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Providing Student News to Old Dominion University Since 1930

Mace & Crown

Providing Student News to Old Dominion University Since 1930

Mace & Crown

Norfolk’s Punk Past and how Not For The Weak Records is Bringing it Back

Loni Brown
Ballistic Axe, hailing from Georgia, playing at the Taphouse on September 18, 2023. (Shoutout to Loni for taking a swing from the mosh like a champ while taking these pictures)

Not For The Weak Records, a Punk Rock Home

Hardcore punk has always had a deep-seated history in Virginia. It doesn’t take much of a deep dive to see how the “Old Dominion” state has been a breeding ground for angry, high-octane music. From the old city of Richmond, home of Gwar, to Arlington, home of the Dischord House, or within the seven cities, Virginia keeps holding hands with counterculture. 

But what is there to offer to the people who ended up stumbling into Norfolk by chance — the people who have already embraced the counterculture lifestyle?

I never really bothered asking myself the question as deeply as I should have. I was content with attending the more than occasional punk or metal concert at the Norva. However, I had a gut feeling there was more to the 757’s music scene than what I was seeing. So, I casually started scouring the internet for whatever I could find.

Not For The Weak Records (NFTW Records) caught my eye. It looked like a hidden gem tucked away inside the Freemason District of Norfolk; a spot I regularly drive past on my daily commute to ODU. 

I decided to check the place out during a hot summer afternoon. Inside, a large banner hung above one of the counters declaring “NOT FOR THE WEAK!!!”. A plethora of posters and flags commemorating bands adorned the walls. If it wasn’t the decor that set the tone, the sheer cacophony of DRI’s debut release, “Dirty Rotten LP,” blasting through the air certainly did. 

This is where I first interacted with Chris Taylor and Zach Carson, the respective vocalist and drummer of local hardcore band, Bato. I asked them for some tape recommendations, unaware of how involved they were in the local scene. They pointed towards the wall of tapes and recommended some of the releases under their label. For a pair of staunch hardcore dudes, they were really welcoming toward someone who felt like an absolute poser for not knowing squat about the golden history of Norfolk’s punk scene.

Enough about personal discovery. Let’s take an inside look at what’s brewing in the heart of Norfolk.

The brains behind the entire operation is none other than Jordan “Greeno” Greenough, a punk rock musician, skater, producer, riff dealer, and more. Greenough was raised in Hickory, a small community in Chesapeake, Virginia, and was exposed to punk music early on. 

“I got into music through my older brother. He was really big into punk growing up. I would like…go into his room and steal his CDs and stuff.” 

As a skater and sports enthusiast with a passion for the art scene, Greenough grew up in a nonexistent category within cliche high school cliques. However, it wasn’t until after high school that Greenough got exposed to the scene within Norfolk.

This translated to how Not For The Weak Records runs itself. On the locale’s official opening day, it simultaneously hosted a punk rock flea market for vendors of all kinds. In September 2023, it hosted the Norfolk Zine Fest, an event dedicated to people sharing their finished fanzine projects. Fanzines are popular in counterculture as amateur magazines made by people within a scene, for the scene.

When Carson walked into the record store mid-interview, he was asked to chip in on what that scene was like. Unlike Greenough, Carson had been going to shows since high school. 

“There was violence…but there were good bands,” Carson said. “This area has always had a violent reputation… A lot of that stuff, at a certain point, became bigger than the actual music.” 

Hardcore punk has been known to have intense scenes ever since it first manifested in the U.S. According to Carson, several locals felt that violence had become a hindrance to the scene, to the point where it “practically ate itself.”

Before it comfortably sat on Monticello Avenue, the original NFTW Records was located at a place the hardcore folks refer to as Studio 239B on 25th Street and Llewelyn Avenue within the Park Place district of Norfolk. 

This was the beginning of it all. 

“If we didn’t find 239B, we would definitely not be anywhere we’re at today,” Greenough emphasized. This was their chance to curate a scene that could grow into something beyond its hostility-based reputation. Not only would they host concerts, but they’d also have cook-outs and a makeshift punk music distro featuring several underground releases. 

This created massive progress for local concerts because 239B was established with the intention of sharing music with the community, punks or not. Part of this success was also owed to their landlord who, upon haphazardly walking in on one of their shows, ended up encouraging them to keep doing it. 

“He was hugely important to us…letting us do all the stupid shit we wanted to do without batting an eye… All he said to me was, ‘Listen, I don’t care what you do. Just pay me the rent on time.’” 

It’s fateful moments like these where a simple yes can start an impactful domino effect. However, not all good things last forever.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 239B regularly hosted small shows, with larger ones attracting up to 120 people. What originally started out as a small show with friends quickly became a hotspot for newbies and enthusiasts alike. 

Once the lockdown hit, shows were indefinitely suspended. During the lockdown, Carson recalled bad omens. 

