Hardcore rage of Real Enemy reissued by Mind Cure Records

A pioneer of the 1980s' Pittsburgh scene lives on in reissue from the Polish Hill shop and label

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

The first wave of Pittsburgh punk saw the emergence of great unsung bands like Carsickness, the Cardboards and The Five.

As the early '80s progressed -- under the influence of Black Flag, Minor Threat and other hardcore bands -- the Electric Banana scene started to shift into a higher, faster, younger gear.

One of Pittsburgh's hardcore pioneers, led by singer Mike LaVella, was Real Enemy, which was inspired by a Necros/Faith show in D.C. and "ruled for like five minutes," as the singer has noted.

During that five minutes, which lasted from April to September 1983, Real Enemy, based in Oakland's legendary Hell House on Ward Street, jolted the punk scene, joined bills with Husker Du, Flipper and DRI, played CBGB and produced the cassette "Life With the Enemy" (on Mind Cure) that found Mr. LaVella raging against authority and conformity over a thrashy guitar and hyperactive rhythm section.

Thirty years later, it sees the light again as a reissue on the revamped Mind Cure label, produced out of the Polish Hill record store of the same name.

Michael Seamans, who runs the store and label, says, "In high school when I got my job at Paul's [CDs] I used to spend hours going through the basement looking for old Pittsburgh punk records, fanzines, posters, anything to feed my appetite for this history. I would try and find anything left over from the Jim's Records days to try and piece together little band and scene histories.

"When I was kicking around the idea for restarting the label I called Dave Martin, who had been running the label in the '90s before going to New York to work for Matador records. I told him I wanted to start doing Pittsburgh reissues, and he immediately said, 'You have to start with Real Enemy' before I could even tell him my idea."

Real Enemy came into the scene as the pioneering hardcore band. "We were like that first spark," says Mr. LaVella, who moved to Oakland, Calif., in 1988. "When you turn the ignition, it's the battery that provides the first jump to the starter. We were like that battery."

At the same time, Real Enemy fit in with the more established bands.

"I had a good attitude," he says. "I wasn't coming in like, 'Hardcore! Screw all the old stuff.' I was nothing but respectful of those bands. I learned so much from Carsickness and The Five. They took us under their wings. We were kids, literally 18."

After a turbulent trip to New York to play CBGB, Real Enemy returned and played just a few more gigs in 1983.

"To this day, I can't give a good answer as to why the band broke up," the singer writes in the liner notes. "It would be romantic to say that we had a clear mission -- firmly establish a hardcore scene in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania -- and, upon accomplishing that, there was no longer a reason to exist, but I think the reality is that we just got on each other's nerves."

Mr. LaVella, originally from Herminie, would go on to the more well-known Half Life and then head to Oakland to run Gearhead magazine and its label, and also drive a hearse. Guitarist Vince Curtis joined him in Real Enemy. Bassist Steve Heineman, who also wrote some of the band's headier lyrics and drummed in numerous Pittsburgh bands including A.T.S. and Watershed 5tet, is a music therapist based in New York. According to Mr. Seamans, "nobody knows where Russ [Smith] the drummer is."

In preparation for the reissue, Mr. LaVella says, "I listened to the music for the first time in decades and one of the things that amazed me was how angry I was." Part of it, he says, was the result of growing up in Herminie. "People forget, but if you were punk you got beaten up, like, literally beaten up. In Herminie, Pa., kids weren't even into rock, they were into like Charlie Daniels and the Outlaws. I once got into a fight with a guy who insisted that we were south of the Mason-Dixon line!"

He also looks back with some regret.

"I really wanted Real Enemy to keep going. I'm sure we could have made a record that people just fetishize, like the Necros, all those bands that have these iconic records. I really think we could have done something like that."

There are more Mind Cure reissues to come, Mr. Seamans says, with the goal of "bringing some attention to Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh bands who have sadly been underrepresented in the new wave of hardcore and punk histories."

"It's been 30 years of people asking about [Real Enemy] on and off," Mr. LaVella says. "There's a lot of interest in early '80s hardcore."

For more info, go www.mindcurerecords.com.


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?