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Freddy Alva

You all know about the New Breed tape compilation right? It’s a classic. And since it had a great reissue on vinyl recently I thought it was time to have a chat with one of the guys behind both the original tape and the reissue. So the last couple of weeks I’ve been sending back and forth questions (and answers) with Freddy Alva. We talked about growing up in NYC, acupuncture, his favorite shows, Last Cause, Wardance Records and of course, the New Breed compilation. Lots of stuff, just start reading.

Hi mr. Alva, what are you up to at the moment? What’s on your mind?

I’m doing great & don’t call me Mister, Freddy is fine! What’s currently on my mind is new projects: music & writing related. I feel inspired by friends that I admire that are out & about doing creative endeavors. I’ve never had any artistic talents per se, my forte has always been in documentation. That’s what I’m doing now, back to releasing music I care about & writing recollections on my blog, about growing up in NYC during some pretty amazing times.

I can imagine! You were born in Peru but moved to the USA early on. How was it to grow up in NYC coming from Peru?

Moving to Queens, NYC in 1979 was a complete culture shock. The city was in a state of disarray with the Bronx burning, rampant street-crime, people fleeing to the suburbs & the city facing financial ruin. Of course, the 10yr. old in me didn’t see it that way. The danger & fear only added to the allure of the streets. Once again my mom, in her infinite wisdom, put me in a private catholic school that enforced rules & regulations. Being there eased my entry into life in the states, but it also forever soured me on any kind of religious-related entities. I hated all the dogma & endless rituals that went along with the faith. The kids that I met there all came from working class backgrounds, our parents wanted us to do better than them in the classic 1st/2nd generation-immigrant fashion. The neighborhood I grew up in, called Jackson Heights, was incredibly diverse, a true “gorgeous mosaic”. It wasn’t a ghetto or a wealthy part of town, more like somewhere in the middle: a classic small city within a city, back when loyalty to your block/hood meant everything.

I’ve read that you are an acupuncturist & herbalist and also do Chinese Yoga? That’s not something you hear everyday, how did that came into your life?

My mom put me in a Martial Arts school when I was 14 yrs. old & I soon gravitated towards Bruce Lee’s original style, Wing Chun Kung Fu. I found a teacher of said style that lived in my neighborhood & taught out of his house. I was always fascinated by all the herbal containers he kept lying around his place, he used them to make poultices that we would apply on any training-related injuries. This sparked an early in Chinese medicine & the concept of Qi or Energy that permeates all things. As I got older & tried different career paths; I kept coming back to the idea of somehow making a living while working with these concepts. I started off with learning Shiatsu, which is a Japanese type of Bodywork, followed by attending Massage school & working in that field for 5 years. I than enrolled in a Traditional Chinese Medicine program & became a Licenced Acupuncturist, all the while I’d been learning/practicing Tai Chi & its related art of Qi Gong which is akin to a Chinese version of yoga. I now combine all these elements: I do Acupuncture/Herbs/Bodywork & teach Qi Gong. As these arts move into the mainstream, I’m really lucky to be able to do something I love & feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

I’ve never had any artistic talents per se, my forte has always been in documentation.

Great to hear that. It’s always good to do what you love. I never experienced anything like those arts myself, so I don’t really have the experience or an opinion about it. Do you see it as an addition to more ‘traditional’ / ‘Western’ treatment, as a replacement, just a different approach or?

In my experience, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) works best in an Integrative setting along with modern Western Bio-medical treatments. I specialize in muscular injuries & the whole rehab process. An integration of Acupuncture/Herbs/Tai Chi alongside Physical Therapy/Massage & Chiropractor adjustments can do wonders in speeding up the recovery after a traumatic injury. In the past 10-15 years, there’s been a gradual paradigm shift in the Western medical models, due to the high cost of health care/aging population, to one of prevention & holistic-minded lifestyle changes to head off disease & avoid or manage injuries in a more efficient manner. All ideas that “Eastern” arts have been talking about for thousands of years. At the same token, the incredible advances in technology makes it possible to treat someone, for example, that’s just been a victim of a car accident & save their life in the most efficient manner. Ultimately TCM is compatible with a broad health-care strategy, so I don’t see it as a replacement or a different approach but another tool to be used towards a person’s overall quality of life care.

