We Got Power's Dave and Jordan: We Just Loved Hardcore Music
We Got Power began life as a fanzine started by Dave Markey and Jordan Schwartz in the early '80s as the hardcore punk scene was taking off in Southern California. The book features essays by many of the pioneers from that time who we now recognize as members of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Red Kross, and many other bands. Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, and Dez Cadena are just some of the many contributors who provide personal narratives to accompany the photographs of that era. The book contains first-generation L.A. hardcore images, many of which you can see in person starting this Friday at Modified Arts.
We talked to both founders about what it was like to be at the shows that they documented using the 35mm camera they were given for Christmas, and how their passion for the music scene led them to pen the first issue.
Up on the Sun: The photographs in the book are so emotive and capture the energy of that era--whether its an audience in thrall to a band, a singer connecting with the crowd, or teenagers on couches at parties. What was it like when you were first looking back at these original photographs from the '80s that ended up in the book?
Dave Markey: The minute we put the negatives in after scanning them, we were just completely blown away by what we were seeing. I mean, it was our lives at the time.
The filter of time definitely did something to them. It was like a bottling of little moments, and something about having them tucked away for so long and then going back to them was kind of startling. It was a good starting point for us in the project.
Jordan Schwartz: The photos had been filed away for like 20 years and it was over a Christmas break that we started rescanning the images. We immediately thought, "Whoa, these pictures are heavy." I had forgotten about most of them.
The times were pretty intense. The music was intense and the whole scene was a very, very intense scene. I think people were having a lot of fun, but it was also pretty aggressive and violent. As soon as we saw those pictures, it immediately spoke to us. We were like, "We gotta put these pictures together with some people's stories and get this book out."
The last issue of We Got Power came out in 1983, so what led to it eventually becoming a book?
Dave: Yeah, the last issue was in '83. We are looking at 30 years forward, and the magazine was kind of a starting point for us. It started with us, Jordan's sister Jennifer, and our friend Alan Gilbert really getting into the L.A. scene at the time. Prior to that, I had been making films since I was a little kid. I did a neighborhood newspaper as a kid, so I was doing that at 12 and 13.
Jordan: Yes, we realized, "Oh, other people are doing this," and we can do the stuff that we're doing and show it to these other people.
Dave: Before that, the zine was just speaking very locally, speaking to kids on the street and in our neighborhood. A few years later, after warming up in our own little way, we were able to take it and have a template: a starting point to do the fanzine.
Jordan: The problem was that as cool as the L.A. hardcore punk rock scene was, by about 83-84, it really started to burn out. It lost its flair. So we went on to do other stuff. Making films about somewhat related things, and always cracking jokes about hardcore punk rock. A lot of We Got Power stuff just got shelved away, and then in 2004 we were opening up the vault, the time capsule, and [were] just blown away.
The other thing is, Dave had documented this film, 1991, The Year Punk Broke. Hardcore died, but then hardcore and punk as an art form started coming back around the early '90s, thanks to Nirvana and other bands. So now that we are looking at 2013, like, Art or Punk is this formal art form and hardcore punk rock is this little variant of that. People are kind of interested in all the stuff that went on there and we have great photos, recordings and writings that we can share with people--starting at the Modified this Friday.
Dave: We were always really good at archiving. It would just come as second nature. It wasn't like early on, we weren't even taking cues from anybody in particular.
It was just this desire to do stuff as a kid and then we really kept that energy pretty consistent through the fanzine. It's a nice recording of those times, and of course, at the time, you're not thinking about it as an art form. We felt at the time it seemed important to capture this.
Jordan: To tell the story. We didn't think as many people would care about it. Back then we were telling the story to another hundred kids in the U.S.
Dave: We had a run of a 1000, 1500 and then a couple thousand. It was a little more than a couple hundred; it was small and insular. It was its own little world.