A Family Affair
Nardcore community to celebrate 35 years of music and friendship
By Michel Miller 08/15/2013
Nardcore — hardcore from Oxnard, by most accounts, a word first uttered by Ismael Hernandez, the bass player for Dr. Know — has had a surprisingly profound influence on rock music, its tentacles reaching corners of popular culture in unexpected ways. Nardcore even has its own symbol, created by Hernandez’s brother Jaime, co-creater of the Love and Rockets comic books. “When we were kids he used to draw a circle, put an X through it and write N-A-R-D in the pie slices,” remembers Ismael. “We thought that was really clever. He started using the diamond instead of a circle because he said it looked tougher.”
Hardcore, born in the early 1980s in Southern California under the influence of adrenaline from surfing and skateboarding, was a faster, more aggressive spawn of punk rock. The sound didn’t necessarily differ from region to region, but Ventura County and specifically Oxnard were and are home to some of the genre’s best-loved bands.
Anyone who listened to KROQ in the ‘80s must remember the song “Sit On My Face, Stevie Nicks” by The Rotters. Though not really qualifying as hardcore, it managed to aggravate Fleetwood Mac enough to get it pulled from the radio station’s rotation and Tower Records’ sales floor. Kurt Cobain supposedly had a Dr. Know poster on his bedroom wall. Brandon Cruz, one of the singers for Dr. Know, played Eddie in the ‘70s TV series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. The Grim (a band from the San Fernando Valley that was involved in the Nardcore scene) had its debut record featured in the iconic ’80s film Pretty in Pink. Many bands that would later become huge, internationally touring acts got their feet wet at local Nardcore shows where they shared bills with bands they’d later cite as major influences — NOFX and Slayer among them. During the Brandon McInerney trial, Joe Rivas of Burning Dog was called as an expert witness to dispel the notion that Nardcore music was linked to hate crime. In 1999, Nardcore musician Scott Morris played the Super Bowl halftime show with his swing band.
Some of the bands continue to perform, some do not. Most of the musicians from the early days, the originators, the elders, are still local, though some have moved away and a few are no longer alive. They’ve had breakdowns and breakthroughs, they’ve overdosed and found sobriety, won awards (including two Emmys) and lost loved ones, tasted fame and failure. New bands continue to spring from the fertile Oxnard plain, carrying on the tradition, never forgetting their roots.
There are as many versions of “the truth” about Nardcore as there are personalities, and as many opinions as mouths, but what echoes more loudly than the deepest bass drum is that more than a regional music genre or a subculture, Nardcore is a family, and on Saturday, Aug. 17, multiple hundreds of people representing every generation will pile into the Ventura Theater for a reunion the likes of which has never been seen. Many of the featured bands — Dr. Know, Agression featuring Big Bob, Ill Repute, The Missing 23rd, False Confession, Stalag 13, The Grim and The Rotters — will be performing together on the same bill for the first time. The world premiere of a documentary film about Ill Repute will kick off the event at 4:30 p.m. There will be special guests and surprises. There could even be reconciliation. Most of all, there will be hardcore punk rock from Oxnard.
VCReporter asked eight people who are key characters in the Nardcore story to discuss various aspects of its history. They are, in alphabetical order: Eddy Burgos (Habeas Corpus, Numbskull Productions); Tony Cortez (Ill Repute); John Crerar (The Missing 23rd, Dick Circus and too many other bands to list); Ismael Hernandez (Dr. Know); Joe Rivas (Burning Dog); Shawn Stern (Youth Brigade, BYO); Kyle Toucher (Dr. Know); Carl Valdez (Ill Repute); Larry White (Agression, Stalag 13).
Burgos: My first memory is the argyle sweater I wore in my third-grade Bard Elementary School picture. Second memory is Agression’s tracks on the Someone Got Their Head Kicked In compilation on BYO. They made my dinosaur rock heroes completely obsolete.
