Throughout the '90s and '00s, Coalition Records was one of the most dependable labels in the realm of hardcore music. Seein' Red, His Hero Is Gone, Das Oath, and Bones Brigade are just a handful of the bands who cut records for the Dutch label. Matt Plezier not only the co-founded Coalition, he also handled much of the company's striking visual aesthetic, something he learned from his earliest days in the '80s hardcore scene.
A prolific artist, designer, and writer, Matt currently runs MonoRhetorik, an independent publishing house that mirrors his eclectic interests. I recently reached out to the hardcore lifer about doing an interview for the site, and against his better judgement, he agreed.
Where we you born and raised, and were your parents interested in music/culture?
I was born in Gouda, The Netherlands and grew up in a small rural village, my roots are Moluccan which is in Indonesia. Music always has been a big thing in my family, my dad was big into jazz, listening to Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane while my mom was into evergreens. There was always music being played in our house.
My uncles and aunts had a big collection of records and they were my main musical influence. The first 7”s they passed on to me were The Motions — "It’s the Same Old Song," Rolling Stones — "Satisfaction," Otis Redding — "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, The Kinks — "Waterloo Sunset," and Small Faces — "Tin Soldier." These records were my prized possessions.
Since you come from a multi-cultural background, I was curious to hear about your experience growing up in the Netherlands.
Growing up in a rural area and being one of the few families of colour we experienced our share of everyday racism. You learn that it is part of living in a small community but I also learned to stand up for myself as I was taught to fight bullies with my fists. You develop a thicker skin and your perspective is different but all in all it was great to grow up in a village. There was enough space to roam the forests, built rafts, tree houses, and to set things on fire. It was also not too far from a bigger city, when I was a teenager I was definitely not bored.
What was your first musical love? It seems like a lot of folks that are our age range and are into hardcore, discovered it through heavy metal. Was that the case with you?
I loved all kinds of music but the music that I could call my own and that formed me as a teenager were the two-tone bands: The Specials, Selecter, and Madness. At age 12, I hung out with some local skinhead kids and the Dance Craze compilation LP was my style guide. I shaved my head, saved up my clothing allowance to buy my first Doc Martens, which left me without money to buy a wintercoat [laughs]. Luckily, Harrington style jackets were cheap at the thrift store. Listening to ska and adopting the skinhead/rude boy look was the first youth culture I identified with.
Needless to say, metal was never my thing, only farmer kids were into metal. I had a few metal friends but the only bands we could agree on liking were Crucifix, Slayer, and the Ramones. And those striped pants that were in vogue with metalheads then would have not looked too good on me [laughs]. Today, I appreciate metal a lot more, I even released a few black metal records on my short-lived Todesstunde label back in 2009.
Who were some of the local hardcore bands you first got into back in the day?
One night, a local radio show had a California hardcore special playing the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, etc., that to me was the most outlandish thing I had ever heard. The music that came out of my radio was hardly any different from the white noise you would hear in between radio stations. I was intrigued.
Years later, in 1984, a group of local punks squatted a church and that is where I went for my first hardcore gig. For years to come, the Kippenhok would be my living room. The guys from Lärm took me under their wing and I went to gigs with them and they made me hardcore mixtapes introducing me to more bands. Bands that I got to see at our local squat were Negazione, B.G.K., Government Issue, Kaaos, Winterswijk Chaos Front, Heresy, and many more. Bigger bands like Bad Brains, Scream, Indigesti, Wretched and D.O.A. I saw in the legendary Emma squat in Amsterdam or other squats.
You did some touring back in the '80s, right?
In 1988 I ended up doing a little tour with Youth of Today in California, thanks to Michiel (ManLiftingBanner) who I traveled with. To this day, that first Chain of Strength show in Pomona with Youth of Today, Underdog, Hard Stance, etc. is probably one of the most memorable shows I’ve ever been to. There was a huge circle pit with Nazi skins in the middle ruling the pit. It was great to see the YOT crew fucking with them, which resulted in the Nazi skins being thrown out. And it must be noted that Bold were terrible [laughs].
Tell me about the inspiration behind Coalition Records. Did you start it with any help, and did you model it after a specific label?
We (I did Coalition with Jeroen Vrijhoef) never planned to do a record label. I wanted to do a live Lärm 7” with a zine I did with Burt Alert (ManLiftingBanner) and Jeroen had just released his first compilation 7”, so he knew his way to the pressing plant. We ended up doing the Lärm 7” even though I never finished the second issue of the zine. When we sold the record we both decided we would put that money into two new releases and that is how we got started.
