Most fans of hardcore probably don't know who Freddy Alva is, but if you're a connoisseur of the genre, you know how important he's been for the cause. In 1989, along with future Burn and Orange 9MM frontman, Chaka Malik, Alva released a cassette compilation called New Breed. Featuring influential hardcore groups such as Absolution, Breakdown and Raw Deal, the compilation was limited to a pressing of 700 copies.
While the original run of cassettes sold out rather quickly, dubbed copies of the compilation still got passed around the hardcore community, cementing its place in the evolution of the scene and sound. Alva then followed up the New Breed success with Wardance Records, a label where he's released music by bands like 1.6 Band and Citizens Arrest.
Currently a Licensed Acupuncturist, Licensed Massage Therapist and Qi Gong instructor, Alva is married and is currently working on a documentary based around the New Breed compilation, and the bands that were featured on it. I recently reached out to Alva to see if he'd be interested in doing an interview for No Echo about his various projects and rich history in the hardcore world. Luckily for me, he was game.
I understand you were born in Peru.
My family comes from Peru. My older brother immigrated to the states in the early '70s and joined the US Army in '74, just missing out on the whole Vietnam war. My mother visited him and decided to make a new start after separating from my dad. I lived in Lima 'til I was 9 and moved to NYC in 1979. We lived briefly on the Upper West Side before settling in Jackson Heights, Queens.
I actually grew up in Elmhurst, which is a neighborhood that borders Jackson Heights. My father is Colombian and my mother was born in Ecuador. When I tell people about the area and the cultural diversity of it, I don't think I do it justice.
Jackson Heights was/is an incredibly diverse neighborhood with the census count listing it as the one place in the whole of the USA with the most number of varied national origins and languages spoken. This was widely evident as I grew up there in the '80s. Traditional ethnic neighborhoods back then in NYC tended to be pockets of predominantly one dominant racial group with a smattering of others from a similar cultural background. This was not the case in Jackson Heights and the adjoining areas of Elmhurst/Corona. I can vividly recall being exposed to and growing up with kids from every culture under the sun, the great leveler being the same socio-economic background our parents came from: solidly working class striving for a better tomorrow for their children. A lot has changed in the old neighborhood since those days, the inevitable gentrification process being most prevalent, but by large it's still the same place I remember. My nieces are growing up there and I hope the memories they're making now are as fond as mine. I still drop by the area all the time and you can find me, weather permitting, most Sunday mornings practicing Tai Chi with my teacher at the park in front of Elmhurst Hospital, right next to your old house!
Did you first start listening to punk and metal after you moved to the States? What were the first bands/records that pulled you in?
The first music I got into was hip-hop, all the early '80 - '83 stuff. It was through listening to The Clash's "The Magnificent Seven" 12" in 1982 that I got more into new wave and then rock which led me into hardcore/punk by the time I was a sophomore in high school. The first bands I heard were the Bad Brains and the Cro-Mags, and that's thanks to a group of skins and metalheads I started hanging out with at school. I never really listened to heavy metal except for the crossover LPs that Agnostic Front and C.O.C. put out. After my first hardcore matinee at CBGB's in 1985, I fully dived into the scene the following year just as Some Records opened up and the Pyramid Club shows/Revelation Records started into what is now considered the "2nd wave" of NYHC.
I find that like me, a lot of kids that grew up in our area also loved rap and disco/Latin freestyle music. We weren't too concerned about fitting into whatever little box it meant to be a hardcore or metal fan.
I was a total B-Boy in 1982 so listening to rap, doing graffiti, (trying to) breakdance, wearing Adidas sneakers with fat laces; was all part of my upbringing. I also listened to freestyle, but at the beginning, it was mostly because all the hot looking girls hung out at freestyle parties and clubs. I learned to love the music and years later I ended up marrying someone that grew up totally immersed in the freestyle scene, so it all came back full circle.
Let's talk about the New Breed compilation. When did you first come up with the concept?
As I started going to hardcore shows, it was not uncommon to bump into kids that had gone gone to see Run-D.M.C. at the Fresh Fest one day and end up at a Murphy's Law show the next, while listening to Slayer on the way over. It seemed that the further away you lived in suburbia, the more dogmatic your views were in regards to an invisible line in the sand as far as where you stood on the hardcore, metal and rap divide. People I grew up with from the five boroughs seemed to be more open to the cross pollination of musical styles that influenced one another and I think that created a fertile ground for the development of the NYHC sound in the late '80s.
The New Breed compilation came about as an extension of my fanzine, also called New Breed. My friend, Chaka Malik, agreed to collaborate on getting a bunch of the newer bands on the scene circa '87 - '89 and put them on a tape compilation. Chaka was a fellow hardcore fanatic from Queens that I'd met through hanging out at Some Records. We asked all our friends that were in bands to give us songs for inclusion. Work on it started in the summer of '88 and it came out during the spring of '89. We did everything from dubbing the tapes, one by one, to the artwork, collating and stapling the accompanying booklet together. The finished package was put inside a clear comic book bag and sold for $5. I'll never forget selling the tape outside CBGB's/Anthrax club and having kids follow us, Pied-Piper style, literally ripping the copies off our hands as fast as possible.