Cortez: Jim [Callahan] and John [Phaneuf] from Ill Repute and I got into this punk rock thing before we even knew there were others in this area that were into it too. So when we heard there was a show out at Camarillo Oak Grove Park with some punk bands, we freaked out and knew we had to be there. That’s when we met the Dr. Know crew and a few others. Everyone was really great and we all bonded, which I think you had to back then because there weren’t too many of us.
Hernandez: For me, I guess Nardcore began at Dr. Know’s first gig because that’s when I met the guys in Ill Repute. That’s kind of when all the different little punk pods started coming together.
Stern: We had a house in Hollywood called Skinhead Manor from late 1979 for about a year. I remember meeting a group of skinheads that referred to themselves as N.A.S.H., Northern Area Skin Heads, I believe. Some, maybe all, of the guys from Agression were involved, so that’s how we met. Most of them were big, but none was as big as Big Bob the bassist. We all became friendly from that, and when fights would start up they were good guys to have on your side.
Valdez: During the early years of the L.A. scene, Tony, Jim and John became close with the guys from Circle One. So we would go to L.A. and hang out with them. John Macias had what he called “The Family.” We were part of The Family. (Laughs.) So our very first local punk show at the Hueneme Community Center was Circle One, Agression, Beer Guts, and Ill Repute opened.
Courtesy of Davie Holifield, art by Gilbert Hernandez.
White: My first band was from Ventura, and we played parties and tried to get out of town to share our newfound love for punk. I had been going to shows in Oxnard for some time and knew most of the cast of characters, so it came my way by word of mouth that Agression needed a drummer! Next thing you know, I’m playing the parties and in L.A. doing shows, recording on an album and the BYO tour.
Crerar: I think all the bands had their own sound, but because Doug Moody recorded most of them in his studio, it gave the bands a similar tone. The bands sounding the same had more to do with that than being from Oxnard. If you listen to Agression’s “Don’t Be Mistaken” and Stalag 13’s “In Control,” they stand out because Doug didn’t record those.
Hernandez: I knew each band’s sound so well, they all seemed so individual.
Photo collage by Albert Munoz
The Missing 23rd, John Crerar (far left) on vocals.
Toucher: Like all music genres that become popular and explode with proliferation, the hardcore movement suffered from a lot of generic songwriting and shaky performances. With a glut like that, the flip side is that when quality bands stood out, they really stood out. Assigning a certain sound to a geographic location, I feel, isn’t particularly accurate in this instance as all of the bands from the era, and area, had their own methods, talents and songwriting goals. We were all very young, and at the very least that brazen tiger-by-the-tail energy is captured in all of those early records — which is why they endure.
White: Agression had a hard punk, surf and skate attitude. Dr. Know was far from anything I had heard: hard, fast and mechanized guitar sounds that were from the future. Stalag 13 was straight-edge and had a unique sound of its own. Ill Repute was not following anyone else’s path. All the bands coming out of the 805 were fresh, original and like nothing you had heard before.
Burgos: Those were my very first DIY punk shows, so they hold a special place in my heart. As a 12-13 year old kid this place opened up an entirely new universe for me. I entered my first slam pit there. I remember landing face-first in the pit during Suicidal Tendencies, getting severely concussed, and if not for Blake Cruz pulling me out of said pit my 100-pound frame would have been stampeded on. Even being a preteen I could feel the sense of community that was starting to bloom in Oxnard. After the Battalion of Saints show, Tony Cortez invited me to break into the Oxnard High School pool with a bunch of showgoers. I thought that was the coolest thing ever.
Cortez: Those shows were awesome! I thought they were set up great — usually four bands. A big touring band headlining, one of the top local bands right under them, a local up-and-comer before that and a new start-up opening. The place was great; cops rarely came. Good times.
Hernandez: The Casa Tropical shows were awesome, kids from all over Ventura and Santa Barbara County and even the San Fernando Valley. A real golden time for music, fun and friendships. And most importantly, it was, like, 10 minutes from my house.