“On that street, all these lofty whatever-gentrified apartments popped up… When I saw those little restaurants open up and those apartments built over COVID, I immediately thought this is not good for what we’re doing.” 

Greenough nodded during this retelling and proceeded to speak about the straw that broke the camel’s back.

During a Mutant Strain headlined concert at 239B, cops were called to a big house party in the aforementioned apartments across the street, which prompted officers to be in the immediate area. The noise from 239B caught the law’s unwanted attention. 

After an exchange, the officers asked the ever-dreaded question: “Alright well…do you have a permit?” 

Greenough countered, “This is private property. It’s just a little get together.” 

The officers informed him that they’d have to get the city involved, and they unfortunately did. 

“[The city] got involved, the fire marshall got involved, and it turns out…” Carson stepped in, “The building just wasn’t up to code. He didn’t have his paperwork in order to be renting out that spot.” 

“The loss of 239B really fucked us up,” said Carson—something a lot of folks can agree on. 

In February 2022, Not For The Weak Records migrated to a spot out in Lynnhaven in Virginia Beach; a long way from their home scene. While the crew tried to book shows, they discovered the reality of how difficult it is to start a scene without any venues available. The crew had to settle with West Beach Tavern, a bar out in Virginia Beach, which also ended up having permit issues. 

However, it’s relatively agreed that do-it-yourself venues are something that keeps punk special, and continue to pop up in the scene. It’s not uncommon for bands to book a show at a dance studio, or something of the like, only to be barred from ever booking a show there again. One such spot, which is no longer in use, was underneath a 10-lane, highway exit overpass reminiscent of Hell’s Door in Richmond.

Thankfully, Greenough found a property listed next to an antique store on Monticello Avenue. Still armed with the same determination that struck him at their first post-pandemic show, which was jam-packed with around 200 people, he started to work on making the local scene’s newest home in October 2022.

It’s important to note that Not For The Weak Records isn’t just a shop filled with physical releases for underground hardcore punk — it’s a recording studio and an event spot. With a loft upstairs in the new location, touring bands can now spend the night. 

The moving process took a while, and it wasn’t until May 2023 when the record store portion of NFTW Records would be “soft opened” to the public exclusively on weekends. 

Regardless, amazing progress has been made for the scene ever since NFTW Records returned to its rightful place in Norfolk. The Taphouse Grill, or Norfolk Taphouse, has become the de facto spot for hardcore concerts in the area. NFTW Records actively books these shows for touring and local bands alike.

Not For The Weak Records has established itself as a punk rock haven in Norfolk. These sorts of places, paired with like-minded individuals, are vital for any scene.

A good omen for the scene is the astounding amount of young people that are showing up to these concerts. 

“I would say a majority of the people that come out are just younger. Whereas back in the day it was all older. It was music created by kids, so it’s cool to see kids playing the music,” Greenough said. 

Carson added, “Yeah, it’s starting to make me feel old. But that’s cool because this shit is pointless if it can’t be passed off to the next group of kids to pick up… It’s refreshing to see kids in high school getting into this because I see myself in that kid…I know that kid probably can’t relate to a lot of kids at school and I know how much this music probably means to him.” 

From The Sidelines…

What’s a music scene without its observers? One such observer has been faithfully filming the scene’s various concerts, no matter the location: Walter “Walt” Valencia, popularly known as “The iPhone Archivist” on various media platforms.

“It’s my contribution to the scene,” Valencia said, “I’m not in a band, I don’t play an instrument, I don’t put out fanzines, or own a record label.”

While he isn’t the only one in the area recording shows, he certainly is the most consistent. If the man could bilocate to record two shows simultaneously, he would. Other hardcore scenes have notable channels that record shows, such as hate5six or Elizabeth Bathory Productions. These channels provide a huge service to the music because not only do they promote the band, but they engrave those concerts into musical history. 

But what pushed Valencia to do this?

Valencia spoke about a person known as “Big Cat” in his high school. “Big Cat” would pick up a camcorder and, after receiving permission to film, go out to all the local punk shows. Outside of local hardcore artists, his films consisted of punk rock icons such as Bad Brains, 7 Seconds, and Fugazi. This videographer was nothing short of an original, and all originals inspire the next generation.

“I’m from Virginia Beach. My father is retired military; [Virginia Beach] was his final duty station. My father decided to stay here and that’s why I got into the hardcore scene during my teen years. I grew up watching [Big Cat’s] videos.”

Valencia has a strong passion for what he does. His goal isn’t just to support the scene and all the artists that stumble through it; he wants to capture the raw essence of the crowd.

“My goal is just to document local stuff; like it just so turns out that there are more punk shows than indie rock shows in the area.”

Valencia proceeded to touch on just how much traction the scene has started gaining not just in Norfolk, but in Virginia as a whole. Potential is evident in the increasing amount of shows and the quality of up-and-coming local bands.

