Words and Guitar, Vol. 7: Valley Punk

Pissed Jeans at The Sinclair, April 2013 // photo by Ben Stas

The seventh entry in a weekly column by Terence Cawley. 

This column is about the punk community in my hometown area of the Lehigh Valley, PA, but before I get into that, I want to address the act of police brutality that has thrust the city of Allentown into the national spotlight in the past few weeks, with the intention of directing those who would like to get informed and involved in this segment of the larger, nationwide struggle against police brutality and white supremacy towards some helpful resources.

On July 11, Allentown police officers were captured on video restraining an individual while one of the officers placed his knee on the man’s neck in an illegal use of force upsettingly similar to the one used to murder George Floyd not even two months prior. This sparked protests in Allentown and calls to hold the responsible officers accountable; however, local prosecutors have declined to press charges, claiming that the man’s “aggressive” actions justified the use of force. This is just a very brief summary – you can read more here and here.

Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley (who you can follow on Facebook and Twitter) have shared a document with contact information for Allentown’s mayor and City Council members and an email template with demands for an unbiased investigation of the incident and the defunding of the Allentown police department. The document also contains information about other Lehigh Valley-area activist groups you can follow for information about future actions, along with more articles about the incident.

I grew up in Emmaus, a suburb of Allentown, and though I no longer live there, I still feel a deep love for and connection to the area and its people. It pains me to see something like this happen so close to home, but the only appropriate response to that pain is to take action and try to affect positive change.

Since the Lehigh Valley is already on my mind, I figured I would use this column as an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite aspects of the area: its rich DIY/punk culture. Which brings us to this week’s list:

Top 4 Bands with Lehigh Valley Punk Connections

Allentown and Bethlehem are relatively small cities, often overshadowed by Philadelphia and New York, which are only a 60-minute and 90-minute drive away, respectively. Yet when it comes to punk, the area has consistently punched above its weight. I admittedly don’t know too much about the history of the scene before my time, though if this video of Misfits playing Bethlehem in 1982 is any indication, it was pretty active pretty early. Still, my list is biased towards modern bands, some of which are Lehigh Valley-based and some of which just have members who got their start there. Let’s get into it!

4. Jesus Piece

My first punk show was the 2011 Punk Rock Picnic, a surreal event where local punk bands took over the Emmaus Community Park pavilion for an afternoon of free music significantly louder than the concert bands or oldies groups usually tasked with serenading the locals. This article in the local paper, The Morning Call, about the 2009 edition offers some basic context and scene history, along with some hilarious attempts to explain punk to a general audience. I was working the front desk at the community pool at the time, and I literally just wandered over during my break to see what all the noise was about.

Though the gloriously sludgy Tile would soon become one of my favorite local bands, the set which stood out to me most at the time was Slums. Here’s a video; I’m pretty sure that’s my friend Cameron with the Subhumans back patch. I had never heard, much less seen, music like this, from the vocalist’s feral intensity to the tireless drummer who fell off his stool at the set’s conclusion. That drummer, Luis Aponte, is someone I would see a lot of in the following years, playing with everyone from powerviolence bruisers Manbeast to the “atmospheric blackened crust” band Katahajime.

In what will become a recurring theme in this article, however, he didn’t find his greatest success until relocating to Philadelphia, where he plays in the metalcore band Jesus Piece. Their 2018 debut album Only Self cemented their status as one of the hottest bands in hardcore and even garnered glowing mainstream/indie press, topping Stereogum’s list of 2018’s best hardcore albums. I was supposed to see them open for Code Orange at the Paradise in March on a stacked bill that also featured Show Me The Body, Year of the Knife, and Machine Girl, but then you-know-what happened. Hopefully someday I can catch his new band live, if only so I can ask him if he remembers the free Tigers Jaw show at Muhlenberg College where he did like 20 barrel-roll stagedives.

3. Mannequin Pussy

One of the local bands I saw most frequently was Kids. Here’s a video of a warehouse show they played where you can see me in the pit a few times; I’m the doofus who wore a bright yellow shirt to the hardcore gig. The guitarist in the white T-shirt is Colins Regisford, though at the time I only knew him by his nickname, Bear. Being a fearless smart-aleck at the time, I asked him after a show if the band’s name was a reference to the Harmony Korine movie, the MGMT song, or the phenomenon of children. Being way nicer than he had to be, Bear said it was the third one, but that he had once gotten a tattoo while Gummo played in the background, which now that I’ve seen Gummo sounds like a potentially very unpleasant experience.

Anyway, fast forward to 2016 and Bear is now the bassist for the great Philly punk band Mannequin Pussy. I was pretty disappointed when COVID thwarted my plans to see them open for Best Coast at the Royale in March, but maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t get another chance to punish Bear. Though if I ever start a hardcore band of my own, I’m definitely calling them Bear Punisher.

