When Washington D.C’s Minor Threat rolled out their song “Straight Edge” during the initial eruption of the American hardcore punk scene in the early ’80s, it was a bold statement for the time. Within the tune’s scant forty-five second duration, the bands’ vocalist Ian MacKaye made a declaration that even though he chose to not take part in drugs or alcohol, it did not make him any less a rebel than some mohawk-donning speed freak on the scene. But even though the song spoke to many other punkers who agreed with its sentiments, the band did not feel the need to protract the message any further. Bands from other parts of the country, such as Boston’s SS Decontrol or Nevada’s 7 Seconds, cottoned to the straight edge sentiment and pushed it along, but it wasn’t until the second half of the decade that a band would take this message of countercultural sobriety to even more fervent heights.
Formed in 1985 by Connecticut kids Ray Cappo and John Porcelly, the band Youth of Today can be considered the first truly postmodern band for the American hardcore scene. Fueled by the perceived dormancy of the hardcore scene, Youth of Today pushed the concepts of straight edge, positive mental attitude and vegetarianism with an evangelical zeal which inspired many while repelling others. This dual reception of adulation and aversion was solidified when the band went out on their first cross-country tour in the summer of 1987, in support of their debut LP Break Down The Walls. On that three month excursion, the band laid the seeds for a whole other scene within hardcore that revolved around a bands’ ideals as much as their sound and look, while leaving a lasting impact on underground culture.
Youth of Today guitarist
I booked the first Youth of Today tour – the Can’t Close My Eyes tour – myself when I was 18, and promoters were actually ringing my dad’s phone off the hook to get us to play. The shows were all small clubs and basements, but there were a handful of straight edge kids in each city, totally psyched to see us. But Cappo and I really wanted to tour and start this hardcore recruitment tour! We wanted to know what hardcore was like in places like Virginia and all over. We wanted to spread straight edge all over.
Killing Flame vocalist
In the same way Black Flag went out and spread hardcore throughout the country in the early ’80s, Youth of Today went out and spread straight edge. They toured everywhere, planted seeds and bands started popping up all over the place.
Jeremy Chatelain and I were already playing in a band called Past Tense by the time Youth of Today came to Salt Lake City, but I think that show changed our whole direction. Although I think we were going that direction with Past Tense already, seeing Youth Of Today was just very inspiring. I saw a lot of bands that blew me away before, but I think the energy they all had and probably just how positive it was just blew me away. I remember the place going crazy and Youth Of Today not stopping with energy.
I pretty much fell in love with Youth of Today when I saw them live on that tour. I thought Ray sounded like my favorite singer at the time, Blaine Cook from the Accused.
After many years of listening to Youth of Today while nursing raging hangovers or just getting out of jail, I thought, “You know, maybe straight edge is something I should do.” There was nothing cool or positive about what I was doing. I was just getting fucked up and screwing up all the time. Then I saw Youth of Today for the first time and I came to a realization. I had already been cutting a lot of things out of my life, but seeing them just made me say, “Screw it, I’m done with all that shit.” I started hanging out with everyone who was straight edge in Seattle. Shortly after that, I was asked to join Brotherhood, and there was my support group right there.
Unit Pride guitarist
Youth of Today really weren’t like anything I had seen before. At the time, the scene was much different. I started going to shows when I was fourteen or so and at the time there was a lot of violence and drugs at shows. I was pretty apprehensive going to shows in San Francisco. But these guys were speaking out and standing up to all the bullshit in the scene, and I was hooked. They just seemed like the perfect alternative for a lot of kids like myself to some of the other punks band’s messages at the time. I mean, I loved bands like MDC and Christ on Parade, but what Youth Of Today was singing about meant more to me than dead cops and anarchy.
Youth of Today vocalist
We wanted to take this seriously. We thought straight edge was an important message. It was a lofty idea. We wanted to put out a record and travel around America. That was our dream. And we ended up doing so much more than that. By the time Break Down The Walls came out, we couldn’t believe it.
Breakway/Second Coming vocalist
I don’t think Youth of Today’s impact on the scene really took shape until their debut LP Break Down The Walls came out and they went on that nationwide tour. Break Down The Walls was widely anticipated, and the band delivered better songs, better production and really just a perfect formula all the way around. That record had so much heart – it moved you. Straight edge or not, you heard that record and it made you want to go off.
