22 Mar 2022
Syracuse NY, 1981:
Small town USA, smack dab in the middle of New York State. Although only 5 hours away from NYC, Syracuse and the surrounding area might as well have been 10 years away. Conservative, reactionary, redneck. Reagan’s America. It was a pretty barren place for a young, pissed off NYC transplant and hardcore punk rock kid named Belvy to be stuck in. Teaming up with another similar minded transplant from Florida named Joe Miller, the two hit it off, started writing songs and formed what would become The Catatonics. Frustrated at not being in (and envious of) Boston, DC, LA, or NYC – the 4 teenagers that made up The Catatonics did something about it. They took DIY to heart and willed a scene: putting on shows, putting out ‘zines, putting out releases and most importantly, aggressively encouraging any and all other Upstate and Central New York kids to create scenes and start bands of their own. To put the Syracuse of 1981/82 in perspective: The Catatonics initial shows would often include street musicians to round out the bills – there just weren’t any other punk or hardcore kindred spirits running around (save Cortland’s Suburban Rebels/SFB who Belvy also drummed in). And street musicians were at least better than Grateful Dead cover bands. The original Catatonics lineup of Belvy, Joe, and Louie Arrowhead played all over the Syracuse area during late 1981 and 1982. Usually on school nights. (Belvy and Joe’s high school class mate Farmer Brown replaced Louie shortly after, with Jeff joining soon after that). Belvy, Joe and Farmer would also routinely get sent home or suspended for wearing Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks t-shirts to school, sincerely baffled as to how anyone could find this offensive. Nights there wasn’t a show (or to celebrate a particularly awesome one), there would be spray painting, breaking and entering, hooliganism, fights, and good natured vandalism. Schools. Bars. Churches. Office Buildings. Bored Teenagers, like the song says. But also curious, ambitious, hungry-for-something-else teenagers.
Fast forward to 1984:
Syracuse/Central New York now boasted a good dozen+ local bands, an indie record store, multiple all ages spaces for shows, and had really begun to make a mark on the national scene. The Catatonics (and crew) busted serious ass and would wind up bringing some of the best punk and hardcore bands of the era to town. Youth Brigade, Black Flag, 7 Seconds, Gang Green, Suicidal Tendencies, Scream, M.I.A, Die Kreuzen, Husker Du, Necros, GBH, Battalion Of Saints and many more all now regularly hit the previous dead zone known as Syracuse/Central New York. The Catatonics (with Syracuse dragged along) had arrived. They became a much more serious and intense band and after putting out 2 or 3 cassette only releases, recorded and self released the 5 song EP Hunted Down which would feature the classic lineup of Belvy, Joe (now ‘Jack Shit’), Farmer (switching to 2nd guitar), and new bassist Jeff Jacques. Hunted Down made dozens of ‘best of’ lists. Maximum Rock & Roll did a feature on the Syracuse scene, and then one on The Catatonics. They appeared alongside big names like The Germs and Misfits on the super influential Flipside Magazine’s 2nd compilation LP with arguably their finest moment, Descending In E. Things were looking good. The Catatonics kept gigging hard, blowing away bigger established national acts, getting zine covers and more great press. New material was written, early demos for a full length were underway, talks of a U.S. tour were amidst, and then…
It was gone.
Both musical & personal differences led to The Catatonics breaking up. A lot of it can probably be chalked up to Belvy wanting to go out and see the world and do something bigger (going on to join 7 Seconds, UK Subs, D Generation, Libertine and many more), so who knows what would’ve happened had they stayed the course. But that was then, this is now and Southern Lord Records will soon be reissuing Hunted Down as a 12” vinyl release with bonus tracks on April 23, 2022.