When put into the perspective of the history of American hardcore, the Los Angeles-based label BYO didn’t make a “popular” impact: You don’t hear historians referring to Mark and Shawn Stern’s imprint with the same kind of reverence routinely bestowed upon such labels as Dischord and SST. But to dismiss the label as a mere footnote would be way off mark: Since BYO’s 1982 launch, the Stern brothers — in their roles… read more »
When put into the perspective of the history of American hardcore, the Los Angeles-based label BYO didn’t make a “popular” impact: You don’t hear historians referring to Mark and Shawn Stern’s imprint with the same kind of reverence routinely bestowed upon such labels as Dischord and SST. But to dismiss the label as a mere footnote would be way off mark: Since BYO’s 1982 launch, the Stern brothers — in their roles as founders of high-octane punks Youth Brigade and as would-be entrepreneurs — dedicated themselves to help shape, refine and execute the very concept of DIY. The term “Better Youth Organization” embodies more of a philosophy — self-promotion, self-releasing and self-booking — than any kind of specific aesthetic sensibility that may have driven the output of other punk-inspired labels (similar to the way the jargon “Jammin' Econo” is part and parcel of the Minutemen's mythology).
The Sterns (also including bass-playing brother Adam, who left the band in 1985) aimed for the fences with BYO’s first release, Someone Got Their Head Kicked In, a stellar compilation featuring scene staples as Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Adolescents and (naturally) Youth Brigade. The Sterns became their own storied legend when they pulled the plug on YB’s debut, Sound And Fury, after pressing around than 800 copies, citing dissatisfaction with the production (it’s since been reissued). Youth Brigade’s reputation as foot soldiers in the punk culture wars were well documented (alongside Minor Threat and Social Distortion) in Another State Of Mind, the 1984 movie which shows exactly how non-glamorous DIY touring actually is while cementing the arrival of hardcore’s second wave, the cinema verite analog to director Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline Of Western Civilization.
The BYO label has kept up with the times admirably, issuing releases ranging from inspired comps (Something To Believe In) to albums by storied veterans (7 Seconds, Leatherface, Manic Hispanic) to bracing upstarts (the Unseen, the Forgotten and Wednesday Night Heroes, as well as reissuing the catalog of skinny-tie buzzsaw punks the Briefs). The label has also put out a series of “split” LPs featuring stellar teamings (including Rancid and NOFX, Bouncing Souls and Anti-Flag, Leatherface and Hot Water Music) covering each others’ songs. This crown jewel of this year’s release schedule is Let Them Know: The Story of Youth Brigade And BYO Records, a CD/DVD double-disc set that acts as a declaration/reclamation of the Sterns’ history, as well as detailing the various cultural and sonic manifestations of hardcore in all its attendant peaks and valleys. For Know, the Sterns sought out bands they respected and asked them to do a cover version from the label’s vast archives, ending up with a compilation with old-school vets breaking sweat (and strings) alongside relative new pups.
If you could reduce the Sterns’ raison d’etre to a basic formula, clearly, it would be DIY + second-wave hardcore. Because every generation needs/creates its own cultural signifiers (just as labels like Epitaph and Ferret operate in today’s punk milieu), BYO has been both lynchpin and dream-keeper for the spirit of American punk-feckin’-rock.