By the time we came back the next year for the Break Down The Walls tour, with the mighty lineup of me, Ray, Richie Birkenhead, Mike Judge and Walter Schreifels, things had changed. I mean, what are you going to do with a lineup like that? You’re either going to fight us, or you’re going to join us.
Youth of Today guitarist
Porcell and I were roommates living down in Soho on Thompson Street. We were curious young guys on a spiritual quest and proverbial truth seekers. One day we realized there was no reason why we shouldn’t try to be in the same band, so I joined Youth Of Today in ’86 and we went on the Break Down The Walls tour in ’87.
It already felt like eons had passed since the straight edge days of 1982, but it was actually only four or five years. We felt we were bringing back one of the greatest things to ever happen in hardcore music. Instead of the usual nihilistic punk ethos, straight edge was a way of saying, “I do care and I have a positive outlook on life.” But we definitely saw it as a revival, and weren’t claiming we started it. It was the same way as The Specials weren’t coming out and saying they invented ska, but rather reviving it while trying to expose people to the roots. If anything, we were neo-straight edge.
Mike “Judge” Ferraro
Youth of Today drummer
Mike “Judge” Ferraro
I was digging Youth of Today big time and they were the sole reason I came back into the hardcore scene in New York. Break Down The Walls had come out and they needed a drummer to tour. I was going to shows again and the Cro-Mags were playing The Ritz. I was walking down the Bowery heading over to The Ritz and as I was walking past St. Marks I ran into Ray and he said, “Dude, do you have any interest in joining Youth of Today? We need a drummer.” I was like “Sure, I’ll try out.” He gave me their Can’t Close My Eyes 7" and said, “Just learn any two songs and then we’ll meet at Giant Studios the next week.”
I went home and threw the record on the turntable, and it’s super fucking fast. I’m just like, “I’m not getting in this fuckin’ band.” I was in and out of my house at the time because I was having troubles at home. There was a girl in town and her family liked me, so they were letting me stay there. They let me take a snare drum, a kick drum and a hi-hat into their house. All I did the week leading up to that tryout was play along to that record with headphones on.
I go to the tryout. Richie Birkenhead came in with a guitar on and Craig Satari [Youth of Today’s bassist at the time] had his bass on and Ray and Porcell were just watching. They start playing a song and I just can’t play it that fast. So I play the two songs and they say, “We’ll be right back,” and walk out of the room. I’m just thinking to myself, “There’s no way I’m getting in this band.” They come in and say, “You’re in! We’re leaving for Canada a day after tomorrow to play with 7 Seconds.” My head spun, because I’ve never left New York or New Jersey. I played in Philly with my old band, but not Canada. I didn’t even know how we were getting there. I asked, “Do we fly there?”
Youth of Today changed the face and sound of hardcore completely and for the better.
At the start of that tour, there were some towns that were already pretty clued into the straight edge thing. For some reason, Buffalo, New York was one of them. They were these big, beefy, brawny dudes there in a band called Zero Tolerance.
Wolfpack vocalist / Youth of Today roadie
My band Wolfpack played Buffalo with Agnostic Front. We played there two weeks after Youth of Today and there were already twenty kids there with the Ray Cappo haircut, with sweatpants rolled up. There was a band playing called New Balance, which became Zero Tolerance. I was just like “Holy shit!” These guys were disciples.
Zero Tolerance bassist
Youth of Today changed the face and sound of hardcore completely and for the better. Fate could have given us such sinister role models at that time, but they gave us positivity, hope, while still touting the truth of the world. In a world of darkness, they were, and hopefully still are, a beacon of light. Outside of all that we had such great times when they came to town: full contact football games at the local straight edge crew Legion of Doom’s house, and unreal shows at the River Rock Cafe in Buffalo.
I’m not sure if it was the first time Y.O.T came here, but I saw them at JB’s in Kent, Ohio. A lot of people liked them, but there was some pushback from the freakers who were into partying and being punk; this girl Cicil threw a bottle and hit our friend Kelly Ulrich in the head, and a big fight ensued.
