Clobberin’ Time: Sick Of It All On The Evolution Of Mosh

This is the time of the year to acknowledge the things you’re thankful for. One of the things we’re very thankful for is that we’ve been alive to experience multiple Sick Of It All shows. SOIA has long exported their brands of New York City hardcore to the world – as well as their intensely physical and unpredictable shows.
A Sick Of It all show has always been an event, a place where you didn’t know quite what would happen but that you’d probably leave drenched in sweat and exhausted. SOIA bassist Craig Setari, a former competitive boxer, has been around for many of those shows. He’s also seen additional nuttiness during his time with Cro-Mags and Youth Of Today. He shared his memories of some of the wildest things he remembers – and his thoughts on what’s changed in the mosh pit during the years. Remember to check out Sick Of It All’s new album Last Act Of Defiance.

Were Sick Of It all shows always a place where people cut loose?

I booked Sick Of It all shows before I was even in the band – I was in my old band Straight Ahead. They (SOIA) were just starting out but they knew everybody and quickly became popular. They became one of the major bands in New York pretty fast. The first handful of shows were just a group of friends — 10 or 15 people singing along and piling up.

When did you start developing a reputation for physical and unpredictable shows?

That happened around 1988 or so. The crowds starting growing when the first wave of New York hardcore bands weren’t playing as frequently. A new generation like Sick Of It All was coming up – a newer breed. And there was a new, and more vicious, kind of crowd showing up that would go ballistic.

There weren’t a lot of the crazy restrictions and overzealous bouncers people need to deal with these days

Well, there were these situations where bouncers would go nuts and then someone would hurt the bouncers. There were a lot of misunderstandings in the 80s and 90s. But nowadays what we do is meet with them beforehand and tell them it’s going to be a wild show. A lot of times we don’t need to do that anymore but there was a period where we’d need to talk to a club and make sire everything was cool. Over time, I think this music has been going on long enough that people expect things to be a little crazy.

What are some of the nuttiest things you’ve seen at your shows over the years? I remember one of your shows in a small club — seeing people doing back flips in a place with really low ceilings.

There were so many wild shows back in the 80s. When I played in Youth Of Today the shows were crazy. It’s hard for me to talk about specific things but I’ve seen lights getting ripped out of ceilings, ceilings caving in and collapsing, PAs getting knocked over. That sort of stuff used to happen all the time. Of course, sometimes people get hurt. There was a show in Savannah in the late 80s where a guy was shooting off a shotgun … shooting trees, shooting out car windows. At the bar, people were playing Russian Roulette! And then when the cops came, they knew the guy with the shotgun so they went and had a couple of shots of whiskey with them! All this shit went on over the years. I’ve also seen the horrible side of it – people breaking their necks or getting stabbed. I never want to see people get hurt at a show.

At the same time, there are a lot of people who remember just exhilaration from seeing one of your shows.

It’s a great feeling when you’re playing a show and everyone is singing. You get chills up your spine. It’s a blessing, I mean, thank God. It’s such a nice way to celebrate life. It’s such a release and a good positive thing. There’s a lot of tension in the world and to let it all out is a great release. I’ve spent my life on this music and feel like I’ve had really good fortune.

Sick Of It All, Suicidal Tendencies, Slayer, DRI … these are the bands that after you’ve seen them you feel like you’ve been in the ring for three rounds.

Boxing is similar to playing hardcore. Put everything you have out there for someone to see. You’re basically naked for everyone to see and need to deal with it. Let it all hang out and see what happens.

Our society has become so litigious. When you think about that or a story like what happened with Randy Blythe overseas? Do you reconsider how you play?

Well, there are barricades a lot of shows. I understand that and understand there is liability. Kids can get hurt if they aren’t watching out. I wish stuff like that didn’t exist and we could let it all hang out. But it’s just one of those things. You can never say ‘don’t have a barricade.’ There’s so much suing and there is always a danger that something could stop you from playing.

Even with barricades, people will just try to dive over them. I’ve also seen them collapse on people.

They can make it worse. It’s a matter of people in the crowd being mindful. The difference from a while ago to today is that everyone was in the know then. Now, you have general audiences coming to the show. There’s nothing wrong when some kid who likes Metallica comes to a punk show. Everyone is welcome. But they might not understand the dancing style at a hardcore show — and someone not looking the right way might get hit in the head.

The Last Act Of Defiance isn’t your last act, is it?

I’m so bad at playing the role of “it might be our last record.” It’s just the name of the record. We knew some people would think that and decided to keep quiet about it.

The album title Built To Last does seem strangely applicable.

I’m glad to hear you say that. I never had that as a plan it just sort of happened. I wake up and I get to be a hardcore guy and play bass. The four of us – this is what we are and we love doing it. There’s no reason to stop. We’re so wrapped up in it that there’s no reason to quit.