When I started seriously hanging out and around the hardcore & punk scenes of NYC in the summer of 1985, it was in the middle of a lull so to speak between two eras of hardcore music. Pre -1985 was when much of the classic NYHC music would be made. Bands like The Abused, Antidote, The Mob were pretty much history at that point though a few would rise up, still maintaining a presence while the next generation of bands would steamroller through and bring NYHC to a more international awareness. Agnostic Front were one of the original bands that started in, at the time, the small hardcore music scene that came from the Lower East Side/Alphabet City area of NYC. In the early 1980’s, they would record the pretty much instant classics: The United Blood Ep (1983) and Victim in Pain (1984). By the time I came around, they were considered mandatory records to have in your collection. I loved them for their sheer aggression, cryptic but relevant lyrics and they were great records to play loud & really annoy your neighbors.
Controversy though would soon follow Agnostic Front in subsequent years, mostly imagined up by the scene at large. The cover of the original pressings of Victim In Pain featured a graphic image from a WW2 execution of a peasant Jew by an SS Officer. This lead to a call that they were “racist”, “fascist”, etc… Later when it was reissued on a larger label with a plain black cover, some called it censorship (myself included) but it was a decision by the band, not the label which was originally thought. With the release of Cause for Alarm (1986), since the sound was “different” than the previously releases, cries of “AF went metal” were heard all over. (While I didn’t like that particular album back then, a much later in life reassessment of it shows it’s pretty good and not much of a departure…) Maximum Rock N Roll, the biggest punk fanzine at the time, lambasted them at any given moment. Agnostic Front never could get a break.
I bring all this up because I recently found out that a documentary film about Agnostic Front was made and I was asked to come to a screening here in Atlanta. As I thought about it, “I am surprised this wasn’t done sooner”. I went down with high interest and to see what would be brought to light. The film basically follows the two core members, founder Vinnie Stigma and singer Roger Miret through all eras of Agnostic Front. It’s shown in a back and forth style and switching between the two principals often. Both Vinnie and Roger get a lot of time to tell their personal stories and the story of the band they have kept together for 35 years.
On the personal front, the filmmakers, Roger and Vinnie get in depth about their entire lives up to the point of Agnostic Front’s beginnings. Roger’s family came over from Cuba during the revolution and traveled the country, looking for a steady home until they got to NYC. Vinnie, born and raised in NYC, lived on Mott Street his whole life. Somehow it all comes together with Vinnie starting Agnostic Front and after a few singers, Roger Miret taking over that spot for good. Hearing some of the stories are pretty harrowing but both came through it. It was nice to see snippets of both of their modern lives, so strangely somewhat “normal” compared to where they came from.
Where this documentary truly shines is the unseen footage from old shows at A7 and other venues. I was like, “Where did they get this stuff from?” Not just a couple of clips either, tons of edited footage put together for an onslaught to the eyes. For the music historian types, this footage is gold. Seeing some of the other rediscovered footage of old NYC news programs covering punk, “slam dancing” clubs and fashion were eye opening. I remember seeing some of that back then on TV and while most of it was a “warning”, it only caused me to go see it first hand more. There is also many personal photos shown of Roger and Vinnie, their families, the band playing and the scene around them.
After watching The Godfathers of Hardcore, whatever your viewpoints of Agnostic Front, Vinnie and Roger are, you might have to reassess it. This is a very deep character study that shows you that you are probably wrong about them. They are really just a couple of hard working guys that have stuck together through thick and thin, keeping their passion for playing hardcore music intact. By the end, many of my questions that I haven’t thought about for years were answered. Kudos to all involved, it is a solid and memorable film.
Fiend ‘O’ Meter says: 9/10