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Youth Brigade
Youth Brigade continue to tour regularly.
This poster is from their 2006 Canadian tour.

Youth Brigade

A new documentary chronicles three decades of the Youth Brigade and BYO Records

By Scott Thomson

29 years ago, three brothers decided to try something different.  Instead of simply starting a band, and getting signed to a record deal, they instead opted for the DIY approach. They did things their own way, and all these years later, that band, Youth Brigade, and their label, BYO Records, is still going strong.

I believe that the film makers have done a wonderful job telling a story that will appeal to everyone, whether or not you’ve heard of BYO or Youth Brigade or are familiar with punk rock

BYO, which stands for The Better Youth Organization, has become a staple in the landscape of the American punk rock scene, and the band is well known as one of the best hardcore bands of the 1980’s.

They were in Toronto recently, as part of the North By Northeast music festival, to play a few shows, as well as screen their new documentary, Let Them Know: The Story of Youth Brigade and BYO Records.

“It’s a 90 minute documentary that looks at the 25+ years of BYO records, Youth Brigade, the Stern family and our involvement in punk rock, and specifically the punk rock scene in southern California.” says lead singer, and label head,  Shawn Stern in an email interview, while preparing to come to the festival.

The film is directed by Jeff Alulis and  Ryan Harln, who previously did a similar film about The Bouncing Souls and were also the guys behind the NOFX television show on Fuse TV, Backstage Passport.

Youth Brigade
Youth Brigade
Stern says the film “covers both band, and label, as well as the 4 Stern brothers and our relationship with each other, our friends and our small part in the punk rock scene over all these years.”  NXNE was the films first large public screening. It has been screened a few times before, and says the reaction to the film has been “great”.

“I think those that know punk rock will find it an interesting and insightful look into the music they like and the influence of BYO, Youth Brigade and all the people we’ve been lucky enough to work with.” he says.  “I believe that the film makers have done a wonderful job telling a story that will appeal to everyone, whether or not you’ve heard of BYO or Youth Brigade or are familiar with punk rock.“

“It’s a story about how a couple of kids, and their friends, helped create a musical and cultural lifestyle that continues to inspire new generations to believe that thinking for yourself is not just a pipedream. If we can do it, anyone can.”

Unfortunately the majority of people are not paying for the music they download and that is having a profound effect on record labels as well as musicians

The film will be released on DVD in September, and the band will be touring across North America to promote the release.

The band is hoping to find some time to release a new album, but are working on some BYO releases first, most notably Nothington’s new disc, which will be in stores this fall. The label has obvously had to go through some changes over the years, seeing as they have seen the rise, and subsequent falls of a few types of music media.

“With the rise in digital downloading and the prospect of the CD going the way of the cassette and 8 track, it’s time to reinvent what a record company does.” Stern says. “We’ve been there before, with the change from vinyl to cassette to CD, but that was just a change of formats, people still paid for music. Unfortunately the majority of people are not paying for the music they download and that is having a profound effect on record labels as well as musicians.”

He says people “don’t draw the connection between paying for music they get online and the survival of the bands they love.”

Youth Brigade
Youth Brigade back in the day (circa 1982)

“We’ve (BYO) had our music up on Itunes and through most of the other digital sources for years now, but it still is a fraction of our sales, though it is steadily rising every year. The problem is that CD sales have been going down by over 50% a year the last several years, while paid digital sales go up maybe 10-15% a year”

To combat this issue, the band plans on a special release of the film in September. An “Aniversary Box Set” will be released, which will feature the DVD “along with a double record that features bands we’ve worked with, are friends with, or think are great new bands, doing cover versions of songs previously released on BYO over the course of our 25 years.” It will also include a 100 page, 13”x13”, coffee table book, featuring stories and pictures spanning the label’s history.

“We figure you can’t bootleg that and hope it’s something everyone will want to have, a piece of history.”

The band was also famously featured in one of punk rocks most enduring documentaries, 1984’s Another State Of Mind, which was about the North American tour of Youth Brigade and Social Distortion.  Stern says “That was quite an interesting tour and we were lucky to have organized it. I think that despite the problems we had on the road, it’s a pretty good primer for bands on how to set up your own tour.”

In one scene in the film, the band was literally paid in pennies for their performance.

We (Youth Brigade) were just were idealistic kids who said let�s do this, and (then) we did it

“That tour was pretty ambitious for a couple of kids in their early 20’s to even conceive, let alone put together.” He says. “That year, we were running the biggest punk rock club ever (at that point) in L.A. (Godzilla’s). The biggest local punk rock show (at that point) when we did Youth Movement ’82 at the Palladium, and then we started the label and went on tour around the U.S. and Canada in a school bus an it was made into a documentary.”

“It’s pretty amazing, but we didn’t really think about how we were gonna pull it off, we just did it. And for me, that’s the most important point.” Stern says. “We were just were idealistic kids who said let’s do this, and (then) we did it. We didn’t sit on our asses waiting for someone else to come and pay us and make us famous rock stars.”

Youth Brigade’s Discography:

Studio albums
Sound & Fury (1982; re-released in 1983 with a different track listing)
The Dividing Line (1986) (as The Brigade)
Happy Hour (1994)
To Sell the Truth (1996)
Out of Print (1998)

EP’s
Sound & Fury (1982)
What Price Happiness? (1984)
Come Again (1992)

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