Youth Brigade, one of the most enduring bands to emerge from the punk explosion of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, is also one of the most underrated. They’re not mentioned much except by punk purists, but they are among the most prolific DIY outfits of the past 26 years. Brothers Mark (drums), Shawn (guitar/vocals) and Adam Stern (bass/vocals) formed the band in 1980. During the band's formative stages, they encounterd several of the touchstones of that era, including the Skinhead Manor (the infamous Hollywood mansion rented by punks), police disrupting a show at the Elks Lodge, and several other old-school venues like Troupers Hall and the Ukrainian Hall.
In 1982, Shawn and Mark formed BYO Records (Better Youth Organization), an ambitious concept that encompassed a record label, show promotion (at Godzilla’s Nightclub on San Fernando Road) and even the band’s artwork was strictly DIY. “My brother Mark did all the artwork for the label,” Shawn recalls, “He started doing it by hand. He’s not an illustrator but he’d get a lot of pictures from people. We used a lot of offset stuff in the early days.”
For those unacquainted with YB’s music, 1998’s Out Of Print is a good starting point. A polished version of the group’s lauded 1982 album Sound And Fury, the reconstituted Out of Print contains four additional tracks, including a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s Questions. The brothers scrapped he original Sound and Fury after the first 800 copies were sold, ostensibly because of poor production, and recorded another, shorter version of the album. After the band reformed in the early ‘90s, the Sterns compiled Out Of Print, a spruced up version of Sound And Fury. Along with Sink with Kalifornia ('84), the album bristles with the requisite anger and a unique oi/hardcore sound. The themes, like most ‘80s hardcore, involve Reagan, the government, pointless suburban existence, but Youth Brigade, unlike some of their peers offer salient, ultimately hopeful lyrics.
In 1982, filmmakers Peter Stuart and Adam Small followed Youth Brigade and Social Distortion as the bands toured the U.S. in a dilapidated school bus. Between the bus breakdowns, penny-pinching club owners and road weariness, the film isolates a sliver of time when “punk rock” really was in the underground. The resulting documentary, Another State Of Mind chronicled the nitty-gritty reality of a rock band on the road.
As the end of the decade approached, the brothers moved in different directions, personally and musically. The specter of “hair metal” had reared its Aqua-netted head, and punk rock was on the decline in L.A. “There was a situation around 86’ and ’87," Shawn remembers, “when the metal hair bands took over the Sunset Strip and the punk bands were either breaking up or moving in different directions. ”They keep trying to revive it (the metal scene). That scene did not age well. The bottom line is they don’t have anything to say. They have no message, just partying, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. That’s all well and good, but that’s not going to last over time. You’re not going to reach a new generation. Whereas punk rock, I think, has lasted for as long as it has because it really has something to say to kids."
With the popularity of punk in L.A. on hold, Shawn toured Europe with the punk band That’s It, while Adam and Mark heralded the swing revival with their band Royal Crown Revue.
After a chance meeting in Europe, the Sterns reformed Youth Brigade, playing shows in L.A. in the early ‘90s and recording several new albums, including Come Again and Happy Hour, toured again, taking advantage of the revived interest in pre-MTV punk bands, now warmly embraced because of the popularity of mainstream punk bands like Rancid and Greenday.
Youth Brigade are still going strong a quarter-century after their inception. and they’ll be touring Japan with two of the younger bands on their BYO label, the Briefs and Last Target. BYO boasts several of today's most popular young "real" punk bands, like the Briefs and Throw Rag.
“The Briefs,” says Shawn, “are the perfect example of a band that’s carrying on the spirit if the late ‘70s and early '80s with the skinny ties and glasses. They bring back the sound of bands like the Buzzcocks, Adverbs, Rezillos and the early L.A. punk band, and then Throw Rag is just hard to describe, sort of like punk meets swamp and blues and craziness with a washboard player and an amazing live show. Then we’ve got younger bands like Clit 45 and Global Threat that are just sort of mixing the early ‘77 spiky hair English sound with hardcore sound that has been more popular in the 90s.” Other BYO bands include Manic Hispanic, Pistol Grip and The Unseen.
Filmmaker Jeff Alulis, who directed Do You Remember? Fifteen Years Of The Bouncing Souls is currently compiling a documentary for BYO's 25th anniversary in 2007. The film is slated for a December release
Youth Brigade play the the Henry Fonda/Music Box Theater on Oct. 20th with Rancid.