White: The Casa! That was truly the venue for our area. The owner supported our music and gave anyone a chance on their stage. It was a shame to see it close after so many great shows.
Burgos: I love the fact that if not for Mystic, my band Habeas Corpus, for better or for worse, would never have seen vinyl. I love the fact that Mystic embraced the region and spread Nardcore love internationally. I hate the fact that artists have not been compensated fairly or at all in some cases. I hate the fact that artists have zero control or any input with current releases.
Cortez: So disappointed with them. If they could have just been fair, honest and considerate with the bands they deal with, they could have done great things.
Crerar: I’m happy that there was someone to document all the rad stuff that was going on in Oxnard during the early ‘80s. If it wasn’t for Mystic, most people outside of Oxnard would never have heard these bands or care about them 20 years later. I think the deals he had them sign were pretty fucked, but at the same time, would anyone know or care if he hadn’t put out the bands? Who knows for sure? I hope he doesn’t show up to the show. I’d hate to see an 84-year-old get beat up by a bunch of pissed-off 50-year-olds.
Hernandez: I’m cool with Mystic Records. Nobody else wanted to put us out at the time, and Philco was a cool guy to deal with and hang out with. Doug [Moody] was just Doug.
Rivas: I love the records, even though they have always sounded terrible from a production standpoint.
Stern: We are the ones that found the place and recorded tracks for ourselves [Youth Brigade], Agression, Battalion of Saints and The Joneses for our Someone Got Their Head Kicked In comp. This is how Agression met Doug Moody and, through that, how “Mistake” went on to later release some of the Oxnard bands. We recorded our first record there but had a lot of problems with Doug and ended up suing him for some shady business practices. All this happened in less than a year in 1980, and we warned every band that we knew that they should be wary of him, but unfortunately he had a studio and was offering to record bands and release their records.
Burgos: A series of mishaps, missteps, mistakes and just pure rotten luck that has plagued many a band from the region — from premature band breakups, overdoses, stolen equipment to bad business decisions.
Cortez: The joke is, if you were born in Oxnard, you’re cursed to begin with. And all bad things that happen to you or your band can be blamed on that. The strongest Nard Curse that happened to Ill Repute was when we were touring with Scared Straight. In Philadelphia, we had just played a really great show at the Electric Banana. We met some people from the show and went to stay at their house and party it up a little. Usually someone sleeps in the vehicle with all the equipment and our stuff. But the party was extra-fun I guess, and no one went back out to the van. The next morning there was just a pile of glass where our stuff used to be. Everything was gone — equipment, clothes, our ride, our itinerary. We knew where the next show was and played that on borrowed equipment, but then had to head home, canceling half the tour. So yeah, Nard Curse.
Big Bob of Agression, circa early ’80s.
Crerar: Usually it’s when something good is happening and then something fucks it all up. Like when M23 went to Europe, we were all stoked and super-pumped to get there. We flew in then had to wait in the airport for 10 hours for the promoter to pick us up. He thought we were flying in the next day. Or when we got signed to Sessions [Records] and they gave us this awesome airport shuttle bus that broke down on our way home from Santa Cruz — then consistently broke down every time we took it out! Or when you have a kickass show like Nardstock and the lawyers of the Woodstock trademark make you change the name of the show or they will sue you.
Rivas: The Nard Curse is just a concept that has evolved to be this reason for the negative things that happen to local bands and punks. But really, it extends to everyone from Ventura County. It’s something we can point to, to explain the hard luck stories that we all have. We joke that Ill Repute brought this all on us, specifically Tony Cortez, for making the deal to produce the Nardcore compilation that came out on Mystic Records in 1984. The phrase didn’t come around until the ’90s, though there were certainly things in the ’80s that would be considered part of the curse. Really, it’s nothing that any other scene has not dealt with. We just have a name for it.
