It was the summer of 1985, and I was an incoming freshman at the University of Florida. Gainesville was seriously happening at the time, with indie record stores and easy-to-sneak-into nightclubs lining the streets around campus. As a 17-year-old musician and architecture major (yeah … it was a long time ago), I immersed myself in my newfound freedom and interesting musical discoveries, care of some new friends and dorm mates. A highbrow intellectual turned me on to Frank Zappa. A peace-through-vandalism buddy turned me on to black metal, speed metal and crossover punk.
Suddenly I was analyzing the dense orchestral rock of Zappa while attending Celtic Frost and Agnostic Front concerts at the local VFW. (Remember when Agnostic Front was hardcore? Didn’t think so.) That year, I saw Corrosion of Conformity, Hellwitch and Death. That year, I was made painfully aware of the long-hair/skinhead rivalry that ruined too many shows. That year, I was asked to join local hardcore band Psychic Violents. That year, the Red Hot Chili Peppers smashed a wedding cake in the campus ballroom on a local cable access TV show. That year, I missed the goddamned Black Flag show. They broke up in 1986, and any hopes of catching my favorite among the era’s best bands were dashed. But my love for aggressive, bloody punk had been established — and it abides to this day.
So I was delighted to receive the new compilation album North Florida Punk Rock. Released on May 9 by the folks at the Atlantic Beach record shop Young, Loud & Snotty, the album features 15 Northeast Florida punk groups on vinyl and digital download. But before we talk about the bands, let’s take a moment to appreciate the album itself, and its artwork. First off, this sucker has been pressed on purple-and-white tie-dye vinyl, and it’s a sweet piece. Also noteworthy is the cover illustration by local horror artist Stephen Bunnell, which harks back to the hand-drawn covers of’80s punk and metal albums. A muscle-bound, green-mohawked skeleton threatens fisticuffs. He’s wearing a purple wristband.
OK, not enough space here to cover all the bands featured therein, but here are a few highlights: The package kicks off with The Reachers’ “1989,” apropos as its gang vocals reminisce about skateboarding, going to shows and ruling the neighborhood. Track 2, one of the best on the record, is a blistering tune called “Dead World” by Full On Assault. It also recalls the heyday of hardcore with an undeniable West Coast vibe. “I’m a Drunk,” by the Wastedist, is a speedy little number that might be considered a rejoinder to Black Flag’s “Drinking and Driving.” F.F.N. goes decidedly low-fi with “No Regrets & Alcohol,” another one of the record’s better cuts. It’s an angry screamer that would whip up a pretty nasty skank pit at a cul-de-sac house party, for sure.
Faith City Fiasco opens the flip side with a reverb-heavy rebel yell titled “Worst Prom Ever.” Almost more metal than punk, it’s just sloppy enough to be respectable. Powerball offers a crunchy bastard of a tune with “Pull the Trigger.” Another contender for top honors, this one is nearly too musical to fit with the others on the record, as it’s heavy on intricate, well-performed riffage. Deeper into the album, Nine Tenths blasts through the very excellent, short-but-super-pissed-off “Lazy Parent,” a breakneck crossover nugget that could easily double as a D.R.I. song.
If the YLS comp is a true representation of Jacksonville’s punk scene, then I’ve got to get back out there and check out some shows. Despite cheeseball attempts by some now-huge pop bands to call themselves punk, the genre seems resilient enough to survive that nonsense. Punk — real punk — never seems to die, and the bands on this compilation are the ones keeping it alive, rude and snotty. And that’s a good thing.