Positive Mental Attitude: 5 Essential Youth Crew Records

As subcultures go, punk has always been fractious, splintered and evolutionary

Hardcore emerged in the US in the early 80s, far from the mohawks and safety pins that defined the punk movement of the late 70s. This faster, cleaner response to the grotty glue-sniffing culture of British punk bands spawned a youth movement that twisted and split like no other. Bands either latched onto subtly subversive philosophies like straight edge, veganism and Hare Krishna, or kicked against them with a more obvious beer-swilling, jockish approach to counterculture. Hardcore became a breeding ground for passionate rebellion in all its forms.

After the initial explosion, hardcore shot off in about a hundred different directions at once: crust punk, metalcore, thrashcore, D-beat, powerviolence, emo, screamo. In the mid-1980s, beginning with Youth of Today’s seminal 7″ Can’t Close My Eyes, the youth crew movement emerged as a refined, clean cut style of hardcore. Influenced by bands like Minor Threat, 7 Seconds and SSD, it endorsed themes of friendship, unity and a drug free lifestyle. The music was fast, intense and positive – and its following was fiercely loyal.

Bands like New York’s Youth of Today and Side by Side and California’s Chain of Strength epitomised the youth crew ideal. Their names evoked kinship and community and their bold artwork resembled something you’d find on an amateur wrestling poster. Their uniform of choice was an upended take on the typical outfits worn by high-school jocks. The football jackets and crew cuts were a snarky, probably subconscious, dig at their urban surroundings. With no grass for miles their sport of choice was hardcore – a place to take out their pent up aggression, to be with their team.

As time went on, youth crew became increasingly infested with negative bands and messages. The buzz was all-but-over by the mid-90s and while the original scene stretched little further than a handful of bands, the message spread far-and-wide, eventually shaping modern metal and punk scenes. After a brief revival in the early-00s, bands like Terror and Hatebreed began to push a metallic take on hardcore that, teemed with the cocky swagger and intense attitude of youth crew, eventually broke through into the mainstream. Youth crew was left in the dust, a more-or-less forgotten precursor to a burly bulldog of a genre.

In this list we look back at five youth crew records that remain vital to understanding the micro-genre.

Youth of Today

Can't Close My Eyes (1985)

Youth of Today’s first album Can’t Close My Eyes is not just essential because its a great record – it’s also quite literally essential as it spawned the phrase ‘youth crew’.

The record came out on youth crew godfather Kevin Second’s Postive Force record label and the rest is history. 14 seething slices of intensity that run in at a total time of 28 minutes and leave you feeling bloodied, bruised and beaming.

Judge

New York Crew (1987)

Judge’s New York Crew opens with the anthemic Fed Up. Judge stood apart from many of the other bands associated with youth crew because of their overtly aggressive image and hardline straight edge values.

New York Crew is a vital 7″ that took youth crew’s excess-shunning, tough guy mentality to new heights. It’s subversive and tough but actually one of the hardest records you’ll hear in this list.

Side By Side

You're Only Young Once (1988)

New York’s Revelation Records were key instigators in the hardcore scene of the late 80s and early 90s. They put out Side By Side’s You’re Only Young Once and it remains one of the most powerful records to emerge from the scene ever.

It features some insane wonky bass courtesy of Billy Clean who also played in Mr. Clean – an early straight edge band – and most of the band’s members went on to be involved in CIV, Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits.

Chain of Strength

True Til Death (1988)

Arguably the only original youth crew band not to come out of New York City, Chain of Strength found kindred spirits in the likes of Bold and Youth of Today. Releasing their True Til Death EP on Revelation gained the band a following that stretched beyond their home state and helped take the youth crew movement nationwide.

True Til Death is blunt, raw and visceral. The title track is an ode to loyalty replete with gang vocals and thundering military drums that end on an immortal chanted epithet of its own title “True ’til death”. I’m not sure what happened to the members but I like to think they’re still staying true and not dead yet.

Gorilla Biscuits

Start Today (1989)

Gorilla Biscuits’ Start Today is probably the most iconic album to emerge from New York’s youth crew scene. The band formed as a collaboration between Walter Schreifels and Jon Porcelly of Youth of Today, Sammy Siegler who played drums for everyone from Side By Side and Judge to Limp Bizkit and Anthony Civarelli who went on to form CIV.

The album is melodic and emotionally charged as it gallops through 12 tracks slagging off everything from video games to apathy. The harmonica solo in the title track probably put a nail in the youth crew coffin but it’s certainly essential, innovative and kind of hilarious.

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