(The following interview appears in Issue #8 of Michael D. Thorn's excellent zine, Razorblades and Aspirin, which you can order here. —Carlos Ramirez)
The Dead Boys once spat out "There ain't no future and there ain't no past, There's just a graveyard and it's coming fast" and in many ways this sorta sums up the ephemeral thinking around punk rock and unfortunately, this has led to much of our history vanishing.
Hardcore takes itself very seriously but never serious enough—consider that the history of hardcore punk goes back over 40 years—then think about that the time between Elvis' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show to the knife in the heart of the Summer of Love known as Altamont was only thirteen years! Eight years after that, the Bad Brains formed and well, you know the rest... or maybe you don't. That's where the folx at Radio Raheem step into the breech, saving things before they vanish into the netherworld of basement floods, house fires, trash bins, etc.
What follows is my discussion with, Chris Minicucci (Close Call, MFP, Mind Eraser), one half of the hardcore archivist team known as Radio Raheem to find out about what motivates him and their plans for the future.
What would say you Radio Raheem’s mission statement is—how would you describe it to someone unfamiliar with your output?
Our only real mission is to put out high quality reissue records that don’t suck. Since there are a million reissues coming out these days, we’re just trying to do something that stands out.
What was the genesis of Radio Raheem—was there a particular artist, record, demo, etc that was the catalyst to branch out from Painkiller?
It’s not really a branching out from Painkiller, as Rich did Parts Unknown Records before we started Radio Raheem, so I’d say it’s more of a combination of our mutual interests. Parts Unknown kind of petered out around 2011—Rich and I had been discussing a bunch of reissues he wanted to do with Parts Unknown, so we just said fuck it, let’s combine our brainpower and do something new. Right off the bat we knew we wanted to do an Abused record, but we also knew it was going to be hard to talk to the band into it, so we started out with a project that was easier to get together (the Blacktask LP) just to get our name out there.
I think it’s kind of funny we started out with an obscure metal record, but Rich knew the main guy from Blacktask from being around Philly so it was an easy release to get the ball rolling.
What separates Radio Raheem from Painkiller? How do you determine if something should be released by one imprint or the other?
It’s easy because they’re two separate labels run by two different duos (Painkiller Records = myself and Chris Corry, Radio Raheem = myself and Rich Warwick) and they operate as two separate business entities. Painkiller was started as, and has (almost) always been, a label for releasing records by our friends’ bands. So it’s pretty easy to split things—like if Arms Race or Waste Management want to do a new record it comes out on Painkiller Records, and if some obscure '80s band that we have no previous personal connection to wants to reissue their demo it comes out on Radio Raheem.
Do you have concerns that the farther we get from the source material origination point, do you have concerns that some things are just going to be lost to time? Have there been any projects you’ve started on which things just fell apart on?
Definitely, I think about this stuff all the time. We’ve heard every possible story when hitting up bands for material: things getting lost in decades of moves, evictions, flooded basements, foreclosed storage lockers, you name it. Also we’re at a point now where people who were playing in bands in the '70s and '80s are passing away, and their belongings fall into the abyss. That’s why some of our releases have taken years to get from the initial agreement to the finished records—the first thing we try to do is secure the agreement and source material, and then put it in the to-be-released queue. That way the material isn’t getting lost, even if it takes a couple years to actually get the record out.
We have a lot of material in the vaults—whether it’s for a possible release or not—that band members gave us because they would have otherwise tossed it.
We only ever had one release that totally fell apart. Our very first release was supposed to be a 7” for a Midwest band but there was a disagreement with one of the members of the artwork so the project got scrapped, but not until after the vinyl was pressed. So there are 600 coverless copies of this 7” that have been sitting in my basement since 2012, maybe they’ll see the light of day at some point. There have also been a few times where we contacted bands and then the communication just fizzled out, sometimes it’s hard to convince people that there’s contemporary interest in their demo-only hardcore band that they haven’t thought about in 35 years.
Why do you feel “hardcore/punk/metal archeology” is important? Is there a part of you that has any concern of showcasing old bands/artists creates a narrative of so-called “salad days?”
The last questions leads into this pretty well—the simple answer is that if you don’t preserve this stuff now, it’s just going to get lost to the sands of time. Not that every note of obscure punk/hardcore/metal music ever recorded needs to be re-released, but I think there should at least be some record of it existing. Like that Universal Music Group vault fire that was making the rounds in the news this past summer—it’s crazy to think that there were recordings in there that can literally never be heard again because their existence was completely wiped out in the fire.
I don’t think trying to preserve things from the past necessarily gives off a “things were better back then” vibe, especially since neither Rich or myself were old enough to have witnessed most of the bands we release first hand.
What would be the most difficult release to put together so far? As in who was hard to track down, get artwork from etc. Are most people generally receptive or do you run into anyone who either wants the past to stay buried or on the flip has delusions of grandeur which makes you just wanna drop it? On the flip have there been any projects where you were stunned by how humble and gracious the artists were?
