Over the past several years, a ton of books, films, compilation discs, etc. documenting the early punk and hardcore movements have been released. Most of them are wonderful works that serve not only as nostalgic looks back for those who were there and lived through it all, but also as interesting snapshots in time for those who were not. The overwhelming majority, however, seemed to focus mainly on the legendary scenes in New York, D.C. and London while only touching momentarily on the arguably much larger and volatile one that went down in Los Angeles. Let Them Know: The Story Of Youth Brigade and BYO Records, the new extraordinary CD/DVD/book box set from BYO Records, finally gives L.A. its just due, and in a nutshell:
It does a damn good fucking job.
Let Them Know is offered in two versions. One is a 6" X 12" book containing the CD and DVD. The other is a bit more pricey 12" X 12" impressive box housing two vinyl LPs, the DVD, a larger version of the book and the CD. The overall quality of the packaging of both is seriously impressive and even more so when you consider that they were put together and released by an independent punk label. It's the sort of product that one would expect to see from a major company like Rhino who has decades of experience in putting together monumental, educational and definitive box sets like Left of the Dial, No Thanks! and Rockin' Bones.
Upon initial viewing, it is immediately obvious that this set was created by folks who are genuinely passionate about the music and the story that they are presenting. Some may question whether or not Youth Brigade and BYO Records deserve to be documented in this fashion while other seminal bands have yet to be recognized in this way. Mark Stern, founding member of Youth Brigade and the BYO crew, himself even points out in the companion book that he expects some people to view Let Them Know as a vanity piece. The fact is, though, that through this story of one band and one label, a larger, more encompassing one is told. One of a scene that was born out of necessity. A cultural revolution that spawned music that challenged the status quo and went on to influence many generations to follow.
The companion book is the first thing that grabs your attention as you initially rip open the set. It is a 100+ page, STUNNING, professionally designed, glossy package teeming with rare photos, lyric sheets, fliers, ticket stubs, artwork, etc. Once all of that is taken in, you can then flip back to the beginning and start reading the detailed essay. This essay presents to the world the most exhaustive document thus far on the events that took place in the Los Angeles punk scene during the '80s. It is really well-researched and is not something that you can simply glaze over in a few minutes. It is a massive read that succeeds in explaining in great detail to the reader the who, what, where, when, why and how of it all. It's a truly wonderful piece of work. To top it all off, the final few pages of the book consist of a very handy and complete BYO Records discography with album covers and recording notes. Every BYO release, from the Someone Got Their Head Kicked In compilation (BYO 001) to the new Nothington album (BYO 116), is covered.
The CD is a 31-track affair of mostly exclusive songs by BYO artists. However, making it even more special is that rather than just throwing a run-of-the-mill "best of" disc together, the BYO crew got each participating band to present a cover of a classic song from a different BYO band. This clever approach puts a new, interesting spin on the material and makes for a much more fun experience. The songs cover pretty much the entire classic BYO era, starting from the aforementioned 1982 Someone Got Their Head Kicked In comp (the Briefs, for example, cover the Adolescents' "Who Is Who") to 2004's Split Series Volume 4 (American Steel put forth a great cover of Alkaline Trio's "Dead and Broken"). Every single song is performed respectfully and leaves little doubt that each of the musicians that contributed, a roster of bands ranging from legendary acts like 7 Seconds and Leatherface to current artists like Nothington and In the Red, were more than happy to do so.
The DVD includes a solid, well-produced documentary that runs about an hour and a half as well as another 30 minutes of bonus footage. The main film, like the companion book, tells the L.A. scene, and more specifically BYO, story through rare pictures, archival footage and interviews with guys like Matt Skiba, Ian MacKaye, Fat Mike and the Bouncing Souls that starts with the Stern brothers surfing as kids and continues on through to a recent annual Punk Rock Bowling event. It is honestly so well done that the DVD alone is worth the price of the set.
In a day and age where cold, digital, single downloads are the norm and kids couldn't give two shits about album artwork, it is totally refreshing and inspiring to hold a box set of this caliber in hand. Anyone who views music as more than just background noise and ringtones should definitely check Let Them Know out as soon as possible. It will make you long for the days when music actually meant something. Well done, BYO.