“The hardcore kids…they’re more energetic [and] ambitious in terms of wanting to play as many shows as possible to build on what’s been here… I’d have to say this is probably the second or third generation that’s pushing hardcore in Norfolk, and they’re just pushing shows.”

Many of the venues that hosted punk shows back then are no longer present. However, the spots are well remembered by those who were in the scene during that time.

“The Tidewater scene was broken down into two things: it was the DIY stuff and then, the venues that were open.”

Valencia reminisced about the Kings Head Inn, a venue that used to sit on Virginia Beach Boulevard that hosted several “all ages” hardcore shows. Within the Virginia Beach area, two venues known as Peppermint Beach Club and Atlantic Beach Club hosted a plethora of metal and hardcore artists. Closer to ODU, there used to be a venue called The Corner which sat a couple blocks away from 37th and Zen. Another great spot for shows was Cogan’s on Colonial Avenue, back when it used to be a dive bar that regularly featured hardcore bands. Now, Cogan’s is a bar and pizza joint popular among many ODU students. 

As a military-centered city, Norfolk receives both civilians and those in service from all over the world. For mainstream audiences, Norfolk’s hardcore shows are their first exposure to one of the most extreme amalgamations to exist within counterculture.

“I think a lot of it was outsiders who just didn’t understand the culture…they just saw kids flailing their arms, two-stepping, and bumping into people thinking that it was an excuse to hit people without repercussions,” Valencia said regarding the violent history that was present within the local scenes.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. This misunderstanding of violence within the scene is a tale as old as time, plaguing places like Washington, D.C.’s hardcore scene during its heyday in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

Violence is a part of the punk scene. However, violence isn’t the end goal. Hardcore’s aggression is meant as an outlet for pent up anger. Beneath all that anger lies a strong sense of community. It still is, at the very heart of it all, partaking in music as a family. Newcomers don’t see that at first, but it is an integral part of punk.

Part of what fueled fights was “scene envy,” as Valencia described it. There was a time where there was animosity between the folks in the Richmond scene and the Norfolk scene.

“I remember that there was a point in time where people in Richmond would go ‘Fuck Norfolk’, and people in Norfolk would go, ‘Fuck Richmond’…” Valencia reflected, “The irony of that is if they’re not local, half that scene is from here or from [Northern Virginia], and we moved to Richmond.”

Regardless if it was homescene resentment or just irritation at the influx of new people, it’s safe to say that the hardcore scene was not always at its best. While remnants of those sentiments may still exist today, the current generation of hardcore has been overwhelmingly positive throughout the state.

Punk has always evolved over time. Every location with an active scene has its own eras throughout the years, and Norfolk is no exception. The styles of punk coming out of Norfolk are reminiscent of American Hardcore’s aggressively fast and heavy nature from the 80s.

“Now there is a resurgence of American [Hardcore] that Not For The Weak Records is riding on…like Bato, Self Inflict, Reckoning Force…” 

Seeing how this new wave of bands, with the help of NFTW Records, are contributing to the writing of the latest chapter in Virginia hardcore history is both inspiring and exciting.

“That’s the hallmark of a scene. it’s not just a band. We’ve got a record store. We’ve got a record label, and we’ve got a studio to go along with it, and then we’ve got a venue that openly is cool with hardcore…” Valencia said, “Virginia is not New York. We’re not California. We’re not like Chicago, or like Seattle, but we have a good strong history, or contribution [to the scene].”

Valencia has but one message to the people interested in the scene: “Show up! Have fun! If you’re new and you don’t know what’s going on, then just ask questions so we don’t have to deal with fights. But overall, just have fun.”

So…what now?

Anyone embedded in counterculture would be doing themselves a disservice by not paying Not For The Weak Records a visit. If it wasn’t for the tremendous work done here by various invested individuals, it’s likely that the scene would not have been as lively as it is today.

Whether you’re an angsty suburbanite, a jaded member of the working class, or none of the above, punk rock has something for you. You don’t have to venture far — there’s a home for this culture in Norfolk, and it’s here to stay.

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About the Contributors
Gabriel Cabello Torres, Technology Editor
Gabriel is the Technology Editor for the Mace and Crown. He is in his junior year at ODU and is currently majoring in Mechanical Engineering Technology. In his spare time, he loves to play instruments and write music. He's an avid gamer and a concert junkie with a love for rock and metal music. He's excited to be on the Mace and Crown and cannot wait to work with such a great team. Contact him at [email protected].
Loni Brown, Social Media Editor
Loni is an English/Journalism major with a minor in communications. She is currently working on enhancing her editing skills as her goal is to become a multimedia journalist. If she is not on campus she is most likely with her son and possibly even traveling. She is looking forward to engaging more closely with the ODU student body.

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