Burgos: Unfortunately, I don’t think the masses will ever really know how far-reaching and influential our region was. NOFX, arguably the biggest and most internationally impacting punk rock band of the last two decades, once had Nard veteran Dave Casillas in its ranks. Fat Mike has gone on record saying thanks to RKL for letting them steal all their riffs. Scott Morris of False Confession has dominated the world with his neo-swing outfit Big Bad Voodoo Daddy; they played the Superbowl for fuck’s sake. Harry Misenheimer, also from False, was in the Cramps. Metal gods Slayer cited how inspirational Dr. Know was to them and even covered and released one of its songs. But you know what? I don’t really care if the masses don’t know how important Nardcore was/is to contemporary music. All that really matters is that we do.
Crerar: In the ’80s, each city had its own scene, and I feel Nardcore could hold its own against any of the big-city scenes. M23 toured in Europe, Japan, Canada and all over the U.S., and there were always a few people in every town that were down for Nardcore. Plus we have an awesome symbol that is easy to graffiti.
Hernandez: We had good responses but our strength was definitely the West and Southwest.
Ill Repute, early ’80s.
Rivas: I used to work for other bands from out of town like Good Riddance. I toured the country with them a few times as a driver/roadie selling merch. People all over the place would see my Nardcore bands T-shirts that I usually always wear, and without fail at least once a show someone would stop and talk with me about seeing Ill Repute, Agression, Dr Know. And they’d explain how those bands affected their lives and that is why they are still involved in punk to this day. And I am not just talking about New York or Boston or Miami or other big cities. This happened in Lawerence, Kan., and Boise and Pocatello, Idaho, and in Bozeman, Mont., and Aberdeen, S.D. I remember one time when Sick of it All played in Ventura in the late ’90s . . . I had Henry Knowles from Agression come to the show and those SOIA guys just flipped out, acted like schoolgirls meeting Bieber or something. And they knew who he was from sight. I didn’t need to introduce them, they knew who he was and felt honored that he was there.
Stern: The only band in these early days that I remember was Agression. Dr. Know and Ill Repute and Stalag 13 came a year or so later, but they all did pretty well on the L.A. shows that I recall. And we put Agression on our first BYO release as well as releasing their first record, and always tried to help them out and would help out the other Oxnard bands as well when we ran Godzilla’s and were promoting shows ourselves and with Goldenvoice over the next few years.
Toucher: I have found throughout the years that the bands that broke out of the 805 quarantine zone and managed to tour enough, made an impression, at the very least nationwide. Dr. Know toured extensively between 1984 and 1989. We played hundreds of shows throughout the North American continent. The best part about having done that much work back in those days, and the legacy the band left, was not as much fan recognition as what was to become Dr. Know’s influence on the bands that were to come after.
Burgos: Kathy Rodgers and Becca Porter were two that stood out and made serious contributions to the scene.
Cortez: There were plenty and they were great, but as usual I struck out with all of them so I joked that there weren’t any.
Hernandez: The Nardcore girls were awesome. Just as rabid as the guys for punk rock. I don’t want to list them because I will forget somebody.
Rivas: There are always girls involved; artists, writers, photographers and even some girl singers, especially in the ’90s. I can think of at least five bands with girls that sang.
White: Nardcore girls, oh yeah! We had them, punk as fuck! They were as hardcore as the men. not any that I remember in bands, but that was to come in time.
Burgos: This was a real extraordinary time ’cause I feel after the late ’80s lull there were a plethora of bands making a creative dent regionally and nationally. Dick Circus, The Missing 23rd, Burning Dog, No Motiv to name a few. The scene felt very communal and organic and in the true spirit of DIY, people were getting involved again whether it be starting bands, putting out records/tapes, writing zines, putting on shows, etc. It was also when Numbskull started to get real active and brought bands to town that clearly were influenced by the early ’80s Nard legends. Jawbreaker, NOFX, Good Riddance, The Offspring, Lagwagon were all Nardcore fans.
