The '90s were a transitional time in the New York hardcore scene. By then, Jordan Cooper had moved Revelation Records out to California, and many of the musicians from such seminal NYHC bands as Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits were experimenting with different sounds in new projects. During this time period, a small Manhattan-based label called Wreck-Age Records began to release some of the more interesting albums coming out of the local hardcore and post-hardcore scenes.
During the label's near-decade run, Wreck-Age issued albums and/or EPs from Madball, Yuppicide, Mind Over Matter, Indecision, Bad Trip, Stillsuit, and many other acts. The venture was a labor of love for its founders, Pavlos Ioanidis and Amber Green. Together, they forged not only business partnerships with the many musicians they worked with, but in most cases, lasting friendships built on a mutual love for underground music.
What follows is a new interview with Ioanidis where we take a trip back to the unique journey that inspired him to start Wreck-Age, and his thoughts on the label's legacy.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Greece. My father was a military officer, so we moved a lot. When I finished high school I moved to Germany. I studied and lived there for many years before I moved to New York City.
Did you listen to Greek music as a kid?
I didn't ever listen to Greek music! As a kid in high school I used to listen to Led Zeppelin and other hard rock bands, until I got into punk rock. A friend of mine gave me Never Mind the Bollocks... and it changed my life. After that, I started searching for other similar bands, so I discovered The Clash and Dead Kennedys, and then I sold all of my hard rock records to get more money to buy new punk records. In Germany, I used to go and see the U.K. Subs, Chelsea, G.B.H., and mostly British punk rock bands that used to be popular in the '80s, until the first American hardcore bands started to come over. The first American hardcore band I saw was MDC. I immediately liked the new, heavier sound and the attitude and became a fan of American hardcore, and a bit later the NYHC stuff like Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, etc.
At what point did you move to NYC, and what brought you there?
I came to NYC for a trip the first time in '87. A few hours later, I was at CBGB's. I was so excited to be there and loved the city. I went back to Germany to finish my studies, always planning to return. At that point, I used to write for some German hardcore fanzines and I helped organize shows at a squat in Hamburg, just being part of the German hardcore scene that wasn't very big in those days.
How did you meet Amber Green, your future partner in Wreck-Age?
I met Amber in Hamburg in Germany. She was from New York and had moved to Germany to attend Hamburg University for a year. We were dating and living together before we decided to move to NYC.
What inspired you to start the label in the first place?
I always wanted to release a record or two. Everyone in the hardcore scene was doing something, either a 'zine or a label or organizing shows. I had saved some money and my plan was to release something I liked, and if I got the money back I would use it for another release.
The first few releases on the label included records by SFA, Yuppicide, and Bad Trip—three very different-sounding bands, even though they all came from NYC. Did you set out to do that? Most other labels, especially during the early phase, usually stick with a specific sound.
The only band from those three I knew before I moved to the city was Bad Trip. To me, most NYHC bands sounded different. NYHC describes the origin of the bands and a certain attitude that comes with you when you grow up and live in that city. Certainly, the sound is important, it has to be heavy but within a broad range. Supertouch and Cro-Mags are such different-sounding bands, yet they are both NYHC. To me, all of the bands that were a part of the NYHC scene carry this title. Wreck-Age was a NYHC label because all of our bands were a part of the scene there in the '90s. I was intentionally trying to have different-sounding bands because NYHC had to evolve and not try to rehash or copy the already established bands of the '80s. Those bands were great because—at their time—they were doing something original.
How were you finding out about new bands? Did you have people sending you demos in the mail, or were you constantly going out to shows?
We were getting many demos, but I used to constantly go to shows and see bands. Not always for "business" reasons, but mainly because I love going to shows. In fact, I still do! I met SFA, Yuppicide,and Bad Trip at ABC No Rio, where most of the hardcore shows were happening in those days. Pretty much every Sunday there was a matinee. I used to interview bands for a popular German fanzine called ZAP, so I used to speak to many bands.
Don Fury was a figure that had quite an impact on the history of the records Wreck-Age would go on to release—with bands like Stillsuit, Yuppicide, and Madball all recording with him.
I met Don Fury right away when I moved to the city. I don't exactly remember how I met him, but it was probably after doing an interview with him for the zine. We became good friends and we used to hang out a lot even before I started the label. Don was like a mentor to me and helped us a lot with the label. I told Don that I was planning to start a label and release SFA's So What? record that he had just finished recording. Don told me to also check out Yuppicide, because they were working on a
new record as well. I already knew Yuppicide from shows, so I talked to them and ended up releasing their Fear Love LP.
I mentioned Madball. You released the Droppin' Many Suckers EP in 1992, when Freddy Cricien was only 17. How did that project land at the label, and what do you remember about working with them?
