no one does hardcore to make money. If you’re into making money, don’t start a hardcore band. It’s ridiculous. Go to college and get any kind of starting pay job and you’ll make more than a hardcore band. I don’t think any of us do this to pull down a paycheck. I mean, by the time you lose work by taking the time off, you’re practically breaking even anyway. We all do it because we love it. To get together with your friends and play music, for a musician, it doesn’t get much better than that. So we were all just stoked to play Gilman Street.

What are some of Judge’s goals as a band now that you’re back together and playing all over? Is this how you imagined the reuniting of the band would go when you first played Black N’ Blue Bowl in 2013?
We don’t have any specific plan. We don’t have any specific vision. It wasn’t even like we we’re like “now were going to get together and do another record and you know were going to do this and this.”

The whole idea was just so surreal to me because I never ever, ever, ever thought Judge would play again. No one even knew where Mike was! Just to be able to track him down and play Black N’ Blue, I would have been happy just doing that. But I think the response from Black n’ Blue was so overwhelming that. . . Well, it wasn’t even like we were actively seeking out other places to play. It was like we played Black N’ Blue and there was such a reaction to it we just started getting offers to play all over the world. We were like, “whoa!” We couldn’t believe it!

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You know, we weren’t a big band back in the day. I mean, we never could have ever filled Webster Hall, let alone sell it out two nights in a row. So for us to come back and have that kind of reception was great. We couldn’t believe it. So I think it made us happy to just do whatever comes up. If it makes sense to us and all the band members can do it then we just play. [Laughs]

To this day it’s still like that. We don’t have a plan, we don’t actively canvass to play. Usually someone calls us and be like, “Hey, we really want you to play this and we say, ‘OK!’”

It’s really always been like that from the start. I don’t know how long it’s going to last. I don’t know what is going to happen, we’re just playing it by ear.

Judge’s first EP came out through your Schism fanzine. I own the Schism book that has all the old issues in it. I have really enjoyed reading through it, but one thing I noticed is that you ask a lot of bands about “fag bashing.” How prevalent of a thing was that back in the day?
Well, when I first came to New York and I went to my first real hardcore matinee in NYC. I had been to CBGBs for some kind of punker sort of show but it wasn’t really a hardcore matinee. The first hardcore matinee I went to was Agnostic Front (before United Blood came out, and they were headlining), Death before Dishonor, this band called Skinhead Youth (which was the guitar player from Cause for Alarm and Raybeez singing), and the opening band was this band called Balls, which was Don Fury’s band. You know Don Fury, the guy who recorded the Judge EP and a lot of those classic records?

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Yeah, of course.
So I mean, it was like, a NYHC skinhead show. I was practically the only guy with hair there! It was kind of a scary scene back then. There was people shooting heroin in the bathroom, and I’m just like a guy from the suburbs coming into my first CBGBs matinee. The whole place had shaved heads and the pit was crazy, and there’s people sniffing glue and doing heroin all around me, so it was kind of intimidating. So then that band Skinhead Youth started playing, with Raybeez singing, and they had this one song that they dedicated to skinheads and said something about “fag bashing.” So it was basically a song about fag bashing and I was like holy crap, people really do that?

So it was sort of prevalent in that old school kind of scene. I will say this, in Raybeez’s defense, at that time, he was on a whole lot of angel dust and his life was really screwed up. I have a lot of respect for Raybeez because later on, he cleaned up his act, became straight edge, and was a very positive influence on the scene.

People say dumb stuff when they’re on drugs so I never really held it against him. But, yeah, it was sort of a reality in that New York hardcore scene.

Do you have a Judge Chung King Can Suck It LP?
Nope, I gave mine away to Sweet Pete from In My Eyes. I was moving into The Temple and actually sold my whole record collection when I moved in there. I had about six Chung King test pressings which sell on eBay now for about $4,000. Actually one sold for $6,000, and I had about six of them and I sold my whole collection for barely anything.

But my own personal Chung King I gave to Sweet Pete from In My Eyes because I figured “Who is going to appreciate this record more than anyone else?” But I don’t own one anymore. I wish I did.

Can you talk a little bit about the renewed spirit amongst the band? I know some of you got matching tattoos.
I didn’t, and Sammy didn’t, but the other guys did. Our roadie and booking agent also did. You know, this band has been such a big part of our lives, and since we’ve been back we’ve played some incredible shows. So it just makes you feel like what we did a long time ago, it’s so unreal to think this many years later people still care, and sing along, and know all the words. It makes you realize it wasn’t just some crappy band we threw together 20 years ago. It actually had some sort of lasting effect and that added some weight to it and that’s part of the renewed spirit.

How was the experience of having Noisey make that Judge documentary? Have you seen it yet?
I have seen the whole thing. I thought it was awesome! It was very artistically shot and they drew stuff out of Mike that I didn’t even know! Like, I was learning new things and I’ve known Mike half my life. Somehow he just felt comfortable enough to really just kind of spill some personal stuff, which I always find fascinating because he’s a quiet guy, very reserved and to himself, and he doesn’t usually open up like that. So it’s really kind of cool to get the sense of who is the guy behind this band? I thought it was great. I loved all the old footage they had in there too.