Sounds logical. Let’s see. How did you get in touch with hardcore? You were into graffity, breakdancing and hiphop before right?

I got into Hardcore when I started going to a public high school in 1984. Before that, my earliest musical memories are of Hip-Hop. Me & the kids I grew up with were all into what eventually be called the 4 elements of the culture: Graffitti, Breakdancing, DJ-ing & Rapping. Not that I was particularly good at it, we were all aspiring B-Boys. Everyone I knew “wrote” some kind of graffiti tag. I got up a bit around the neighborhood & even managed to “bomb” the trains a couple of times. The first live group I ever saw was Afrikaa Bambattaa & the Soul Sonic Force perform “Planet Rock” in 1982. There was a local skating rink that showcased a lot of the early Rap performers like Whodini, UTFO, LL Cool J. At the same time I was into this stuff, I also dug what would be considered “classic rock” fare like AC/DC, Rush & so forth. During my sophomore year of High School I started hanging out with a group of skinhead/metal kids at my school that had a band called Occupied Territory. It was through them that I got introduced to the Bad Brains/AF & by the time ‘85 rolled around, I was more into the HC/Punk side of things. Going to my 1st matinees at CBGB’s that year sealed the deal for me. The energy & excitement rivaled my early Hip-Hop experiences, but there was something more that I can’t exactly define that drew me deeply into the HC scene. I stopped listening to Rap, except for some classic jams, in the early 90’s, but HC has been a mainstay for me; setting up a prism through which I’ve made most of my important life choices.

Could you give some examples of those life choices?

One the most important ones was being turned on to the whole Vegetarian/Vegan diet. I was a typical teenager when I was growing up; living on fast food & not being particularly concerned about the origins or consequences of said products. When I started hanging out with Chaka Malik in 1986, he impressed me by his devotion to a completely meat-free diet. His parents, who were militant black nationalists, had raised him on a strict Vegan diet & he certainly wasn’t no weak/fragile-looking veggies kinda of guy. As I got more into reading the lyrics of band records, I got into the more political-minded ones like MDC, Dead Kennedys & Conflict in particular. Funny enough, I never actually liked Conflict’s music but I dug their finely-detailed record sleeves & info-packed manifestos like “To A Nation Of Animal Lovers”. Through them I got into the whole Crass/Peace Punk scene & their militant anti-meat stance. I wasn’t quite ready until 1990 to give up meat, but through the influence & example of Adam Nathanson from Born Against, Dave Stein from Combined Effort records & other friends; I finally did it. I got chickenpox that summer & was laid out for 2 weeks with no appetite whatsoever, perfect timing for me to become Vegetarian. As luck would have it, Poison Idea were playing NYC those 2 weeks I was out of commission, so I never got to see them, but I did manage to embark on a life-long Veggie diet!

I don’t know man… Missing out on Poison Idea? Haha, sorry.. Let’s talk about the compilation… How does it make you feel that the compilation you put out years ago still amazes and influences people? We even did an European version a couple of years ago. A tape and a zine, 30 bands, so I know how much work it is haha. I can imagine it was even worse before the internet sped up communication.

Simply put: it’s the greatest feeling in the world. Me & Chaka were about 17-18 years old when we started planning the compilation, there’s now way we had an inkling of the legacy it would leave decades later. We just wanted to document friends bands & people we admired. All credit to its influence goes to them, the music they produced knocked our socks off back then & I can honestly say that I’ve never gotten tired of listening to it; that adrenaline rush is there every single time. The sound & fury of the tape speaks to the different generations that are listening to it now, case in point being the tribute version you just mentioned. I believe yours was called the European New Breed right? on Pressure Release records (nice touch!). Doing the actual tape involved lots of phone calls, endless double-tape deck duplications, collating & stapling hundreds of booklets & then stuffing the finished the finished product in a 8X11 comic book sleeve. I guess it was long & tedious work but I certainly don’t recall feeling it like that. We were ecstatic to be doing something completely by ourselves, knowing that we had a hand on making each single tape from start to finish. I know that modern technology would speed this process up to ridiculous degrees nowadays, but I feel that something would be lost when you don’t have that tactile one on one relationship with something you’re putting out. That just might be the luddite in me talking though, ha!