We’ve had a few polite no-thank-yous from bands that weren’t interested in re-releasing their stuff, and we did have one “No Thanks vs. Gloom” type situation that resulted in the unreleased record mentioned a few questions up, but generally things run pretty smooth. (I should also note that Donna from No Thanks was super cool the one time I met her. Chris Corry and I went to her house in Berkeley around 2005 and she gave us free copies of the original No Thanks 7” and let us look through her old scrapbooks, and fed us some tasty homemade carrot cake after we turned down her weed brownies [laughs]. The Reign of Terror 7” was a little tricky because all three members of the band are deceased and it wasn’t easy tracking down family members to authorize the release.
A funny one was the Vile 7”, where it didn’t come out for almost 5 years after it was initially planned because the original round of test presses sounded fucked up and we thought the tape was damaged. No one could find a better copy of the tape, so we just shelved the project. A few years later I pulled out the tape and realized that the pressure pad had fallen out. Oops. The other classic RR boner was the oversized Abused LP cover, I swear we didn’t order those on purpose!
The easiest project so far is still the High and The Mighty 7”, we asked Drew Stone about releasing it and he was at Rich’s office in Manhattan literally the next day with the master tape and a disk full of scans. Drew is real easy to work with and has always been super helpful to us. I wish everything we did went that smooth.
What has been your favorite release so far and why?
Right off the bat, the Abused LP was one that we were really hyped up on releasing. Getting to see Kevin Crowley’s original drawings was a total HOLY SHIT moment, after having Nth generation xerox copies tacked up on my walls for years. Also hearing the 7”, which is one of my all-time favorite hardcore records, from the original master tape as opposed to the tinny sounding original vinyl (which was apparently pressed at a plant that specialized in polka music), was a real ear opener.
The Agnostic Front LP was another one that was really fun to put together — the audio everyone had obviously heard already so we wanted to go real overboard with the insert. I went on this digging spree looking for anything and everything I could get my hands on and we came up with a lot of crazy stuff for that one.
What is your current white whale?
The real white whale for us was the Psychos LP. I think that was one of the first releases Rich and I talked about when we started the label in 2012, it had been on my mind since you (Mike) showed me the original demo tape from the Maximum Rocknroll vaults back in what, 2001? We actually used the audio from that copy of the demo on the LP, so I’m glad you showed it to me back then. We still have a pretty lengthy “wish list” of releases we’d love to do, but I don’t want to blow up the spot on anything at the moment.
While I had heard of Bill Daniel (Tri-X Noise - Photographs 1981-2016) and Drew Carolan (Matinee: All Ages on the Bowery 1983-1985) prior to your release of their books, I wasn’t familiar with Karen O’Sullivan (Somewhere Below 14th & East - The Lost Photography Of Karen O' Sullivan)—how do you track down artists to work with?
We don’t really have any particular approach for tracking people down, we just find stuff we want to put out and go from there. Sometimes we get suggestions/referrals from other people (the Hellbent LP for example) and we’ve hooked up stuff like the Venom LP and Androids 7” by buying other reissues on their respective labels. We’ve also found people in random corners of the internet, like the Porno Cassettes 7” came about via an eBay auction, and recently we tracked down one old punk through her husband’s personal website which led to us getting two huge bags of reels from her band mate that will eventually end up as three new releases. I don’t think there’s ever been a release we wanted to do where we couldn’t find the band. The stuff’s out there, you just need to have a lot of patience (and some luck) to find it. Facebook is pretty helpful too, as much as everyone pretends to hate it.
Karen O’Sullivan you may actually know from the American Hardcore book, most of the photos in the New York chapter are hers. When we were putting together the Abused LP, I was searching for photos and asked a few people if they knew how to get in touch with her and I found out that she was severely ill with MS, so I didn’t pursue it. Fast forward a few years, and our friend and frequent collaborator Tony Rettman told us he was talking to (Somewhere Below 14th & East author/compiler) Ray Parada, and Ray was trying to get together a book of Karen’s photos as a benefit for her medical expenses. We immediately offered to release it, and it took a while to get everything on track and finalized, but I think the book came out great and it’s a really good time capsule of the early '80s New York City underground.
What releases do you have in the pipeline?
The next two releases are going to be:
• United Mutation Dark Self Image LP, which will contain all of their recordings up to and including the Fugitive Family 7”, plus a mountain of amazing original artwork from the band’s archives
• The Worst Worst of the Worst LP, which will be the Parts Unknown CD pressed to vinyl with expanded layout
Those should hopefully be out by the end of 2019, and then in early 2020 we should have releases from Krieg Kopf (mid-80’s demo-only NYHC), Ultra Violence (more lost '80s NYHC), another United Mutation LP (expanded Rainbow Person sessions) and a bunch of other stuff that’s confirmed but needs more work before they can be announced. There are a couple new books in the pipeline too, but again we’re keeping them under wraps until things are a bit closer to completion.
Thanks for the interview. It always cracks me up when I see a reissue from another label and someone says, “I wish Radio Raheem did this instead." I guess that means we’re doing something right.
Radio Raheem Records releases can be found at the Deathwish Inc store.
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