Were there any bands you wanted on there that, for whatever reason, didn't end up on the compilation?
There were some bands that didn't make it on it for various reasons. The Icemen were asked but declined. All for One were left off due to a silly misunderstanding on our part. Our friends in Impact from Jackson Heights couldn't get it together to record anything and lastly; I started a band called Last Cause, we recorded one song at Don Fury's studio, but I felt the end result was not up to par with the other bands' material we had so far, so I skipped on including it. In retrospect, that song (in my biased opinion) is not that bad, here's a belated apology to all my Last Cause band members for not putting it on the comp.
Anyone I know who has done a compilation has complained about the logistical nightmare it can be. You know, dealing with getting the songs from the bands on time, and all that other stuff.
The actual process of acquiring the material went pretty smoothly, people in the bands were psyched about the comp and I had a parade of people going to my house and dropping their songs and layouts off. The only song we paid for the recording of is the Absolution track, most of the bands recorded specifically for the comp or they gave us good quality live stuff to use. Chaka did the layout for the Absolution and Collapse pages in the booklet, and the rest of the bands contributed their own layouts.
Chaka Malik and Freddy Alva, Washington Square Park, NYC, 1988
I always wondered why you didn't follow up the compilation with a second part.
We never thought of doing a second volume. By the end of '89, some of the bands on the comp had broken up and the NYHC scene was in transition. Chaka started up Burn with people that had played in bands on the comp, there were some tentative plans to do a 7" on our label called Urban Style, but that was scrapped after they got an offer to do a 7" on Revelation Records. I started my own label in 1990 called Wardance.
I've read that you're working on a documentary about New Breed and the bands on it. Where are you with that?
The New Breed documentary is a slow work in progress. We've done 14 interviews with people that played on the comp, fanzine/record label people from back then and scenesters. My old friend, John Woods, is directing the whole thing, intermingling live footage and collages along with the interviews, which came out awesome. At this point, the editing is bogging us down, and with John's busy schedule, I can't be too demanding as this is a labor of love project. Any video editors in the NYC area with knowledge of the comp, please contact me as I really want to finish this project before we all get too damn old, this year being the 25th anniversary of the comp.
Wardance Records was another big part of your life.
Like I mentioned earlier, Wardance was started in 1990. Some friends that had played in bands on the New Breed comp started a new band called Citizens Arrest. Matt Domino from Infest had offered to put out a record by them on his Draw Blank label but for whatever reason, the project stalled. They offered it to me and I jumped on it. I also became heavily involved with the ABC No Rio scene and booked shows there in 1991. It was through this connection that I was able to release other records by amazing bands like Rorschach, 1.6 Band and Hell No. My last release in 1994 was by a Peruvian band called Futuro Incierto.
I restarted the label in 2010 and my last two latest releases have been a book called This Music by Our Gang bassist Lewis Dimmick and an LP of 1985 demos by a band made up of Agnostic Front/Nausea members called Sacrilege NY, which was a split release with Radio Raheem records. I'm working with them to reissue some other lost NY gems in the near future.
I was a big Hell No fan. Talk about underrated!
Funny you should bring up Hell No. I'm in the process of doing a discography of all their material in conjunction with Baldy Longhair Records out of NJ. Underrated is a word that gets thrown around a lot, especially in our current reissue everything mania for just about any marginal or obscure band from the past. If there's one band that fits the aforementioned tag, and then some, it's Hell No. Formed in late '91 by half of Citizens Arrest plus original Citizens Arrest singer Ted Leo. They strove to bridge the gap between the at-the-time in vogue "post-hardcore" sound and the original raw hardcore spirit updated for the '90s. That they succeeded and surpassed those goals is a testament to the incredible musical skills on display. They've been a well-kept secret for too long, I hope this upcoming reissue corrects that.
Can you tell us about your life in the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine?
I can trace my modern day career as an Acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine to learning martial arts as a teenager. In 1985, I studied Wing Chun Kung Fu with Sifu Julio Ferrer in Jackson Heights. He always had herbal liniments for use in training lying around, that sparked an early interest in Chinese Medicine. In my late 20s, I worked as a Massage Therapist and then I transitioned to Acupuncture. I've been working full time as a Licensed Acupuncturist for the past 10 years. This is pretty much all I ever wanted to do, went to school a long time for it. I can't think of anything else as fulfilling and rewarding as this. I hope to be in practice well into my twilight years.
Your insightful questions have touched on freestyle, Wardance, hip-hop, Chinese Medicine, growing up in Queens, etc... All things I discuss regularly on my blog, so if you wish to read more of my ramblings, check it out here.
Thank you so much for the interview. Please keep a lookout for that Hell No discography and other releases.