Cortez: Well the late ’80s and ’90s was a different time for me. The violence-riddled punk scene of L.A. had me distancing myself from the scene a little bit. But there were some great bands that came out of that era like Burning Dog, The Missing 23rd and No Motiv just to name a few.
Crerar: In the early ’90s, say until about ’93, there was constant all-ages venues and the shows were relatively big. My first actual show besides backyard parties was at a club called Mogz. Most people remember it as Nicholby’s. Back then it wasn’t a bar but an all-ages club. When Mogz stopped doing shows, there was a place called the Insomniac that did a few shows, then it moved into the Mayfair Theater. There were lots of shows at the Mayfair. The shows were well-attended, but times were different. There were lots of gangs/skinheads making some shows kind of scary. All the bands that were going to be huge in a few more years played at the Mayfair: NOFX, Pennywise, The Offspring all had shows there. There was the infamous Green Day riot when a gang got kicked out of the show, came back, busted through the back door and started hitting people with pipes, ending the show before Green Day played. A brother/sister duo started doing shows at a Mexican restaurant, next to El Teatro in Oxnard, called El Fiesta. Eddy Numbskull [Burgos] started doing shows there too. Shows moved from El Fiesta to Club Deja Vu in Montalvo. Some notable bands that played Deja Vu were Rancid, No Use For A Name, Lagwgon, Beowulf, the Muffs, Youth Brigade, Citizen Fish and Good Riddance. By ’95-’96 there was a new explosion of bands. Dick Circus put out a 7-inch and broke up at the end of ’95. Our last show was No Motiv’s first. All the bands were friends and all the bands sounded different. We would all go to each other’s shows, and we would have fun. The gangs and violence slowly faded away. During this time, the Ventura Theater had different owners and a strict no slam dancing policy, so we hated it. They would book the occasional big punk band like Circle Jerks or Fear and kick out every kid that was slamming. It took six guys to kick out Mike D. from M23 when the Circle Jerks played. Most of the bands, including M23, broke up in ’97.
Burgos: A splendid Nardcore family activity with some really competitive motherfuckers.
Cortez: Well, the Stern brothers from Youth Brigade and BYO Records were geniuses when they paired up punk rock with bowling over 15 years ago. And they’ve been throwing the huge Punk Rock Bowling festival in Las Vegas every year since. They got us so hooked that we couldn’t wait a whole year for it. So Fred Dixon, the singer for Punk Rawk Elvis, had the idea to do our own. We have a really fun, way smaller scale version of theirs and also our own league night on Thursdays and sometimes an open get-together on Sundays.
Hernandez: It’s really brought people out of the woodwork and back together. People come from all over California for the tournaments just to party with old friends.
Nardcore bowlers, from left: Steve Walea, John Crerar, Jeff Hershey
(Nardfest organizer), Tony Cortez (Ill Repute and unofficial Mayor of Nardcore).
Valdez: Nardcore bowling is like Sunday family dinner. It’s just what you do. You change your life around for Thursday night bowling. We miss you when you’re not there. And if you miss and come back, people welcome you like the prodigal son. I truly experienced that. Harry Misenhimer — drummer for Stalag 13, False Confession and the Cramps — is experiencing that now.
White: The Turkey Bowl is by far the best event in the world! What started this event was pure love for the scene and that it could be done here, bring friends and family together in one place, Oxnard, and with more entertainment and bigger prize money, and the best swag I have ever seen, and all the bowlers that we know from right here in the Nard to other states and cities.
Burgos: Degenerative knees and inflamed lower lumbars due to bowling.
Crerar: Nardcore is at a good place; there are lots of new bands. Many of the old-school bands are playing again. There are multiple venues doing all-ages shows, plus tons of bar shows. There are even people doing generator shows. If anything, the scene is too big. There are too many bands, too many shows; you can’t go to them all anymore. I guess it’s a good thing. I like that kids are starting bands, throwing shows, making T-shirts, pressing records. Doing the same thing I was doing 20 years ago and just like the guys did 10 years before me.