I think it was the perfect storm. The older Cleveland hardcore bands were long gone or went metal or rock. The younger bands in the area like Confront were the ones making things happen and the straight-edgers here weren’t into divisions. Everyone got along early on and worked together, and all our bands started putting out quality, inspiring tapes or records and drawing big crowds. It was really a high point for hardcore in Cleveland, a changing of the guard and the inertia of youth.
Touch X Down vocalist
In early summer of 1987, I called Ray Cappo to see if they would play a show in Richmond, Virginia. A couple months later, on July 5, 1987, they were at my home, and ready to play their first local show. That was the most memorable of all the shows I’ve ever been involved in. My band What If! and D.C.’s On Edge, who would later turn into a band I would front called Touch X Down, opened up for what would be the most explosive and spirited show I had ever seen. The following day, we all went to a local amusement park, and most of Y.O.T gorged themselves on junk food and sodas – much to Ray’s chagrin. That was a time to remember.
Mike “Judge” Ferraro
We played in Detroit and there was this band from there called Boom & The Legion of Doom. They were throwing fucking deer meat at us. I guess they were doing it because of Ray’s vegetarian thing. I’m behind the drums seething, man. I just want to kill these fucking guys. Richie was feeling the same way. We get offstage and I’m like, “Let’s tear these guys apart!” At first, Ray wasn’t into it, but then Ray is like, “Alright, but let me lead us into it.” The way he put it, I thought he was leading us into battle and we were going to get bloody together.
But Ray gets up to them, recites 7 Seconds lyrics to the guys and walks out of the club. I’m standing there and I’m looking at these guys and I’m just confused. In my mind, someone should be laid out by now. This has been going on far too long. Even the guys in the other band were confused. Me and the rest of these guys were looking at each other confused and thinking, “So... Should we have a fight?”
I’m pretty sure Boom & The Legion of Doom stole my Les Paul after that show. We were staying in a suburb outside of Detroit in a gated community and someone broke into the van, and I’m pretty sure it was them. That’s why in every picture from that tour, I’m playing a Charvel someone let me borrow for the remainder of the tour.
Youth Under Control guitarist
My band Youth Under Control played with Youth of Today in ’87 at a dance club called Prisms in Chandler, Arizona. At the time, Arizona had a major skinhead problem. Most of the shows at Prisms ended in fights with the skins. Many times the bouncers tried to protect us from the waiting skins by escorting us to our cars. It got so bad that the promoters, the Victor brothers, who ran Placebo Records, didn’t let skins into shows anymore.
Mike “Judge” Ferraro
We got out to Phoenix and there was this Nazi skinhead gang. Ray was trying to dance and this skinhead did something to them, so Ray was like “Mike! Richie! Get those guys!” The bouncers broke us up and the Nazis told us to meet them somewhere after the show, but they never showed up. But that was the only time Ray was like, “Ok, you guys can have a fistfight now.”
I remember punching a few skinheads during the set. Sometimes I got the feeling I was the only brawler on the tour. Mike didn’t back down, but I think had a shorter fuse.
During the Youth of Today set, one of the skins kicked my 13 year old neighbor in the head. Ray stopped playing and called the skin out, then Richie Birkenhead jumped offstage and got into the skinhead leader’s face. They went back and forth, then decided to throw down behind the local McDonald’s at 11 PM. I remember being in the van with all those guys; Richie and Porcell were going nuts. Everyone was screaming, we were so amped up. We got to the McDonald’s and waited at least an hour, but the skins never showed. It was a victory nonetheless. The skins got revenge about a week later by breaking my friend’s arm with a bat.
Southern California was really receptive to Youth of Today. They had already been out there before I joined touring with 7 Seconds, so there were people there already into it.
The first time I saw Youth Of Today at Fenders it was 90% punks, but by the time they came back the second time a year or so later Fenders was 120% full of straight edge kids in cut-off sweat pants and basketball shoes. Youth of Today changed everything. But I can clearly see their show as the moment the scene here changed. I may be wrong, but that’s how I remember it.
Half Off vocalist
It was exciting when Youth of Today came out west the first time with 7 Seconds, because I had heard records by Agnostic Front, Cause For Alarm and Antidote by then, but never seen it played at that point. So, when these little bald heads with funny accents came out and started playing songs with breaks in it for moshing, it was really thrilling.