I met Roger from Agnostic Front at ABC No Rio and we started spending some time together. One day when we were at the Bronx Zoo—me, Roger, and his daughter Nadia—he told me that he was planning to release a new Madball EP. He asked me if I was interested, and of course I was! Droppin' Many Suckers featured Freddy, and all the current Agnostic Front members of that time period, including Roger and Vinnie Stigma. We did the recording at Don Fury's quite fast and it was fun. I even did some backing vocals on some songs! I always loved Agnostic Front, so it was an honor for me to put out a record by those guys.
Another straight-up hardcore record Wreck-Age issued was Neglect's Pull the Plug 7" in 1993. I am a huge fan of that record.
I saw Neglect at a show together with Mind Over Matter, I think at The Continental. I liked them so I went over to them after the show and we arranged a meeting to talk about the band. We did the 7", which got a good response, but somehow I didn't end up doing more records with them. I thought they were not very serious at that time to do an album or tour to support it.
A band you did work with a ton was Mind Over Matter. What was it about them that drew you in? They had a huge following throughout their home base of Long Island, but they never quite broke on a national level.
When I first saw Mind Over Matter, I enjoyed the show and I could tell that this band had big potential. They were a young NYHC band, but they were not afraid to stretch the boundaries. They were smart kids and showed dedication. I let them evolve and you can hear the progression from one record to another. The Automanipulation album is so amazing. If they had the strength to stick together and tour the States, they would have had more impact and success beyond the NYC and Long Island scenes.
Did you and Amber hold down other jobs while you ran the label? If so, what kind of stuff were you doing?
At the beginning, when we started the label, we did do other jobs. I had finished my studies and I was doing volunteer work at the mayor's office and some nonprofit organizations.
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In 1995, you released Unlike, a VHS that captured live performances of some of the bands on the roster one night at CBGB's.
I wanted to document a typical NYHC matinee with our bands at CBGB's, but I knew nothing about video production. [Guitarist] Marcos Siega from Bad Trip helped me realize it within a tight budget. Marcos ended up being a successful director. He started with music videos and now he does movies and TV series.
Wreck-Age spawned a subsidiary label called Exit Records. You had bands like Silent Majority, Indecision, and Tripface on that roster. Tell me about that label.
I felt that Wreck-Age—meaning the bands on the label at that time—were evolving toward a more noisy direction, not the typical NYHC sound. But then there was a new generation of bands that emerged sounding more like traditional hardcore, so we decided to start Exit and have this new generation of young bands be together on the new label.
At the height of the label's release schedule, how many people were working at the office? I know [Milhouse, Indecision singer] Artie Philie worked there for a time.
We had Anna Goldfarb and Artie Philie, and some friends would help us with orders and shipping. But we were working with companies like McGathy for publicity and radio promotion. We also worked with agents who were organizing the European tours, and illustrators, etc. We didn't have many people as in-house staff, but we worked with lots of different people for each release.
Why did you decide to fold the label in 2000?
I didn't decide to fold the label. There was a time around 1999 when the scene was going through a transitional phase. I took a break to travel and when I was in Greece I met a promoter who owned a multi-venue complex and he asked me to take over the productions. It sounded challenging and I accepted to give it a try. I learned how to promote shows, organize festivals, and met a lot of people and artists, so I kept doing this. Sometimes I do look back and miss releasing records, though. At least I'm still involved in the music scene. I work with bands and I see a lot of shows. I can't complain.
What are some of the records/bands that came out through Wreck-Age that you feel went overlooked?
When you run an independent punk label, you believe that all the bands on your label deserve to be huge. You are their biggest fan! But if I think deeper, Die 116 is one of the bands that probably deserved more attention. They were an amazing band with great musicians, who had interesting lyrics and arrangements. They just had massive songs. [Guitarist/vocalist] Gavin Van Vlack is an incredible artist. Die 116 was the natural evolution from Burn.
If you had to pick one release that you feel the most proud of from the label, which one would it be and why?
It's hard to pick one! The other day I was listening to Mindset Overhaul [named after a Mind Over Matter song], our label's sampler, and that brought back so many memories of so many great bands and good times.
What are you up to these days?
I'm a promoter in Greece and I co-own a venue called Principal Club Theater. I do the booking and managing. We had a bigger space before (2,000+ capacity), but in 2012 we moved to the current venue (1,400 capacity) because it has a better location. We do lots of shows every month, with different styles from metal to electronic; and bands like Thievery Corporation, Killing Joke, and Iced Earth, to name a few.
Do you stay in touch with Amber? How about the musicians you worked with?
I'm still together with Amber. We have two daughters together. One of them is a film student and the other is in a band! She is doing lots of writing these days for blogs and magazines, mostly about culture and food. I am also still in touch with some artists from the label. We are Facebook friends and we send our greetings once in a while. Madball came to Greece and I did a show with them, so we had some time to hang out and talk about the old days.
What was the best and worst part about running the label?
The best part was receiving every new release from the pressing plant and holding it in your hands. That never gets old. It's a great feeling every time, with every new record. The worst part of running a label? Hmmm, I must have forgotten [laughs].