Hernandez: Nardcore is alive and well. There are still lots of good bands out there worth checking out.
Toucher: We enjoy playing and being in this band now more than we ever did, and it certainly translates in the way we sound and the way we present it publicly. Dr. Know has a good thing going; and as long as there is a demand for it, we will do what we feel we have always done: overdeliver.
White: I have just now, after 30-plus years of being tied to this music scene, got my first Nardcore symbol tattoo! It’s been a long time coming. Nardcore for life!
Nardfest, Saturday, Aug. 17, Ventura Theater. Doors open at 4 p.m. $22.50 advance, $25 at the door. For additional information, visit facebook.com/Nardfest or venturatheater.net. Tickets also available at Salzer’s Records in Ventura.
Photo by Patrick Houdek
Doug Moody in 1986 surveying a couple of Agression records.
Plagued by disputes over record royalties and intellectual properties, hurt feelings and general discord, love and hate have shared almost equal billing in the Mystic/Nardcore story for three decades. But, hey, it’s punk rock; the drama’s built in. And the narrative seems to change with each retelling of it. The relationship between Mystic founder Doug Moody and the Nardcore community hasn’t exactly been a warm and fuzzy one, but neither has it been entirely contentious. Moody championed punk rock at a time when few would. “When these kids started coming in, I invited them to live in the studio,” he told VCReporter. “We used to have two or three groups sleeping in the studio. I created [Mystic] as a haven for punk groups who were not accepted in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
A war veteran and former bohemian, he identified with the punk ethos, he saw hope in its rebellion, so he took the “skateboarders with raggedy clothes” under his wing, recorded, promoted and distributed their music. But if the devil’s in the details, contractual fine print is where things often go awry, especially in the music business.
Moody boldly rejects claims that Mystic failed to adequately compensate bands for a fair portion of record and merch sales. “They’ve had more than royalties,” he says. “They signed a contract, they got 10 percent. I don’t stop them from going to other labels or doing anything they want. I only deal with what I recorded.” And, of course, what he copyrighted and trademarked. When filmmaker Stan Mueller was finishing up a documentary about Ill Repute, it wasn’t without protestation from the Mystic camp.
Moody, now 85 years old, lives in a mobile home park surrounded by fruit trees in Oceanside, Calif., where he relocated Mystic headquarters from its original Hollywood location. A British expatriate who learned record engineering from his father, Moody claims to be the originator of many things, including the compilation record, “super sevens” (vinyl records the size of a 45 containing seven songs played at LP speed), the use of the skull as a punk motif and the term Nardcore. Believing himself to be instrumental in the formation of a handful of regional music scenes, the record label is part of a bigger sort of fantasy empire that is broken up into geographical areas such as Nardcore, Slimey Valley and Hollyweird. In Moody’s rock and roll utopian dream, he serves as a sort of benevolent king of an all-for-one, one-for-all society of musicians whose talent sustains the world he calls Mystic Land. While Mystic Land cannot exist without the bands, the bands also have no individual identity outside Mystic (Land). “There is no Nardcore. That’s Mystic,” he says.
And who is the heir apparent to the throne? “A college near here,” says Moody. “They get everything.” With the caveat that every year the school will release a compilation of unknown bands. “I want to perpetuate it,” he says.
As this article goes to press, word is that Moody has given his blessing to the Ill Repute film and upcoming book, releasing his hold on the band’s name and collateral materials. In good faith, Mueller has left out the dirty bits relating to Mystic Records. Rifts have apparently closed, for now. According to Nardfest organizer Jeff Hershey, Moody says he doesn’t plan to attend, but he is on the guest list, just in case he changes his mind. With backstage access, of course.
To learn more about Mystic Land and Doug Moody’s latest plans for supporting unknown musical talent, visit www.mysticrecordshq.com.