Poison Idea were playing NYC the summer I got chickenpox, so I never got to see them. But I did manage to embark on a life-long Veggie diet during those weeks!

Hahaha true, true. Full name of the tape was “Pressure Release 2007: European New Breed Compilation”, pretty snappy huh? hahaha. Is there actually anything that hasn’t been told about the New Breed tape compilation yet?

I think I’ve covered everything, in the past 3 years, related to the comp. Interviews like yours have been really great in helping me search through my memory banks. The memories of those days are as vivid today as they were back then, thanks to all the interest from people around the world that have reached out to me.

In hindsight, anything you would do different now?

Apart from the bands that were supposed to be in it & weren’t for various reasons. I do regret not capitalizing on the momentum of the tape. In 1988, bands like Absolution/Collapse/Irate were setting up a new template for NYHC & I would have loved to put out records by them that showcased their full potential. By ‘89, all those bands had broken up & the scene had splintered as the 90’s started. I do feel proud that Chaka started up Burn & managed to do an incredible job of carrying on the energy of the comp with guys that played on it.

As for bands who weren’t included. How about Supertouch? I’m also interviewing Jon Biviano at the moment, so I just thought of them. Why weren’t they included? They were around back then right?

Supertouch had actually been around for a while when we started working on the comp, at least since ‘84 as Death Before Dishonor. Even though they were a completely different band, as far as personnel go, some DBD songs became Supertouch songs. We wanted to showcase bands that were brand new in ‘87/’88 & with exception of Breakdown, who started in ‘86, we stuck to those rules. Speaking of Breakdown, they hold the distinction of being on all 3 or as Bill Wilson from Blackout records calls it, “the holy trinity of NYHC comps”: The Way It Is comp, Where the The Wild Things Are comp & New Breed.

Could have think of that. We had the same thinking when we did the compilation. I read somewhere that you wanted The Icemen to be on the compilation but Marco did send you a five page contract? Can you tell a bit more about that?

Well, that five page contract story got a little bit overblown! I remember telling him that we would love for Icemen to be on the comp & he basically wanted something in writing in regards to how the songs were gonna be used. I guess we could have drawn something up, but at the time, anything like that sounded too “mainstream” rock-industry related to us. Our loss as they were another incredible band that got lost in the shuffle during those times, glad to see an official release by them on Reaper Records, I believe, a few years back.

Ah that makes sense. And yes Reaper Records put out those first recordings on a 7” not that long ago. Great band. Let’s see…I still need to take that picture you requested of the Wildstyle cover, but how was the reaction to the reissue? People loved it I hope?

Yeah, take a picture with it soon, get creative too; not like everyone else that just stands w/their record collection in the background, ha!. The reaction has been great, we took a lot of time & effort to get all the details right. A lot of credit goes to Ryan from LushLife, a big fan of the compilation since day one. He made the reissue possible with the help of his record label. One of the best things has been reconnecting with people that ordered the original tape back then, talk about repeat customers!

