From the inception of pioneering powerviolence band Charles Bronson to numerous musical projects and publishing art books, Mark McCoy is now as soft and slow as a bullet train. A graduate of the Masters of Fine Arts program at the School of Visual Arts and currently based out of Brooklyn, I reached out to ask him a few questions about running a punk label in 2013 and meeting challenges in both visual art and music.
How has hardcore changed, if at all in the past decade based on your personal experience?
Instant gratifications are affecting our emotional investments. Since it’s ingrained to aspire toward idleness by being rich and famous, the less something means, the more we can consume. This creates an impossible standard, and out of confusion leads us to a perverse hopelessness. Discontent is a great hobby; voicing it is everyone’s favorite pastime. Add that to the instigating nature of music and you end up with something really volatile. Most people can’t tolerate that kind of commitment for long, which gives hardcore a rapid turnover. At the same time, the rate of its creation intensifies to the same degree its message dilutes. To accommodate this digression, people expect less because they derive less from the work. It’s reached such a point that nothing is satisfying. It’s just a sea of things to sift through. Music itself contains no inherent value; it’s a hollow statement filled in by listeners whose tastes have been decidedly undermined. But this is how we like things — neatly packaged to remind us that what we already have is not enough.
The YOUTH ATTACK website still has a forum called “Jerkbooth.” Has the rise in social media like in terms of Facebook, Twitter and comment sections on blogs lead to more shit-talking in hardcore? Can any of it be considered constructive?
The voiceless now have their voice. Everyone gets to have a final say on things that aren’t theirs, and by doing so they make them their own.
What are some of the differences in running a label now as opposed to fifteen years ago when a lot of record buying was done through mail order catalogs? Has the convenience of being able to buy records online widened the audience or made a difference in sales?
All the old authorities have lost their status. Now everyone is the authority. I handle this by limiting my exposure to the world. People always miss how things used to be because the present is never satisfying. Nothing is convenient either. I endure the same dread no matter where I spend money.
What’s your opinion on older bands reuniting in different forms and going on tour? What’s the difference between a band like Black Flag and bands like Limp Wrist and The Locust that didn’t necessarily break up but are back out there touring again?
Going backwards or coming out of cold storage is just what some bands do. For me, if something already happened, trying to relive it is inherently false, yet I do this in various forms on a daily basis.
In addition to running Youth Attack, you’re also an artist and you graduated from the School of Visual Arts. Do you have plans to release any new art books in the near future or show anywhere?
I have a printed collection of photos on the way called Manners Journal and am preparing for a solo exhibition of new ink drawings. They’re very tedious and require all my concentration. I try and keep the same routine and work on them every day.
How much of your art background affects the aesthetic of whatever projects you’re working on at the time?
I see it as linear; what I’ve already done provides a basis for the next thing. Each time I try to raise the bar — not to outdo myself, but to approach things differently. Often it means trying to do something simpler, which is the hardest thing.
Besides sincerity, is there any personal connection between what you were trying to accomplish in Charles Bronson and what you’re doing now years later?
Charles Bronson’s only goal was to play. From the get-go we knew it had to die abruptly, as all great bands should. I’ve stayed involved in music for 20 years now, but I try to not linger on one thing too long. Some of the bands I’ve been involved in have gone on for some time, but operate sporadically. I’ve learned to accept [that] a slower pace gives me the chance to make work that’s ultimately more satisfying.
You claimed in a previous interview that the shows at ABC No Rio and the festival Fiesta Grande at 924 Gilman are your strongest memories of playing in Charles Bronson. What made those shows stick out and do you think personal nostalgia plays into that at all?
Those shows were nuts. It was crazy to travel that far and meet so many enthusiastic people who already liked us. Coming from the Midwest where no one liked us, life felt so dull and hopeless. These places were a revelation. Afterward I knew I had to leave Illinois.
Why are so many punks easily offended? Does it have anything to do with privilege?
Finally, is it possible for punk or any art form to become less insular?
I would argue it’s not insular enough. The moment any community springs up, standards collapse.