to the pit at the Hudson Duster.
PHOTOS BY JOHN WHIPPLE
Hudson Duster provides Troycore a home, but some who claim
to be defending the scene may have put it in jeopardy
dark humidity of the Hudson Duster, teens sporting baggy jeans
and shirts that read “Snitches get stitches” crash into stocky
kids wearing blue shirts with white lettering that reads “True
to Troy.” Fists flying through the air crack on sharp shin
bones that in turn collide with a dull thud on the top of
someone’s crew-cut skull in front of a sign that says “Dance
at your own risk.” Minutes later, men who were pummeling the
tar out of each other interrupt the rubbing of a fresh bruise
or headbump to embrace.
an hour before this storm of flesh and fury, a young man watches
as Mike Valente, Ralph Renna, Joe Keyser and DJ Turnstyle,
the four men who make up the promotions company Stupid White
Boy Entertainment, which calls the Duster its home, pose for
some pictures. Without prompting, the young man begins proclaiming
his love for the Troy club.
place is just sick!” he bellows into the frigid December night.
The young man stands with a group of tattooed buddies dressed
in hoodies, who take abbreviated drags off cigarettes as their
hands are nibbled by the cold. “I’m here all the time,” he
explains. Then, as if to back up his claim, he lifts his baggy
pant leg. “See, I got this knee brace on and I’m still fucking
here, man.” Then he raises his shirt to reveal a scar between
his top few ribs, the remaining mark of what was probably
a fracture or a break.
his biker goatee, bandanna-wrapped head and goliath frame
Valente, the Duster’s owner, towers over the rest of the crowd
gathered outside awaiting the show. Softly, as if almost in
disbelief, he chimes in, “Yeah, there’s kids who even have
Jarzombek, who has run an upstate New York hardcore fanzine
and is a respected member of the hardcore scene, says these
scenes and clubs give disenfranchised kids something to believe
in. “When you’re dealing with economically depressed areas
like Cohoes, Troy, Albany, there is really not too much to
be proud of. So, you have to be proud of what you have, like
the hardcore scene.” Jarzombek says the Duster stands out
to him and others for a couple of reasons: “The people who
run it are great guys. They aren’t in it to make money. Mike
wants to make a living but he wants to give something to the
kids. The Duster reminds me of when I first went to a show
when I was 14 and hardcore was not such a commodity.”
on cue, Jeff Gabriel strides shirtless across Third Street,
his muscled torso covered in spider webs of tattoos. He steps
onto the sidewalk with hearty handshakes and greetings. His
tattoos flex, writhe and distort as he greets his friends.
Then he sticks out his arm to reveal his Hudson Duster tattoo.
“See, everything is just good here,” says the young man with
the knee brace.
haven’t been paying attention to the news lately, you might
not realize that his statement is a defensive one.
Duster opened in 2003, and owner Valente (a veteran of such
well-known local bands as Attica and Bruise Bros.) started
hosting hardcore shows in 2004. With that decision, one of
Troy’s most notorious and popular exports, Troycore, got a
proper home within its patron city after a long absence. From
the late ’80s to the mid ’90s, area hardcore bands such as
Wartime Manner, Flat Broke, Politics of Contraband, Section
8 and Straight Jacket packed venues throughout upstate New
York. However, after the breakup of major bands and closure
of the QE2 in the late ’90s, the scene slowly faded away.
Jarzombek, “Everyone wanted a QE2, again and Mike has given
everyone a QE2 again.” However, he says, “[The QE2] scene
was a lot tougher. The scene has not been as tough in the
last few years. It’s become a less violent scene. The Duster
brought back the old vibe that Albany and Troy used to have.”
in 2005, the beating death of Matthew Carlo in front of the
bar after a fight spilled out onto the street put the scene
under unwanted scrutiny. Lionel Bliss allegedly elbowed Carlo
in the forehead and kicked him in the head while he was already
on the ground. Bliss, who faces negligent homicide charges,
told police, “I got good elbows. People don’t know about my
men who were arrested months later by the Troy Police are
associated with a nationwide hardcore “crew”—some would say
gang—called FSU. Bliss has a large FSU tattoo on his neck.
do not say they think the killing was gang related. Detective
John Kooney of the Troy Police says they hadn’t had a problem
with FSU prior to the murder. But FSU has a strong presence
in the upstate hardcore scene, and its members may be worrying
other fans more than they worry the police.
of the Duster in the blustery wind, the hardcore fan with
the knee brace furrows his brow, and his eyes go from enthused
to serious. “We had some trouble,” he says, “but those people
are gone now. . . . They don’t come here no more.”
