By Mark Masters
When Judge split up in 1991, it was in response to the growing skinhead violence of the time and the antipathy of their own fan base. "It was a fucking bloodbath," recalls vocalist Mike Judge. "We were having to fight at what felt like every show. Sometimes it was the one tough guy in town who wanted to take on the 'tough' New York dudes, and sometimes it seemed like a whole scene up against you.
"I had always enjoyed touring, it felt like me and six of my brothers living like pirates, but this was different. As time went on and the rumors about us grew, I could tell that my words weren't getting through to people and it just wasn't fun anymore."
Judge was never one to shy away from a fight, but the writing was on the wall for Mike and founding guitarist John Porcelly: either hang up your boots, or continue to suffer brutality at the hands of ignorant meat heads.
Judge had been a reactionary band from the get-go. When it was formed, Mike was drumming for the hardcore band Youth of Today, which had a positive, straight-edge agenda. "[Bay area fanzine] Maximum Rocknroll had made Youth of Today out to be borderline Nazis and militant, which is ridiculous because you couldn't be more of a pacifist than [the band's singer] Ray," Mike says. So in 1987, he decided to give them something to really complain about. "I wanted to say to MRR, 'You think this is bad? Oh...just wait. Just wait until you see what I have in mind.' I wanted to be as confrontational and over the top as I could.
"Calling the band 'Judge' was about the band being an authority figure. I wanted to force it on people," he says. The band's shows quickly developed into rowdy affairs, with hardline straight-edge skinheads storming the stage with little regard for anyone's safety, including their own. All the band had to do was to knock down the dominoes that Maximum RocknRoll had set up for the New York straightedge scene, and the fanzine editors' worst fears were soon realized.
Naturally, Judge's short history doesn't entirely comprise excessive straight-edge proselytizing and outrageous violence. The band also cranked out some amazing records. 1989's Chung King Can Suck It LP (named after Chung King Studios, where the aborted sessions occurred) was released in an edition of only 110 copies. It has attained legendary status among hardcore record collectors, routinely fetching over $6,000 on eBay despite (or, perhaps, because of) being re-recorded and released as the classic Bringin' It Down in the same year.
Says Mike of the Chung King LP, "I'm bewildered. I don't know why that record is worth anything to anybody when it's not worth anything to the people who created it."
"We trashed that record because it was no good, and now it's a constant reminder of a place that had no respect for us. That place only gave us their worst. Their worst gear, their worst room, their worst engineer; everything about it was just awful," he says. "I was devastated when I heard the final mix of that record, and now some people tell me that it's a more punk rock record because it sounds like shit.Bringin' It Down
is a better sounding record. I don't get it at all."
Now, with the passage of more than two decades, Judge is finding slightly firmer footing in a slightly gentler scene. The shows are still full of rambunctious bruisers, but gone are the stabbings and gang beatings that once accompanied the out-of-hand affairs at VFW halls and in basements, where security is understaffed or just absent altogether.
Today, the band's members don't wonder whether they will have to fight their way to the stage or spend the night locked inside a warehouse while thirty dusted-out skinheads wait in the packing lot, howling for blood, like in some sort of Tromaville nightmare. The crowds now actually show up looking for music. "Well, the faces up front are still the same ones, they're just older now," says Mike. "The fighting and beat-downs are gone, too. When we broke up, it seemed like no one gave a shit about what we had to say. Now, those records finally seem to have found the hands they were intended for.
"It's crazy when a 45-year-old dude comes up and tells you that a song you wrote changed his life or helped him through some rough times, and then you hear the exact same story from some seventeen-year-old kid five minutes later. It's just really good to be able to put all the bullshit behind us and focus on what we have right now."
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