Haha damn. I hate taking pictures of myself and the “in front of the collection” crossed my mind. Maybe I’ll make a picture with a collage of zines and my tribute tape in it or something. Anyway I can imagine it’s cool to recognize names who ordered the tape back then. But about those details. Could you tell about any ideas you had for the compilation reissue that didn’t make it? Things you wanted to do differently at first, or any wild ideas you had? It’s always interesting to see the road that leads to the final product…

My favorite picture so far is the one of my friend John Woods took. He recreated the cover of Public Enemy’s “Yo! Bum rush the show” LP & put the Wild Style cover in the background with him & his daughters posing as Chuck D/Flavor Flav, funny shit. Maybe other classic LP recreations would be cool, something like SSD’s “The Kids will..” LP? Just an idea…

I have to say all the ideas I had for the reissue came off exactly as planned. I have Daryl Kahan to thank for that. I basically told him what I wanted, from using Chaka’s graffiti piece as a silk-screened cover to the digipack/LP layouts, & he ran with it; surpassing any expectations I had. Him being on the comp & knowing me pretty well for the past 25 years, made the whole process run smoothly. We have some more ideas on doing a new t-shirt design for the comp as well as working on a New Breed documentary. Me & John Woods have done 12 video interviews with people that played on the comp like: Djinji, Gavin Van Vlack, Carl Porcaro, Joe from Outburst as well as Bill Wilson, Dave Stein. We’re in the process of editing at the moment, mixing live footage/audio & photo collages, alongside the interviews. The plan is for this to be a companion piece to the reissue, maybe make a DVD, have a screening in NYC & make an event out of it.

I do regret not capitalizing on the momentum of the tape. In 1988, bands like Absolution/Collapse/Irate were setting up a new template for NYHC & I would have loved to put out records by them that showcased their full potential.

That DVD / documentary sounds interesting! Would love to see that happening. Something else, tell me about Last Cause. Was it that bad haha? How about releasing that song/demo on the internet? Just to complete the history of the compilation a bit more?

Last Cause will forever go down as the lowest of the low footnote in NYHC’s history! I actually have the song we recorded at Don Fury’s studio, but I put it on the B side of a previously recorded demo, which I have hundreds of. I didn’t label it on purpose, so I would have to sit & listen to each one at a time, something I don’t plan on doing anytime soon. If you want to know what it sounds like, imagine a band trying to do a tune off AF’s Victim In Pain, but not pulling it off due mainly to my incompetence on the guitar. Thankfully, I gave up trying to play soon after that, maybe one day I’ll sit down & try to find it, but don’t hold your breath!

Haha okay, well, at least I tried hehe. What made you bring back Wardance Records? Why now? Not that I’m complaining, just curious!

Timing feels right, there was a 10 year chunk between ‘97 & ‘07 that I completely dropped off the “scene”. I was busy with school/traveling/relationships. This social network era has allowed me to reconnect with old friends & some them were doing new projects, that’s how the My Rifle 7” (x-Life’s Blood/Our Gang) came about. The comp on vinyl was next & now I’m working on a couple of new releases. I like doing the label & I want to keep documenting bands that I love or reissue lost gems.

Can you tell about about those new releases or any of those lost gems you have in mind?

Here’s what’s out & on the planning board:

JOHATSU- Just released a demo tape (100 copies) by these ex-Hell No/All For One dudes, heavy mid-tempo HC that to my ears sounds like Blast!/Virulence.

ABSOLUTION- I’m partnering up with Ryan from Lush Life once again & we plan on doing a 7” & LP of all of their material that’s been re-recorded in 2012 plus some new stuff.

THE MISTAKEN 12”- New band from Andy Guida & Matt from Bold. Not HC at all, more like noir-ish tunes for your favorite Sergio Leone western.

SACRILEGE NY 7”- This long lost demo from 1985 featured Adam Mucci that played on AF’s United Blood & Victor Venom from Nausea/Reagan Youth. A true punks & skins band! Incredible Crucifix/Discharge tunes that blew me away when I saw them back then.

Plus a couple of other things, but I wanna work on getting these out first!

That’s quite a lot already. Nice! I could ask you like a 1000 questions, but people reading this will definitely be hoping for some good stories from back in the day, so… Make us jealous… What are the best stories you can share with us?

