While fast, loud punk ground away through the ’80s, a steady resistance against the skinhead groups formed toward the end of the decade. Pall Jenkins of Three Mile Pilot and the Black Heart Procession remembers encountering a hostile group in 1988 at the Emerald Ballroom downtown. A Washington, D.C., band called Scream was performing for a packed audience. Jenkins says, “And that was at a time when everyone was sick of getting pushed around by old punks and skinheads alike. Every show had to have violence. The kids were just getting old enough to fight back and we were starting a little bit to outnumber them.” That night at the Emerald Ballroom, however, it was the band who fought back. Scream’s bassist was a black man who throughout the show had been antagonized by audience members in the back. After a time, he jumped off the stage and attacked one of them, and the rest of the band followed. “I remember it was this interesting moment,” Jenkins says. “All of us kids standing were watching this go on, thinking, finally someone’s taking on the bullies — we would have gotten killed because we had to see them at every show.” After the fight, the antagonists were thrown out and the band got back up to play. Particularly poignant was the next song Scream played, which followed the theme of hate and resistance.
Within this hostile climate a new sound began emerging at the end of the ’80s, a sound later termed post-hardcore. John Reis of Rocket From the Crypt formed a band around 1985 called Conservative Itch, which was pretty rocking though still punk-influenced. When Conservative Itch broke up, Reis formed Pitchfork, which played with local bands Sub-Society, Funeral March, PG-13, and Socially Insecure. These bands were all hard and fast in the tradition of earlier hardcore punk, but as Matt Reese of Funeral March recalls, “When Pitchfork hit, everything broke open.” It was the beginning of the musicianship that would form the basis of the early ’90s scene. The songs were more emotional and melodic, just “a little nicer,” Reese remarks. However, there was a backlash from the older, traditional punks. John Reis, using a pseudonym, wrote an article for the Daily Impulse, a local anarchist magazine, talking about what jerks there were in the scene and condemning the violence. The article was a sort of declaration ushering in a new generation of artists.
From about 1986/1987 on, the San Diego music scene diversified, branching off from punk. At a time when pop music ruled the airwaves and MTV broadcast Duran Duran and the Thompson Twins, those into the alternative scene had to seek it out — it wasn’t spoon-fed to them as “alternative” music is these days. Also around this time, a lot of hall shows were put on across town: at the Palisade Gardens roller rink and Wabash Hall in North Park, at the Ché Café at UCSD, at the Jackie Robinson YMCA, and at coffee shops like Chabalaba. The shows were organized by collectives or by the bands themselves and were promoted through flyers and word of mouth. National bands that later became big names — Bad Religion, Dag Nasty, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers — passed through San Diego’s halls and theaters. Musicians in bands that would take hold in the early ’90s were busy learning their instruments. Sub-Society, PG-13, and Socially Insecure shared rhythm sections: Didier Suarez (Sub-Society, PG-13; later, the Furious IV), Sean Flynn (Socially Insecure, PG-13; later, Rocket From the Crypt), and Pete Reichert (Sub-Society, Socially Insecure, PG-13; later, Rocket From the Crypt). Also, Stimy of Sub-Society later formed Inch, and then Congress of the Cow; and Mitch Wilson of Socially Insecure, Sub-Society, and Funeral March heads up No Knife now. These musicians who began performing together in the late ’80s still perform in various groups today, continuing to impact and influence the scene.
One of the wilder bands to emerge in the late 1980s was Fishwife, headed by Ryan Foxe. Foxe was a great performer who electrified his audiences with crazy stage antics. Matt Reese remembers one particular performance by the band. Fishwife was opening for the Pixies at a large, administration-run venue at UCSD, a campus known for its rigid, conservative policies. That night the usual uptight crowd was in attendance when Foxe came out in a girl’s cheerleader outfit. The show began with the singer running back and forth on the stage singing, shouting, cheering. After a short time he broke into cartwheels, though under his short skirt he wasn’t wearing any underwear. Across the stage, Reese remarks, “Face, nuts, face, nuts — before you knew it he’s playing nude,” which was a fairly regular occurrence at Fishwife shows. After Foxe left the band in 1993, the remaining members — Gar Wood, Matt Ohlin, and Chris Prescott — formed the critically acclaimed Tanner. Prescott now plays drums in No Knife, while Wood pulls double duty as the bassist of the Hot Snakes and the guitarist in the buzz-group Beehive & the Barracudas.
Not a far departure from such antics were the things Crash Worship got up to at their shows. Crash Worship formed in 1987, the same time as Fishwife, but their music can’t be considered punk or post-hardcore. It’s more experimental and organic, featuring various instruments and, most predominantly, lots of drums. Their stage performances were a communal theatrical experience, often incorporating burning effigies, smoke, explosives, milk, and even naked women. Crash Worship was avant-garde, but it meshed well with other bands in the scene.
Once a year, beginning in the late ’80s and running for several years after, was the Anarchy/Hardcore Picnic held in Balboa Park. The collectively organized event involved George from the Daily Impulse and brought together an eclectic assortment of punk rockers and activists, including members of Pitchfork and Crash Worship. As the event was free, it was about sharing ideas, not marketing or selling them. Another annual event that ran through the ’90s was the May Day picnic, held in various San Diego parks and featuring Creedle, Lucy’s Fur Coat, and fluf, a well-known North County band.