How tough was it to get the records distributed on an international level during the early days of the label?
Ebullition picked us up early on, and of course, in those days we traded a lot with other labels. Jeroen was in Mainstrike and they played every weekend, so it was easy for him to bring the distro to sell records.
The first Coalition Records release I remember picking up was the Devoid of Faith Slow Motion Enslavement EP because I knew those guys from playing in the hardcore scene in the NY area at the time when I was in Black Army Jacket. How did you hook up with them?
When I bought their 10” I was blown away and I decided to write a letter to the band to see if they would be interested to do a 7”. I visited the States fairly regularly and at some point I went to Albany to meet up with Nate Wilson and we became good friends. We did go to a lot of shows, made road trips, etc. Nate introduced me to a lot of the people who we would do records with later on. The cover of that record was printed at Yannick’s (Tragedy) warehouse in Montreal for example as was the Spazz/Öpstand split 7”. Strangely enough, in all those years, I’ve only seen Black Army Jacket, maybe, twice.
The Spazz/Öpstand split seemed like it was a big release for the label.
We were supposed to do an Öpstand/Seein’ Red split, but I guess it was promised to another label as well, so the Öpstand guys asked us if they could do a split with Spazz instead. I had done the cover for the repress of the El Guapo compilation LP, so Max kind of knew me and they said yes, but maybe it was because we did a Lärm 7”, a band they love.
From all the 7”s we did, we probably pressed the most of this one. I was mostly interested in putting out music that I liked, Jeroen did the whole pressing/sales thing, so I can’t tell you much about that.
How involved were you getting international hardcore bands over to your part of the world during the mid to late ‘90s? Did you go on tour with any of the bands?
A lot of the bands came over to tour. In the beginning it was hard, even though the DIY hardcore network was well-developed in Europe and every city had a squat where bands could play. The info was either sent by fax or letter and often we didn’t receive any info and bands went on tour with incomplete tour books.
When His Hero Is Gone was on tour, they would drive to a town which was on their tour book without any additional info and they would have to ask a random punk-looking person on the street if they knew where they would play that night. The Internet and mobile phones made things a lot easier.
Touring was never really my thing, it’s basically just waiting and driving in between shows. Although I went on a couple of tours with Seein’ Red and Das Oath through the States and Japan, and those were amazing experiences. Despite some drama and some culture shock moments, it was like being on an adventure with friends. Jeroen had a drivers license and I didn’t, he drove the touring bands all over Europe. He made a career out of it, he is still on the road a lot as a tour manager.
Since Coalition had so many killer releases, I’m going to just fire off some titles and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them:
Dropdead — Dropdead
I was very honored and surprised when they asked us. I was so nervous, I fucked up with the cover for the first press, overthinking the design. They are one of my fave bands, I saw them live a year ago, it is like hitting a brick wall.
97a — Abandoned Future E.P.
An underrated band. I have a lot of respect for them for doing their own thing without compromise. In the end, that is what hardcore to me is about. I love their records, great designs, too.
Point of Few — Beneath the Surface EP
Thrashcore from the Netherlands. Great people, they still are. The Netherlands is such a small country, I’ve always liked the fact that it is so easy to stay in touch with people. This really benefited the local scene.
His Hero Is Gone — Fool’s Gold
This was supposed to be a 7” to support them on their tour but the tape arrived after the tour. Amazing record, chaotic tour. We learned a lot from that tour of how not to do it.
The Oath — The Oath
Mark and Nate were visiting and they decided to record a real "hardcore" band with Jeroen, they recruited Marcel Wiebenga (Oil), and went into the studio. The rest is history. I am actually working on a publication with Matt Average of Das Oath’s first tour in 2000.
JR Ewing — Calling In Dead
One of our best sellers and my favorite record by them. I recently played this one and it stood the test of time. They had some of the best humor as well and were great to hang out with. Talented bunch of guys.
Down In Flames — Start the Fucking Fire
We did a few collaborations with Gloom Records, because according to Nate Wilson, we “didn’t release enough real hardcore” at that time [laughs]. The Down In Flames 7” was one of the records we did as a split label.
Das Oath — Körper Kultur
The 10” was the unmixed version of the 9” that came out later and was banned by Ebullition because of Mark McCoy's lewd artwork. We released the 10” to support the band on tour. It is also the first record where we’ve made too many different limited versions of. Having a silkscreen set up in the garage made it too easy, but it was fun nevertheless.