My favorite recollections are of always of seeing live shows. So, in no particular order, here’s a Top Ten list:

RAW POWER- My 1st HC matinee at CBGB’s w/the Dayglo Abortions in 1985. What an incredible band, I can trace my appreciation for “foreign” HC to them, not that I knew it at the time; it was all one huge wall of sound with a maniac singer screaming straining his larynx to the max. I got to see them once again in ‘99 before their guitarist passed away & they were as blistering as I remember them. Wop hour!

NYC MAYHEM- I also saw these guys at CBGB’s in ‘85. They who later go on to become Straight Ahead, but were a 3-piece with Tommy Caroll on drums & singing at that time. They were arguably one of the fastest bands on the planet back then; a whirling blur of proto-blast beats that predated the whole grindcore & death/black metal sounds by a couple of years. Straight Ahead were also incredible, their reunion set in ‘88 was insane, there must have been 40-60 people on stage at any given time. The band was so tight & fast, faster than a lot of the straight edge bands they usually get lumped with.

CRO-MAGS: Their opening slot for Motorhead, at the old Ritz Hotel in ‘86, remains the most violent show I’ve ever witnessed. Motorhead fans weren’t your run of the mill Metalheads; a lot of them were gang bikers/ex-cons. Pit them against the Cro-Mags skinhead army & you had a spectacle of gladiator-like proportions. Pity any innocent bystanders caught in the middle, there were ambulances stretched out for blocks, broken limbs & concussions abounded. The Cro-Mags themselves were freaking unstoppable, the dual-guitar crunch, mackie’s beat; all provided a perfect foil for Bloodclot’s charismatic stage presence.

BGK- These Dutch trash maniacs blew me away @CBGB’s in ‘86. Super tight & fast HC with decidedly critical, of the US, political view points. Quite a courageous thing to do, especially in a room filled with mostly NY skins. I thought a riot was gonna start at any minute, as the band kept taunting the skins, but they ultimately won them over & me with their explosive live sound.

VERBAL ASSAULT- I caught them when the Trial LP tour came to CBGB’s in 1987. I can’t think of too many bands that combined that emotional DC sound & still sounded hard without getting wimpy. Their rock edge-tinged sound would pop up in a lot of post-HC bands in the 90’s, these guys were incendiary live.

ABSOLUTION- I will list their 1st show at a squat on the Lower East Side in ‘87 & their appearance at the Rock against Racism @Central Park in ‘88 as my favorites. I talked about them in the past how much they were mine & Chaka’s biggest inspiration for doing the comp. They remain my favorite live band ever, between Djinji’s stage presence, Gavin’s guitar antics & the tight rhythm section, it’s a shame they broke up all too soon but they have come back recently with a vengeance, never ending game!

SOULSIDE- I saw them on the Swaside tour @Maxwell’s in New Jersey. They were touring with Swiz/American Standard & were so inspiring; really heartfelt & melodic, playing that legendary DC sound with conviction.

BL’AST!- The show @CBGB’s right around the time their 3rd lp came always sticks in my mind. I’ll never forget Clifford shouting “start the machine” & a pulverizing set followed that combined the best elements of Flag & Sabbath. amazing stop on a dime musicianship with so much power & just fucking LOUD.

BORN AGAINST- Their 1st show at Downtown Beirut in ‘89 was an eye-opener. Signaling a different direction for HC in the coming decade, whether you liked them or not & tons of people didn’t, ha!. Unapologetically political & uncompromising. Sam McPheeters caustic wit had me in stitches as the band tore into vicious, dirty tunes that inspired myself & others to reignite that spark as the scene changed in the 90s.

INFEST- I got to go on tour w/Rorschach & Born against in ‘91 & they played with Infest at the Che Cafe in Southern California in ‘91. Brutality is the only word I can use to describe them, their records were amazing, but to see them in the flesh replicate & surpass those sounds was mind-blowing.

