Atlanta Record Stores: An Oral History

Why write a book about Atlanta record stores? The truth is that you get a singularly unique perspective on a city’s history, its culture, and its personality when viewed through the lens of a record store’s front window. I have often said that if you want to understand a society or a culture, just take a look at its pop culture, and music has always remained right there on the frontlines.

Atlanta is world-renowned as a hip-hop mecca, but a rich underground rock scene has been thriving here for decades. The hub of that world is the city’s record stores. Featuring decades-old institutions to shops that existed just long enough to leave an impact, Atlanta Record Stores is a rock-centric take on a hip-hop town, unfurling the secret history of music underdogs—outliers living among outliers—telling their stories in their native tongue. From Jarboe of SWANS to William DuVall of Alice in Chains and Neon Christ to Kelly Hogan, Gentleman Jesse Smith, Atlanta Braves organist Matthew Kaminski, and those surly characters behind the counter at Wuxtry, Wax ‘n’ Facts, Criminal, Ella Guru, Fantasyland, and more, all were drawn by the irresistible lure of vinyl records—all found their communities and their own identities, leaving an indelible mark on the culture of Atlanta.

Click below to pre-order your copy of Atlanta Record Stores: An Oral History. $23.99 (postage paid).

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Neon Christ: A brief history of ‘1984’

Back in May, I had the privilege of hanging out after hours at Wuxtry Records’ Atlanta shop to interview Randy DuTeau, Jimmy Demer, Danny Lankford, and William DuVall of Neon Christ for this documentary film, directed by Nicol Eltzroth Rosendorf.

We talked about the formation of the group and their history together amid Atlanta’s early ‘80s hardcore scene, and the all-analog remastering process that yielded NX’s recently released discography LP, 1984 (Southern Lord/DVL Records).

If you weren’t able to track down a copy of the Record Store Day red vinyl edition of Neon Christ’s 1984 LP, no worries. A second press is set to arrive in September, pressed on black and coke-bottle clear vinyl. Both versions are available for pre-order at the Southern Lord Recordings store.

If you weren’t able to track down a copy of the Record Store Day red vinyl edition of Neon Christ’s 1984 LP, no worries. A second press is on the way, pressed on black and coke-bottle clear vinyl. Both are up for pre-order at the Southern Lord Recordings store.

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Neon Christ, GG King, and Upchuck play The Star Bar parking lot June 12—Record Store Day

On June 12, as the Record Store Day shopping frenzy winds down in Little Five Points, head over to the the parking lot behind the Star Bar (437 Moreland Ave NE), where Neon Christ, GG King, and Upchuck are playing a free show from 6-8 p.m.

Atlanta’s hardcore luminaries Neon Christ were founded by Alice in Chains singer William DuVall in 1984. Back then DuVall played guitar alongside vocalist Randy DuTeau, bass player Danny Lankford, and drummer Jimmy Demer. “Our first practices were in Little Five Points, just steps from where we’ll play June 12,” DuVall says. “We played festivals here in ’84 and ’85. My record collection as a teenager came almost entirely from Wax N Facts. We didn’t even consider playing anywhere else.”

DuVall also did a brief stint playing in Santa Cruz, California’s seminal hardcore group Bl’ast! between 1986 and ’87.

Neon Christ’s members are reuniting to play live for the first time since February 8, 2008, when they took the stage together at The Treehouse in Lawrenceville. The show is also a victory lap on the heels of releasing the 1984 discography LP as a Record Store Day exclusive via Southern Lord and DuVall’s DVL imprint.

For this show, NX will tear through its earliest thrash and hardcore songs such as “Parental Suppression,” “Bad Influence,” “Ashes to Ashes,” and more. This is the material from their original two 7-inch releases, culled together and remastered for 1984—much of which the band stopped playing that same year. Before splitting up in 1986, NX’s had evolved and channeled its energy into longer, heavier, and slower songs. On June 12, though, the group is going full-on high-energy.

Press play on the new video for the group’s theme song, “Neon Christ.”

Before the show, NX will be at Criminal Records from 5-6 p.m. for a meet-and-greet, and to sign copies of 1984. “We wanted to do a quick in-store appearance for Record Store Day, but Covid restrictions would keep us from doing a proper punk rock show,” says Demer. “So we decided to make it outdoors, and all ages, and free. And instead of doing a couple of songs, we’ll play a full set.”

Music behind the Star Bar starts promptly at 6 p.m. Each band is playing a tight 30-minute set with an even tighter changeover between sets. “If all goes as planned, Neon Christ will play at 7:30 p.m. and end 26 minutes later,” Demer says. “Don’t blink, you’ll miss it.”

Don’t dick around and miss this one. After the Treehouse show in 2008 the group said it was the last time NX would play live. So 13 years later, this is a rare treat, and it could be your last chance to see them on stage. “We’ve only played two or three times since we broke up in 1986,” Demer says. “This one feels like a homecoming. It’s full circle, back to Little Five Points.”

This show also marks the first time that GG King has played live since the crushing new LP Remain Intact arrived in March via Total Punk. Press play below.

Upchuck photo by Caitlin Fitch.

And check out Upchuck’s self-titled EP from January 2020, too. It’s a scorcher.

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Neon Christ enlist their kids to play younger versions of themselves in a new video for their classic theme song

Neon Christ playing the Little 5 Points Fest, October 6, 1984 (on Seminole Ave. behind what is now Junkman’s Daughter). Photo by Chuck Gill.

