Instead of short-shorts and go-go boots, the few females in attendance are wearing cargo shorts and Doc Martens. The headlining band’s singer, Lou Koller of Sick of It All, is at the foot of the stage, a pile-on of fans mounting at his feet.
Many of the more buff men have relinquished their shirts, revealing glazed, inked skin and nipple piercings matching the ones in their septums. Piercing feedback drowns out the roar of the crowd. He screams his first lines of lyrics: “Thinking back on what we had! ” Distorted guitar parts are blasted out over a catchy groove.
“It was punching you in the face, where punk was shoving you and saying, Hardcore’s about ‘fuck the world,’ but it’s also about the opposite: respecting people.” After a few minutes of near complete sensory overload, the band strikes the tune’s last note, the crowd cheers, and everyone readies themselves for the next song.
“That was place,” says Gill, who remembers it as “a crack in the wall.” “It was hardly a venue,” he continues, “but it was amazing.
How many music venues in Manhattan at the time would let a bunch of maniacs stand in front, smoking and drinking before a show and then for three hours just let you lose your shit?
“You walked out of there feeling like you were on a roller coaster.
The [mosh] pits were through my twenties and thirties.” Kress says she attended an average of three hardcore shows a week in the ’90s, attracted to the music itself, but also “the family atmosphere” at shows.
They looked like embattled rugby players in various states of worn-out uniform, with no ball or decipherable goal.
A source in Tony Rettman’s oral history book covering ’80s New York hardcore (NYHC, as it’s known) half-joked that those early participants “all had mental problems and they all lived in the street.” The melee’s soundtrack featured songs faster than anything produced in rock before it, with anti-establishment lyrics preaching social consciousness and standing up for oneself. The aggression discharge within the tight space was so captivating that nobody stopped moving, or having a good time.
But as the scene continued to swell, toward the end of the decade Downtown club managers became less willing to contend with increasing violence and injuries befalling audience members because of slam dancing, stage diving, and other unruly behavior, which could spur lawsuits.
Lenny Bednarz, a member of noteworthy hardcore bands Without a Cause and Fahrenheit 451, remembers observing two concertgoers entering a mosh pit swinging a sock full of batteries during one show.
Intensely upbeat, and tall with a closely shaved head, he adds, “It’s regular people with regular problems.” Like many NYHC fans – myself included – Gill first latched on to heavy metal.