Later on, I went out to the East Coast for a very long period of time and hung out with a lot of those people. I got to witness stuff they did and I just thought, “I got into punk to get away from this stuff.” I’ll admit I got into straight edge the way a lot of other people do, but the herd mentality turned me off quicker than it did a lot of other people.
After I had come back from the East Coast, Youth of Today came out again when Richie Birkenhead was in the band, and I’m pretty sure Break Down The Walls had already come out. They more or less moved to Southern California, living in the home of Dan O’Mahoney. It was a whole crew of people who were just there all the time. They would spend a lot of time at the beach and were totally fascinated by the fact there were girls walking around in bikinis. That’s when people who were later into the Orange County scene, like Joe Nelson and the guys that would become the Sloth Crew, really latched onto that East Coast character the Youth of Today brought out there.
Youth of Today were not perfect people and we may have made mistakes.
The Sloth Crew were about fifteen dudes, and we were a second generation of straight edge in Orange County. We were in high school and we were very tribal. We were dealing with a lot of gang culture at the punk shows in California, so that vibe resonated with us, whether we knew it or not.
No For An Answer vocalist
Youth of Today definitely captured the attention of a new breed of slightly better-off suburban youngsters out here. We were close friends, to be sure; almost every member of the lineup that used to crash at my house and I are still able to share a laugh when we see each other. But they did represent a departure from the punk vibe of my youth and at times it rubbed me the wrong way.
Youth of Today were not perfect people and we may have made mistakes. But we were putting our asses on the line, getting into fights with Nazi skinheads and drunk assholes show after shows. We have people coming up to us years later saying how we changed their lives for the better. We slugged it out for our beliefs. What the fuck did that guy [Billy Rubin] do?
Mike “Judge” Ferraro
Our van broke down in Florida and we had to park it in a junkyard while it was getting worked on. We talked these girls into letting us stay in their apartment, but someone had to sleep in the van with the equipment. We’d take turns. On my night to watch the van, I’m in the middle of this Florida junkyard and I’m laying there in the van. I got these ideas in my head and I’m writing words down for a band that I don’t even have yet. I’m looking at these words I’m writing and it’s painfully obvious that these words are never going to be a Youth Of Today song. So that’s when I thought, “When I get back to New York I’ll start my own band.” I couldn’t keep muzzling myself.
I had quit being the vocalist for Underdog to join Youth of Today. I liked jumping around and playing bar chords, but I still had lyrics in my head that I wanted to scream. I just wanted to get back on the microphone. That’s literally all it was. I remember saying to Ray before a show, “I think this is my last show.” When we got home, I rejoined Underdog. No bad blood or anything like that.
Mike “Judge” Ferraro
I loved Youth of Today. I love Ray. I spent many nights of that tour in a fucking van pouring our hearts out to each other. I love him as a person. I love Porcell, too, but we come from different places. The endgame for each of us was different. There were so many spots where they were satisfied with it, so I was like “I’m never going to be like these guys.” I was getting way too frustrated. It wasn’t worth it.
When we got back to New York from the tour, we had rehearsals for a new Youth of Today record and I told Ray that I was going to go my own way. A week later, I came up with the name Judge and asked Porcell if he was interested in helping out. We never stopped until Judge broke up in 1990.
The next year, when we toured for our final album, We’re Not In This Alone, there was a whole subgenre of hardcore now that was straight edge and it was big. It was so bizarre to us. We were just some dumb kids in Connecticut people made fun of; fast-forward three years and straight edge was so popular.
Back then, I used to get pissed off about people doing the whole “true ’til college” thing and ditching straight edge. I was a straight edge lifer and it really bummed me out that people would turn their back on it. But these days, I meet a lot of people today who say that Youth of Today had a huge impact on them. They tell me how they went to college and started drinking, but how they got married, had kids and came back to the ideals full circle. All the things that were instilled in them are still there. They’re teaching their kids to keep a positive mental attitude. So now I realize the value of the ideals, rather than the rules, are the most important thing. Whether they went off for a few years and drank or did drugs doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s still a success.
Header image © Murray Bowles