Here’s a blast from the past to keep to your PMA going strong. The members of Neon Christ, Atlanta’s staple hardcore outfit circa 1984 through ‘86—vocalist Randy DuTeau, guitar player William DuVall, bass player Danny Lankford, and drummer Jimmy Demer—tapped their kids to play the younger versions of themselves in a new video for the group’s classic theme song.

As Demer explains, “I had this idea that we should make a video for the song ‘Parental Suppression,’ and have our kids play us. I brought it to the rest of the guys, and everyone was into the idea, but then nothing happened. Later, William came to me and said ‘hey, let’s do this, but for ‘Neon Christ’ instead.”

The song “Neon Christ” originally appeared on the group’s 10-song Parental Suppression 7-inch EP. And, after all, it is one of the catchiest songs on the record.

When Neon Christ was a functioning band, DuVall performed using his childhood nickname Kip. Since 2006, DuVall has sung and played guitar with the band Alice in Chains. In 2019, he released an album of solo acoustic songs, titled One Alone via his DVL Records imprint.

On the audio side, DuVall took Neon Christ’s original tapes to Nashville-based studio Welcome to 1979 to be remastered for an upcoming DVL/Southern Lord discography LP, titled 1984. The record compiles all of the material from Neon Christ’s Parental Suppression EP and the A Seven Inch Two Times double 7-inch originally released in 1990, and is set to arrive June 12—Record Store Day 2021.

In the meantime, check out the video for “Neon Christ,” directed by Atlanta-based filmmaker Nick Rosendorf.

Stay tuned for more Neon Christ news coming soon!

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A Bl’ast! from the past: ‘Blood!’ sheds new light on William DuVall’s secret history

Bl’ast! Blood! Photo courtesy Southern Lord.

In September of 1986, just six months after guitarist, singer, and songwriter William DuVall had moved away from his home in Atlanta, effectively disbanding the city’s seminal hardcore group Neon Christ, he turned up in sunny Santa Cruz, Calif. It was there amid the late ’80s flashpoint, when thriving surfing, skateboarding, and punk scenes had all converged, that DuVall joined the ranks of local hardcore outfit Bl’ast! Alongside his new bandmates, Mike Neider (guitar), Clifford Dinsmore (vocals), Dave Cooper (bass), and Bill Torgerson (drums), DuVall’s second guitar brought strength and focus to the group’s already snarling melodies.

With DuVall in town, and now functioning as a five-piece, Bl’ast! spent countless chaotic, and oftentimes bloody, nights on stages hammering out songs that would go down in history as the group’s crowning achievement — culminating with the 1987 LP, It’s in My Blood (SST Records).

The album arrived as a powerful step up from the terse but clumsy songwriting that Bl’ast! had delivered three years earlier with its debut, The Power of Expression. Nailing the high-speed tempos of songs such as “Only Time Will Tell,” “Something Beyond,” and the album’s title track became an audacious testament to the band’s physical and mental dexterity.

“They were pissed-off Reagan-era California kids who all knew each other since junior high,” DuVall says. “Then, much like what happened to Neon Christ on the opposite coast, one gets a little older and the music gets more sophisticated—it develops a different kind of swag.”

Although DuVall parted ways with Bl’ast! in March of 1987, less than a year after he’d joined the group, he co-wrote and recorded the early versions of the songs that would later be re-cut without his parts for It’s in My Blood. For more than 25 years, the only real document of the time he’d spent playing with Bl’ast! has been a few grainy live shots flashing across the screen in the “Surf and Destroy” video. But a recently unearthed cache of the original It’s in My Blood recordings, featuring DuVall’s guitar parts, reveals the significant role he played in the group’s evolution.

Released in August of 2013 via Southern Lord, and re-titled simply as Blood!, the re-released album compiles a more hard-hitting version of the group’s songwriting of the era in all of its teeth-gnashing glory. From the thundering bass and charged air of anguish that rushes in with the album’s opener, “Only Time Will Tell,” Blood takes aim at anything and anyone that gets in its way.

In the American music press, Bl’ast! was often saddled with Black Flag comparisons, and rightfully so. The visceral intensity and real-time emotional confrontation playing out in such songs as “Ssshhh,” “Winding Down,” and “Your Eyes” bear an unmistakable mark of Black Flag’s influence. But Bl’ast! adhered to a fiery and baroque dynamic. Stylistically, Blood! personifies the late ’80s era when punk and metal found common ground with a dark balance of catharsis and experimentation. The bombast of each of the album’s 11 songs builds both attitude and tension in the subtle interplay between Neider and DuVall’s guitar attacks, particularly throughout the songs “Sequel” and “Poison.” The music for the former was written by DuVall, as were most of the lyrics for the latter number.

Ultimately, this is the lineup that wrote and arranged these songs. As such, there’s a breadth and intensity here that the original release just doesn’t capture. Of course, mixing the album on the Sound City board at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 gives the songs a thickness that the originals never projected. The members of the band worked alongside Grohl, Southern Lord’s Greg Anderson, and John “Lou” Lousteau — the latter of whom did some engineering work with Duvall for Alice in Chains’ 2009 album, Black Gives Way to Blue — to flesh out the sound. The lo-fi grit of the original release is lost, but it’s a small price to pay when setting such a powerful record straight. “The important thing for me is that with Blood!, the world finally gets to hear a more accurate version of what we were doing,” DuVall says.

Credibility aside, Blood! is a richly detailed redux that’s far more solid than anything else from Bl’ast!’s catalogue, making it an excellent artifact from a chapter in DuVall’s career that until now has remained lost in time.

A version of this story originally appeared in CL Atlanta.