guys,” “that clique,” “that tough guy BS” is how people at
the Duster refer to FSU. FSU has become known to the younger
hardcore generation as Fuck Shit Up, but it started as Friends
Stand United or Fight Strong United, and it has also been
known as Fistfight Support Unit. Its adherents call themselves
a “crew.” Most critics, however, think of them simply as a
Jarzombek, “Violence and gangs have always been a part of
hardcore. It’s a music that attracts people who come from
a background where violence is sometimes the only option in
started in Boston in the late ’80s by a group of friends who
wanted to protect themselves from violent bouncers, racist
skinheads, and others. The group takes credit for driving
racist skinheads out of the Boston hardcore scene.
then, however, FSU has itself become synonymous with gang
violence in the hardcore scene. Hardcore shows are now few
and far between in Boston, as there have been numerous FSU-related
stabbings and fights. In Seattle, FSU members have repeatedly
tried to disrupt shows by hardcore band Danger and beat up
its lead singer for singing an anti-FSU song. In Portland,
Maine, FSU members are known for walking the streets looking
FSU-related violence has disrupted numerous shows from the
Duster to Saratoga Winners. While there has been only one
death, show attendees who have found themselves on the wrong
side of the group have suffered bloody noses, black eyes and
lumps on their heads. And despite their supposed nonchalance
about FSU, there are other indications that the Troy Police
may have targeted the gang during its arrests; for example,
at least two FSU members were arrested who since provided
alibis and have been released.
means is Troy the only hardcore scene to come under intense
media and legal scrutiny thanks to FSU-associated violence.
The Arizona Daily Star reported that on Dec. 7 in Tucson,
Skrappy’s, a club billed as a safe haven for teens, was invaded
by groups of adults wearing FSU crew shirts. The band playing,
Shattered Realm, had strong associations with FSU, and some
members bear FSU tattoos. The adults who raided the club allegedly
carried machetes and hammers. The show ended abruptly. As
the brawl spilled out into the street, a man who was reportedly
hitting people with a hammer was shot dead by a man he had
been threatening with his weapon. The man killed, Ray Pierson,
reportedly was a member of FSU.
video titled Boston Beatdown goes a long way toward
explaining how the culture of a Boston crew could spread as
far as Arizona. The video depicts violent street encounters
with gangs of youths attacking lone individuals, interspersed
with interviews with FSU-associated bands such as Blood for
Blood and founding members of the FSU crew. The video does
not identify who is doling out the beatings and who is receiving
them. However, during an interview on the disc in which he
tries to explain the reasons for FSU and hardcore violence,
Colin, of hardcore band Colin From Arabia, admits to having
a started a fight simply because he knew he was being filmed
by representatives of Boston Beatdown.
police were taken aback by the video, which calls attention
to the levels of violence around Boston clubs, and decided
to go after those who made it. The DVD was released in June
2004. Headlines in the Boston Herald read, “Ouch! Revenge
of the Nerds: Violent DVD Has Cops Prowling for Victims.”
Quickly, the media and the police were following every move
of FSU and those responsible for the Boston Beatdown
7, 2004, the Herald reported an incident in which witnesses
said they saw a man being jumped by a half-dozen men wearing
FSU T-shirts. Police found the accused, who were indeed dressed
in FSU shirts, later that night, but because they denied involvement,
only one arrest was made, and that was for disorderly conduct.
The individual arrested was a resident of Troy.
the club: Ralph Renna, Mike Valente and DJ Turnstyle.
controversy, the Beatdown video quickly gained distribution
to national chain stores such as Tower Records and Best Buy.
Ronin Morris, producer of the video, used his Web site to
deny allegations about it made by police and the media, writing
(in all upper-case letters), “Neither Beatdown nor
any of the parties represented in the documentary instigated
any act of violence for the sake of video footage.”
of the hardcore scene are quick to point out that every group
of people has its bad apple, and that not everyone who calls
themselves FSU is actually a representative of the group.
Local hardcore/metal promoter (and Metroland sales
representative) Ted Etoll says no group is to blame for violence
in hardcore scenes. “There’s no way [cliques are] doing it,”
he says. “It’s the intensity in the music that’s doing it.
It’s the intense emotions that are created.”
aren’t so sure. Although not many insiders or scenesters want
to speak about FSU on record, a number of them insist that
the original idea of FSU has become perverted by the introduction
of “mainstream,” “jock” fans who have no interest in protecting
a social and musical legacy, but instead are interested only
in getting into fights.
Jarzombek says that something has been lost in the younger
generation of hardcore fans. “One thing we’ve lost is that
the whole idea of punks and skins being unified, a united
front against a world we don’t necessarily feel we belong
to. It’s gone from that message to, ‘I’m a 16-year-old kid
and I want to show how tough I am and I’m gonna start all
this trouble.’ ” It is this sort of attitude that many members
of the hardcore scene think is corrupting the scene they so
desperately want to protect.
whom does the scene need protecting? Morris claims that the
violence depicted in his video is the sort of violence perpetrated
by “drunken bar patrons, drunken college students, and drunken
Red Sox fans.” His statement gets at the heart of what hardcore
and FSU appear to have in common: strong feelings for their
hometowns and a resentment of those they feel do not belong.
