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Battered Citizens rekindle Pittsburgh's hardcore past

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Before screamo and nu-metal, before Rage Against the Machine and well before OzzFest, Battered Citizens personified Pittsburgh's hardcore scene. In their era, the punk subculture began to both fragment and hybridize: The hoodie and the mosh pit replaced spiky hair and nonconformity, and now you were down with a crew that had your back.

"This was predating the rap-core bands, but aesthetically it became more urban," says Battered Citizens' Oyo Ellis. "Bands went from wearing combat boots to sneakers and hoodies and Carhartt jackets," he recalls. "The same kids into hardcore loved NWA and Public Enemy, just emulating what was coming out of New York."

Back in the mid-'80s, Oakland was the stomping ground for young Ellis, who went to Brashear High. "My life consisted of school, skating, drinking 40s and eating O Fries," he recalls. "I got into the tail end of the first wave of hardcore punk -- Minor Threat, Negative Approach, Bad Brains, Agnostic Front ... but that classic era was winding down. All the best shows were before 1987."

When Battered Citizens formed in 1986, thrash metal and hardcore started to merge: Slayer and Metallica had moved closer to hardcore punk, while bands like D.R.I. and C.O.C. incorporated metal riffs. So it made sense that drummer Greg Mairs from the metal band Necropolis joined forces with Ellis, a guitarist; bassist Bob Lampenfeld ("he had a van," Ellis jokes) rounded out the lineup along with 15-year-old vocalist Brian Brick, who sported braces and big glasses but raged like a monster onstage.

The band existed for only four years, and its output was sparse -- the Police Brutality demo (produced by Mike Lavella of Half Life) and the Rollin' with the Punches 7-inch (on Seattle's Overkill Records). But its impact was far-reaching. Inspired by the vitality of New York hardcore, Battered Citizens both played and put on shows wherever they could, networking like fiends from Brick's home phone, with the help of his mom.

"We did the Fall Brawl in Washington, D.C., with Youth of Today, we played with the Cro-Mags in Binghamton, in Albany with Sheer Terror," Ellis says. "A lot of it was trading shows. Back then you didn't book hotels -- you stayed at people's houses and slept on their floor, and after the show there was always a party and you got to meet the bands."

"What was cool about bands from that era was a family of people that revolved around each band and extended outside of it," Ellis adds. "The crew was bigger than the band. We were all active in the scene, we all supported other bands. When you're visible, people are attracted to that and want to be a part of it."

The band provided a financial model for the ambitious Brick. "BC taught me how to run my own business," he says, "how to not be closed-minded. Most people are afraid to leave their city, to come out of their turtle shell."

After BC's demise, Brick was briefly in a hip-hop/hardcore hybrid called Time Bomb, before his growing interest in hip-hop fashion turned the band's name into an impressive clothing store. Opened in Bloomfield in 1994, for the past several years it has been comfortably nestled on Highland Avenue, in Shadyside. "It became a store because I couldn't scream anymore on stage," Brick recalls. "We were getting involved with the graffiti writers, and I wanted to take it to another level." Brick also throws events and works with local rappers such as Tha Govament and Boaz.

Ellis also delved into hip hop after the band folded, collaborating on productions with Omar Abdul. Lampenfeld has revived his hardcore roots with the band Cultivator, while Mairs played in Submachine and is now in Caustic Christ, which toured Europe this past fall.

Battered Citizens' upcoming reunion with fellow back-in-the-day skatepunkers Shape of Rage is unique. "I've been hosting hip-hop parties for so long, this'll be kind of crazy. I haven't gotten ready for a pit in 15 years, so it'll be different," Brick says. He emphasizes that the Citizens are not reforming -- the show will simply attempt to briefly rekindle the feeling they shared with their '80s compatriots. "We were blackballed from the punk scene, so we started our own shit and created our own little buzz," Brick says. "I'm still on that DIY shit today."

Battered Citizens and Shape of Rage reunion show, with You've Got Ten Seconds. 10 p.m., Sat., Jan. 13. 31st Street Pub, 3101 Penn Ave., Strip District. $5. 412-391-8334 or www.31stpub.com

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