Ah, the punk scene. It never gets old. Older, yes. Old? Never. It’s truly a gift to someone with a camera, especially if you’re the type to welcome unpredictability. Thankfully, I live for it, as does everyone else in that room. This explosion of catharsis, rebellion, and emotional reclamation could only be made possible by the very welcoming and devoted team at Black Cattle Records (BCR). Made up of Oscar Bacmaca, soundmen John Argueta and Saedie, and cooks Erick Moreno and Justin Cortez.
Oscar of BCR is not only devoted to providing a space for people to let their furious funk out, but he’s also a very special member of the community in that he’s a local business owner. The Horchatas Grill in North Bergen, to be specific. Now, if there’s anything I’m a softie for, it’s good eats. If someone provides that, that’s a sign of an upstanding member of society, never-mind just the community.
In an interview, Tony Bourdain said, “I like anyone who cooks with pride and who likes what they’re doing, who’s cooking with something resembling love and pride, even if they’re not cooking particularly well. I think they’re on the side of the angels”. Well, Tony, your seemingly infallible insight was correct because the angels were most certainly in North Bergen on Monday night.
BCR had quite an impressive line-up at an equally unique venue. The VFW Post in North Bergen is only a place I was vaguely familiar with through my father. An occasional helping hand there. Walking in is like being smacked in the face with the 1980s.
Wood paneling, a Cheers-style bar, and a ballroom would make any VHS copy of Dirty Dancing blush. Meanwhile, tasty hot dogs and ice-cold drinks are all being conjured from the depths of a tiny kitchen stuck in a time when bell bottoms were a necessity. All courtesy of Justin, nonetheless, who held the fort down like no other and fed hungry musicians and moshers alike (and the occasional dorky photographer, too, but who’s counting?). To call this place cozy would be a vastly insulting understatement. It’s a welcoming environment for the meek, the anxious, and the shy. This coming from somebody who checks every one of those boxes.
The line-up was composed of the impressive likes of Massa Nera, who might I add, are from Linden, New Jersey — Ultra Deluxe/Max Narotzky, Austin-based band Amygdala, and Semaphore. Now, there’s certainly an aura of responsibility when covering each of these acts. Their music isn’t simply a boisterous compilation of words. There’s profoundness and weight to the things they’re saying. Some of their songs are aimed at the necessary destruction of institutional thinking, while others — like Amygdala — sing about personal plights of pain. Bianca Quiñónez Cruz Benitez, the lead singer of Amygdala, rocked the walls off the place with a powerful display of vocals hallmarking what it means to be a survivor — a prevailer — with unparalleled resilience.
Music can be a conduit of transformative potential. Not just for those who write and perform it but for those in the crowd who might hear a song and realize, “It’s not just me that’s feeling this way.” That’s a necessary sentiment and, ultimately, what it means to be part of a community. To feel understood.
It’s definitive proof that, here, west of the Hudson, we know the value of that sentiment better than anyone else.
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