*Collector’s note: when numbering the covers we often got bored after doing a certain amount and never got to finish the complete series, we were pretty bad in that way.
Bones Brigade — Focused
Young and enthusiastic band, their live shows were wild. By this time I was less involved with Coalition though. Jeroen did tour with them extensively through Europe a few times.
When and why did you decide to fold Coalition Records for good?
After the Neuroot demo LP we didn’t get around to release the next one that was planned. Jeroen was on tour all the time and I was working on my projects and wasn’t that interested in doing the label anymore, so one day at lunch we decided to pull the plug. That must have been in 2010. 15 years is a pretty good run.
Tell me about MonoRhetorik and the graphic design and photo work you’ve been doing for many years now.
On my first year of high school, I skipped classes to hitchhike to Amsterdam. The Waterlooplein was my go-to place to check Hugo Kaagman’s impressive stencil art that he made on huge panels. He was probably the first street artist using stencils. It was an adventure to wander the piss filled streets of Amsterdam, inhabited by oddballs and junkies with punk graffiti everywhere. These trips were a major influence and I wanted to vandalize things myself, all you need was a spray can. And much later it inspired my photography to capture the ever changing urban landscape that is now lost.
How did you learn graphic design?
The DIY hardcore attitude and esthetic has always inspired my design work, from the crude collages on flyers I’ve traded with penpals to the ‘slick’ designs of early Revelation Records and John Yates posters/zines. Hardcore was my learning school, I am self-taught as a graphic designer, I learned by making posters, covers, building my own silkscreen set up, and making zines for Coalition.
MonoRhetorik started out as a side label for Coalition and is now the name of my publishing house for a wide range of my publications of zines, art books, shirts, posters, and other printed matter. The zine publishers scene is somewhat similar and many do have a background in the hardcore scene. This scene has the same dynamic, it is like a network of friends kind of thing. It is all about DIY and self publishing.
The zine work you’ve been doing looks amazing.
Thanks, it is appreciated. I love making zines and it is the perfect format for my creative outlet. Making zines has always been a major part of hardcore punk. Whether online or printed, zines are the backbone of the scene. In the '90, I was also part of the RE/FUSE zine collective. After we stopped Coalition, I had been toying with the idea to get back into the zine thing. When a friend gave me her old camera, I started R/NDOM zine featuring my photography work and from there it grew into something bigger. I’ve talked with Matt Average about doing zines forever, making photo zines, flyer zines etc. but we never got around to make one together until now.
With Matt Average I am working on Xerox for Zeros, a hardcore punk flyer zine on newspaper format. The concept is to invite someone to share their flyer collection and anecdotes and publish it. If there are any band members, flyer makers, photographers, collectors with cool stories, write me. Another hardcore punk-related zine is Punching Air with old MRR pictures of '80s hardcore bands. They were about to be thrown away and I was able to salvage those. I did two issues and another two are in the making.
Do you keep up with the current hardcore scene at all?
Not like I used to but I go to shows so once in a while, and it's the best place to meet up with friends. I like to silkscreen flyers, shirts when hardcore bands are touring. Most of my friends are still into hardcore, so I do get to hear new bands. I just don’t buy as many records as I used to. I like the bands that Mark McCoy puts out on Youth Attack and bands like Primitive Man, Baptists, Hexis, and SECT, among others are on regular rotation on my turntable.
Do you miss doing the label?
I do not miss doing a label. It is much easier to publish your own work and not having to answer to other people. Having said that, I will do a 12” record with the Dutch hardcore band: Parking Lot. I guess you really never stop.
If you had to pick one Coalition Records release that you think best captures the spirit of the label and why you did it, what would it be and why?
Trick question and difficult to answer. I feel honored to have been able to work with so many great bands like 97a, Wolves, Books Lie, Charles Bronson, Let It Burn, Kill the Man Who Questions, Tear It Up, Palatka, Voorhees, In/Humanity, Oil etc.. It is hard to choose.
A few would come to mind like Devoid of Faith — Enslavement 7” its dark, brutal and Jim writes great lyrics, still one of my favorite records I’ve put out. But I have to go with the Seein’ Red/MK Ultra split LP. Two scorchers of bands, highly political, unrelentless in delivery and with some substance. This is what made '90s hardcore great for me.
Head to MonoRhetorik see more of Matt's visual work.
Tagged: coalition records