Valente, “The people that play [hardcore] and support it don’t
exactly come from the best background or have the best lives.
That’s where it stems from, reality.”
start of the Street Sweeper show on Dec. 23 at the Hudson
Duster, a voice impersonating a child listing what he wants
for Christmas rings out over the PA system. Then the gruff
voice of Santa Claus breaks through to inform the child that
he “ain’t getting shit for Christmas, ’cause your parents
can’t afford it.” The tape plays on, with more and more children
being berated for expecting presents and Santa Claus reveling
in their ignorance and their obliviousness to the fact that
their families aren’t well off enough to provide the Christmas
they want. Then, as the dirty growl of a guitar bends into
a stabbing Troycore riff, Street Sweeper begin their set.
not just poverty that’s behind the hardcore scene. Valente
points out that hardcore fans in cities where hardcore is
strong usually feel like their cities have abandoned the natives
in favor of better-off college kids. “Troy doesn’t care for
the people cause of the way they look,” he complains. “They
are very prejudiced against how certain people look.”
scenes for hardcore and for FSU seem to be in cities that
have a strong college presence. Boston, of course, is dominated
by its many prestigious universities. The liner notes to Boston
hardcore band Blood for Blood’s album Wasted Youth Brew
explain what brought them together: “So our friends could
have an excuse to beat up Allston scenesters at the Rat.”
The group are credited for perpetuating FSU.
the sidelines: A hardcore fan takes a break with a pair
of brass knuckles on his knee.
where FSU also has a presence, is also known for universities
and centers of wealth that seem to taunt the worse off. And
in Troy, dominated by RPI and Russell Sage College, RPI students
notoriously refer to Troy residents as Troylets.
says his bar gives Troy’s natives a home in a city they are
made to feel no longer belongs to them. “I’ve seen places
cater to college kids. I’ve seen a lot of Troy kids get shut
out. ‘No locals ’til midnight.’ And I said, these are all
my friends. I’m not gonna shut them out. I’m gonna cater to
them. College is a flash in a pan, and let me tell you, a
college crowd is more trouble than any mosh pit.”
of Stupid White Boy Entertainment know what its like to be
hardcore fans and in hardcore bands. “A lot of the bands we
book, they’ve been in the scene for years and they know hardcore
kids ain’t got money,” says Valente. “So I try to bring down
their guarantee to hold $5 shows.” He also notes that “national
bands come here and they are shocked . . . ’cause we actually
has been known for its brand of hardcore music for years.
Members of many national bands know and appreciate the Troy
scene. Metroland has received a slew of e-mail messages
from national bands voicing their support for the Duster and
Bittner, a local drummer who came up in the local hardcore
scene and now plays for uber-successful national metal act
Shadows Fall, says in an e-mail, “I just played [the Duster]
the other night with STIGMATA, and I myself didn’t experience
any negativity while I was there, aside from my singer getting
a bloody nose. . . . But hey, that’s what happens when you
sing inside the mosh pit!! Sure, there were a few Hell’s Angels
there, but I talked to most of them, and they all seemed like
pretty down-to-earth, friendly people. The club took care
of us well, and everyone had fun.”
reportedly has developed an association with Hell’s Angels
rival gang the Outlaws.)
that a place like the Duster is important to our music and
culture, and especially in keeping the kids out of the streets,”
says Roger Miret, of hardcore progenitors Agnostic Front.
have started as a way to protect the hardcore scene from outsiders
and to defend individuals from rowdy drunks. But it has certainly
evolved; though the question of into exactly what is hotly
New York FSU has its own Web site and message board. The site
functions as a hub for members to learn about shows and make
donations in return for merchandise such as shirts that read
“Friends don’t let friends fight alone.” On the bulletin board,
members give out the latest addresses of imprisoned friends
and members and encourage people to write them and send them
things to make their jail stays more comfortable. Posters’
mottos include “Shoot straight stab up. If I don’t see you
out I’ll see you in,” and “What’s a little blood between friends?”
the Web site, cards that read “F.S.U. Upstate N.Y./Friends
Don’t Let Friends Fight Alone” and “Support Your Local Fistfight”
have been distributed in local clubs. The cards function as
an enrollment form for potential members. The mailing address
is a post office box in Troy.