2. Snowing

This band was slightly before my time, forming in the LV in 2008 and breaking up by 2011. Snowing only released a handful of EPs and one full-length, 2010’s I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted, but they earned a small but extremely passionate fanbase and, along with Philadelphia’s Algernon Cadwallader (with whom Snowing shared a four-way split in 2009), deserve a lot of credit for kicking off the 2010s emo revival. Their frenetic arpeggios and John Galm’s hollered vocals were certainly Cap’n Jazz-adjacent, but by combining those traits with shout-along choruses and relatable lyrics about drinking, death, love, and friends, they pioneered a twist on the old formula which countless bands would find success with after Snowing’s dissolution.

More than any other band on this list, Snowing truly seemed proud to be from the Lehigh Valley. They recorded for local punk/emo label Square of Opposition Records, whose founder, Chris Regec (known to many by his punk name, Chris Reject), booked a lot of the DIY shows I went to in high school and beyond; he even gets a shout-out in the song “Why Am I Not Going Underwater?” In 2016, Snowing reunited to play a festival at an Allentown thrift mall thrown by Square of Opposition and the incredible Allentown record store Double Decker Records. By that time, Snowing had built up enough of a cult following that the show merited a writeup in Noisey, in which Galm waxed nostalgic about growing up in the LV punk scene. Again, you can see my friend Cameron in the background of at least one of the photos.

This past December, I finally got to see Snowing when they played another show in the Valley, though it didn’t go exactly as planned. In fact, the set ended after only a couple songs, as the excitable emo kids wouldn’t listen when Regec told them to stop jumping up and down or they’d collapse the floor of the Elks Lodge-style venue, ultimately leading Galm to throw down his bass guitar and storm off without a word. Those few songs were pretty great though (you can watch the whole thing here if you don’t believe me), and Regec sent everyone who bought a ticket a free commemorative T-shirt as an apology. Here’s mine!

  1. Pissed Jeans

This is the band that I am most likely to cite when talking about the Lehigh Valley punk scene. They’re almost certainly the biggest band to emerge from that world, which is kind of funny because one of the things they’re most famous for is their relative lack of ambition. Pissed Jeans have been signed to Sub Pop for over a decade now, and yet they’ve never once attempted to make a career out of their music, instead choosing to hold down office jobs and tour only when they feel like it, which is rarely.

Though they left Allentown for (surprise!) Philadelphia back in 2008, Pissed Jeans still feel very representative of LV punk as I remember it. If Snowing spoke for the rambunctious young kids in the scene, Pissed Jeans was for the grumpy old men with their arms crossed in the back, who I remember outnumbering the kids at many of the hardcore shows I attended in high school. I also remember seeing a lot of noisy, lumbering bands who pulled from the same Black Flag/Flipper/Jesus Lizard tradition as Pissed Jeans, though none of them had a frontperson as theatrically unhinged as Matt Korvette or lyrics as simultaneously entertaining and cutting in their satire of the drudgery and humiliations of a boring, average life.

Because of their general disinterest in touring, I only finally got to see Pissed Jeans live last fall, when they opened for Mudhoney at the Brighton Music Hall. With all due respect to the grunge legends, Pissed Jeans thoroughly upstaged the headliners. I couldn’t take my eyes off Korvette, whether he was dropping the mic into someone’s empty drink cup and then licking it or using his backstage pass to rub his belly button in a disconcertingly suggestive manner. At one point, Korvette picked up a bottle of water, but before he could drink from it, one of his bandmates punched it out of his hand. As he walked back to center stage, the drummer took a swig of water and spit it out on him. It reminded me of the hilariously misanthropic antics I used to witness at Lehigh Valley punk shows. I once saw two people duct-tape their friend’s arms to his sides and then push him into the mosh pit. My favorite DIY venue in Bethlehem, the now-defunct Secret Art Space, had couches, and my friend told me that once someone made the mistake of falling asleep on one between sets. The couch was then promptly pushed directly in front of the band, who then gave the sleeper a high-powered wakeup call.

…I’m rambling because I miss live music and thinking about this stuff cheers me up. My point, I think, is that the Lehigh Valley punk scene wasn’t just cool because it produced a couple of bands who went on to national acclaim, or because there were a lot of shows. It also had a ton of personality and was weird as hell, and I think that’s because the Lehigh Valley is the kind of medium-sized area where there are a lot of people, but not necessarily a lot to do. You have to, as the cliché goes, make your own fun, and though gentrification has begun squeezing Allentown and Bethlehem the same way it’s squeezed seemingly every other city in the world, it’s still a relatively affordable place to live, at least compared to Philly or New York or Boston. There’s not as much room for non-lucrative arts ventures as there used to be, as many of the DIY venues and coffee shops I once loved are now gone. But I still have faith that the next generation of oddball kids will find a way to keep this thing alive.


I could talk about this subject forever, but I’m going to cut myself off now. Check out the Spotify playlist, let me know about any cool artists from your hometown, and I’ll see you here next week!