Well, I could go on & on, just so many great events like watching Fit Of Anger rehearse at a small studio in Queens, Citizens Arrest record their 7” at Don Fury’s, Rorschach kill it live night after night during their US tours, watching The “Chaka Harris Experience” (pre-BURN) rehearse, Altercation tear it up @their 1st show, the 1st 6 months of shows at Abc No Rio……

I miss a lot of people from that time, most I will probably never see again. I hope they got as much out of HC as they put in, no matter how long they were a part of it.

HOLY SHIT. I think you got the jealous part covered… Damn… How about the worst memories of those days though?

The worst part was the violence that came part & parcel with living in NYC during those days. I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand & one stories of incidents that happened at CBGB’s/Lower East side. Let me tell you that they’re all true. There were some vicious elements, bordering on a psychopath level, that chose to hang out in the scene & target unfortunate kids that were going there for the love of the music. I was lucky to be “down” for whatever reason, with a lot of these perpetrators, so I avoided any schism. It’s unfortunate that as ‘89 was finishing, a lot of people that I got into HC with, were dropping out of the scene. Whether it was through disgust with the fights at shows or just growing up & moving on. I miss a lot of people from that time, most I will probably never see again. I hope they got as much out of HC as they put in, no matter how long they were a part of it.

I’m glad that’s something of the past. How about these days? Do you also check current bands? Aside from the bands that have people in it you know all your life that is haha.

There’s been some really cool stuff I’ve heard in the past year or so. From Australia, I really dig Sick People & Reckless Aggression. Some European bands I like are: Inherit from the UK. The Assassinators from Denmark, Pusrad from Sweden, Glam from Spain, Omegas from Canada. Also the US/UK/Swedish band Sectarian Violence rocks. From the USA I like: Arctic Flowers, Night Birds, Major Damage, Raspberry Bulbs, Give. There’s some really cool stuff out there, you just gotta dig through a lot of crap. I’m also really into these labels: Grave Mistake, Painkiller, No Way Out, La Vida Es Un Mus, Short Fuse, Coffin Cut… they’re all out putting quality releases.

Inherit is great (we did a short interview with Inherit for SWNK) and Sectarian Violence has some great dudes in it (I interviewed half of the band, Pat & Tomas and Staffan), just not really my cup of tea music wise. Something else. I read somewhere that you lived in Amsterdam for a while? Did you see the rest of the country too? Liked it?

Living there was a bit of a stretch, I went there for a couple of weeks in ‘96 & overstayed my Visa. I stayed with a good friend right next to Vondelpark, her boyfriend was in the band NRA. I had a blast in the town, biking all over the lakes & canals, great city. I had a brief infatuation with techno at that time period, so I got a chance to check out the famous Rotterdam dance scene & saw a bunch of bands at the Melkweg, one of them being Tony from BGK’s band, Loveslug. Good times back then. I hope to go back one day.

Tony Slug? Nice haha. You better come back fast though, before the borders will be shut tight… Anyway, where do you see yourself in, let’s say, 20 years from now?

I’ll still be working in my field, the job I do can be performed indefinitely, if anything; I’ll get better at it with age. I also hope to be raising a teenager or young adult by then. Hopefully he or she will have great taste in music, something I’ll definitely have a part in, ha!

Sounds good, good luck with that! Wish I did a better job at that with my little sister haha. Is there anything you haven’t been asked in interviews that you would like to talk about? Can be anything as far as I’m concerned.

I believe you’ve covered a good amount. Thank you so much for the insightful questions & your interest in my background/ramblings. I am happy to be involved once again in this HC thing of ours. I’ve listened to everything under the sun in my life, but the old gravitational pull of a well executed 2 or 3 chord jam still gets my blood boiling every single time, too late to change now.

Check out my label’s website for updates:
www.wardancerecords.com

For musings on growing up in the 80’s, Hardcore /Punk/Rock & Traditional Chinese Medicine. Go to my blog:
http://quixoticdreamsnyc.blogspot.com/

Be well!- Freddy Alva

Thanks for the time Freddy and good luck with everything!

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3 comments

  1. The Essence said on 2012-03-12

    cool interview.
    I’m psyched for Freddys upcoming releases.