local FSU members declined to be interviewed for this article,
friends and family of FSU members (who declined to give their
names for fear of retribution) paint a disturbing picture
of what happens to people joining the group. They claim the
group has an initiation process along the lines of a gang
that requires members to give up their normal lives. Some
friends of members tell of initiates who abandoned their families
to be allowed to take part in some of the group’s more sinister
activities, which, they claim, include dealing and running
is hardcore: A Duster devotee displays his battle scars.
swirled around the upstate FSU’s message board in Spring 2005
that local metal/hardcore venue Saratoga Winners was banning
all crew shirts. The rumor created a furor on the board, where
members insisted they were being singled out for initiating
violence and instead blamed brawls they had been part of on
violent security guards who aggressively grabbed fans out
of pits or threw them out of the club. Some members threatened
to go to shows dressed in as much FSU gear as possible to
show their support and possibly cause a confrontation.
before the policy actually went into effect, Step Up Presents
promoter Etoll rescinded the crew-shirt ban for his shows
at Winners. He also tried to mollify those who were upset.
He wrote in an e-mail that was reposted on the board, “We
will no longer have any security at shows who are not Step
Up Employees and Step Up hired you will see all familiar faces
when you now enter a show at Saratoga Winners. . . . I can
assure you all these issues will not be an issue again. Saratoga
Winners stance on crew t-shirts will also be recinded. I do
not believe in this kind of discrimination and I thin [sic]
the club realizes it erred in that judgement.”
BigRonin, who claims to be the Ronin Morris of Boston Beatdown
videos fame, responded on the board by saying, “As a show
promoter I understand the many thought processes that are
called into effect to cover ones own ass and that of the club.
Everything is good as long as he follows through on his statements,
if not he should be crushed.”
to Etoll, the ban was created by Winners owner Salam in reaction
to regular violence involving those wearing crew shirts. Etoll,
however, says he has never had a problem with any crew. “There
are always tags in this scene that people try to pin the scene’s
problems on,” he says. “Whether it be DMS [a NYC hardcore
crew], FSU, Troycore, Albanycore, 518, whatever. The kids
that come to shows have shown me and the venues nothing but
respect. I find it hard to believe anyone goes to a show for
any other reason than to have a good time.”
Etoll notes that he has never had to deal with “the kind of
stuff” that has happened at the Duster, and he has moved away
from booking the underground hardcore scene.
do see a problem. Miret of Agnostic Front acknowledges in
an e-mail that groups such as FSU grow from a desire to protect
a music scene, but wonders if things have gone too far. “There
has definitely been an evolution of [hardcore] cliques nationwide.
. . . What was once our protective police are now our aggressive
dogs. I have always believed in unity for our scene. Unity
begins with understanding and respect for each other. We are
not supposed to fight among each other but fight (and not
just physically) those who oppress us.”
the balcony: The masked men known as Street Sweeper rain
down the riffs.
insists that blame for violence in the hardcore scene should
not rest solely on the shoulders of crews who respond to aggressive
interlopers. He echoes a common theme in the scene that FSU’s
victims often are asking for it. “The people involved in the
violence at the Duster are people I have never seen at a show
there,” he says. “You can’t go to a bar and get fucked up
and start with people and not expect something to happen.
And it’s terrible that someone had to die, but at the same
time there is personal responsibility.”
will not directly address the issue of FSU or the death because
of ongoing legal processes. However, he makes it clear that
members are not welcome in his bar. And though Valente insists
that the “tragic incident” that took place in front of his
bar should not be tossed aside or thought of lightly, he also
feels somewhat betrayed by his home city. Troy police say
they have seen a stream of people coming in to their precincts
with black eyes and bruises sustained at the bar, and they
expect it to be closed.
points out that since the bar opened in 2003 on Third Street,
storefronts that were once abandoned or boarded up are now
full of activity. “We threw a big block party when we opened,
and it was a big success. We heard from people after that,
‘That was great. That’s the sort of thing the city needs!’
” Valente says attempts to have another block party have been
ignored by the mayor’s office.
says that seeing his bar portrayed in the media as the dangerous
heart of criminality has hurt him and shaken his faith in
his community. “There are bars where terrible stuff is going
on, but they don’t go after them ’cause they aren’t in the
middle of their brand new shopping district,” he complains.
He says that since his bar started getting the bad press,
he has seen a great increase in what he calls “strangers”
who come looking for trouble.
see them,” he says. “They come in with this look on their
face. And they might get into the pit and start throwing punches
or just acting stupid. That’s not what the Duster is about.”
insists that his regulars aren’t protecting their scene by
means of a tough-guy act or gang-type violence, and that thanks
to their understanding and respect, problems actually have
been avoided. “Our regular kids will just step aside and let
the guy just tire himself out,” he says, “and as soon as he’s
done they are back in there showing off their stuff, having
a great time.”