The Death of NYHC: Quicksand

Sometime in late 1990, we ventured south to Trenton, N.J. for the monthly hardcore show, which usually featured Revelation Records era bands. Or the spawn of said bands, which started up, lit a fire for four months and then inwardly imploded, usually in a van somewhere in Kansas.

This was one of those nights, but even more special. “Walter,” the guy that wrote the entire Gorilla Biscuits record, had a new band, and even though we never got to see Gorilla Biscuits live, we were intent on witnessing his second act.

At the time, Gorilla Biscuits was a bit of an anomaly in the New York hardcore scene. They were teen-agers (not tough guys) from the Queens/Long Island area, and although their music retained much of what defined New York hardcore (anthems, breakdowns, fast tempos, screaming), there was also melody, lyrics that reflected challenging issues of the times, and interpersonal reflections on the basic act of treating other people well instead of stomping them out with a boot to their mouth.

Of course, Gorilla Biscuits broke up before they even started to get the recognition they deserved, leaving the five members to go their own way. Fortunately, guitar player/songwriter Walter Schreifels was already doing that, even during the end days of Gorilla Biscuits.

And it would come, at least for me, to signify the death of the first wave of New York hardcore.

I remember entering the club as the opening bass line to “Unfulfilled” filled the space, and nothing about it seemed right. The tempo was slower, the lyrics more inward, and for the first time ever in the history of a hardcore show in that space, Quicksand lead singer/guitarist Walter Schreifels was attempting to sing instead of poorly screaming a badly-worded anthem about being stabbed in the back.

I also remember the faces in the crowd: bewildered, shrugging shoulders, waiting for the breakdown so they could start moshing again.

Those breakdowns arrived, but they were far from what was expected. And the crowd seemed to appreciate it, but most of that was on the surface, and erased as soon as the six-song set of tension, anger and metal-tinged reflection was finished.

In the above video, Quicksand’s second show ever, you can sorta tell the crowd doesn’t know what to think about the music.

“Walter sold out,” screamed a passer-by as I made my way to the merch table to purchase the first Quicksand EP. But I didn’t care. The performance was more real than anything I had seen up to that point, and the music, a heavy, technical mix of rock filtered through a hardcore upbringing, delivered stories of alienation and relationships gone wrong through succinct and timeless lyrics.

Quicksand would go on to sign with Polydor Records and released their first full-length, “Slip,” in 1993, followed by “Manic Compression” in 1995. They broke up soon after “Manic” was released, then regrouped and broke up again a short time later. For a time, it appeared as if they had “made it” as a band, but no one was happy in the band due to difficulties with the label, the ever-nagging “Is this a hit?” question, and relations between the band members.

But the “Band formed, wrote great music and broke up” story is just a small part of Walter Schreifels career as a musician. During the writing for “Manic Compression,” he formed a hardcore “super group” of sorts featuring members of his former band, Gorilla Biscuits. Named Civ, Schreifels formed the band, wrote the songs and got them a record deal, but never credited himself with doing so because it might discredit his stature in Quicksand. And during much of the writing for Quicksand’s records, Schreifels felt at odds with the music he was creating, yearning to become more melodic but ultimately not wanting to betray the fans. In fact, it seemed as if he almost resented Quicksand’s music, and allowed that resentment into his musical and lyrical stylings.

In the end, Walter Schreifels walked away from Quicksand, right around the time that Quicksand’s genre of music was dumbed down and bastardized by a new generation of Quicksand devotees that had worn out their first cassette copy of “Slip.” But in the span of just a few years, Quicksand influenced a generation of listeners to look inside, confront their issues and recognize the power of heavy, cathartic music.

Me? I consider myself lucky to be there near the beginning.

This write-up was inspired by Quicksand’s B-Sides and Rarities.

And this is Schreifels now, doing an Agnostic Front cover.