By Gillian Puma
Of all the boroughs in New York, Staten Island is most commonly known as the ‘forgotten borough’. It’s essentially the most suburban and least diverse area of the city, and consequentially, most associations with the island aren’t too positive, although not entirely unearned. When people hear Staten Island, they may think of the fist pumping Guido culture or the catty mob lifestyle that MTV’s Jersey Shore and Made In Staten Island have made famous. Some might even think about SNL’s Pete Davidson and his rants on how the island is so racist it should just “fall into the sea.” The island distinguishes itself as the most red-leaning of the five boroughs. However, there is a lot more to the island than right wing political beliefs and fist pumping house music. In fact, lately there has been a bit of a rise of punk rock music.
There are quite a few Catholic schools on Staten Island —they’ve unwittingly turned into a small breeding ground for punk rock. Because where there are Catholic schools, there are usually kids rebelling. And despite not having official venues like those most popular in the New York hardcore scene, the musicians of the island have taken advantage of what do they have, applying the D.I.Y aesthetic to making almost anywhere their stage.
Staten Island’s bands have not only perform in their basements and backyards, but also make their mark at local bars, high school gyms, the 5050 Skatepark, and even charity events such as The Staten Island Heart Society and Light The Night. With all of these varieties of D.I.Y venues and young punk rock bands on the rise, big opportunities have been given to younger generations of Staten Island punks to share their message an express their angst—teenage or otherwise. Nastacha Beck and Maria Alvarez decided to do just that and take on the local band scene of Staten Island to not only make music, but to spread their message as women in punk.
Some time in the 1970’s, disenfranchised kids on both sides of the pond, whether they were skaters breaking and entering backyards with empty swimming pools in California, or mohawked teens finding common ground at the Camden Market, the punk rock lifestyle and ethos spread. And unsurprisingly, as is with most art and industries, it was extremely male dominated.
But eventually women became visible in the punk movement, because Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett, Alice Bag, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Wendy O. Williams, and Siouxsie Sioux demanded not only to be heard, but also seen. They dressed how they wanted, thrashed on stage, and raged against the machine, making them punk pioneers of their time.
And although they were trailblazers (and not to mention that was nearly 50 years ago) this does not mean that much has changed when it comes to women representation. When the ‘80’s rolled around, the aesthetics of punk transformed and became faster and harder and more hardcore with bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat and Black Flag and Dead Kennedys were starting a new wave of punk. Bands like as Cro-Mags, Sheer Terror, and Murphy’s Law used the punk style and added metal influences, essentially making the sound more hardcore. Thus, came the birth of hardcore music, more commonly known in New York as ‘NYHC’.
It had the same controversial characteristics that punk rock had, but they turned the volume up to max. The 1980’s election of Ronald Reagan was quite an excellent source for their anger filled lyrics.
Stage diving and slam dancing (now known as ‘moshing’) also became a frequent aspect of the scene, but of course, not for women. Moshing and stage diving were seen as ‘too dangerous’ for them. It wasn’t uncommon to hear hardcore vocalists chant “all guys to the front.” Women were often groped and sexually harassed at these shows—something the female youth of today still frequently have to deal with.
This was a sentiment shared by Nastacha Beck and Maria Alverez when they met online, on one of the last artistic forms of social media – Tumblr. Both girls were running anonymous blogs in November of 2014. Maria messaged Nastacha saying she had liked her bio, which at the time read: Play the bass in your face, make you wanna jack off, which was a reference to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“Meeting Maria for the first time was awesome,” Nastacha shared. “She was so nice. A little awkward, but so was I. We were really young. Just a couple of teenagers taking a chance. We really didn’t know what was gonna happen.”
Despite the awkwardness, the musical chemistry paired with their desire to make this more than just a hobby was there between the girls from day one. “We immediately hit it off and started writing songs and already planning things we wanted to do,” Maria said. “It’s been amazing ever since, everything’s changed.”
From thereon, the girls added drummer Alex to their band, and the rest is history. Like most women in the punk scene, the girls of this Staten Island punk rock band idolized Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill, choosing to name the band after one of their songs: Jigsaw Youth. They even got a chance to meet the legend herself at The House of Vans in Brooklyn, where Hanna encouraged and supported their idea. Hanna’s “all girls to the front” motto, and now social movement, is a big inspiration to Jigsaw Youth.
Like the lyrics to the song they pay homage to, the girls of Jigsaw Youth don’t fit your definitions. And like most Catholic school girls, they felt choked by the Eucharist and bound by the uniform.
“We wanted a way to express ourselves, so we did something out of the box,” Nastacha said. “There really weren’t a lot of all girl punk bands that were 16 or 17-year olds on Staten Island and if there were, it was a pretty taboo idea.” She added, “Especially because I was going to a Catholic high school and nobody was playing punk in their school girl uniforms all cut up.”
Even today, these musicians still have to defend themselves and what they do. Nastacha expressed the stereotypes thrown at her for being a punk woman. “People would make judgements before they even heard our set,” she stated. “They thought we were just crazy man hating little girls screaming into a microphone or that we must be horrible at making music since we were girls.”
Unsurprisingly, the band had to prove themselves before anyone started paying attention.“No one took us seriously until after they would listen to our set. Then they were all about us and wanted to play more shows together,” Nastacha added. And according to Alex, “just in general sometimes there’s a sense of prejudgment where people don’t expect us to be good musicians because we’re 3 girls.”
When asked to define punk, the musicians all gave their own definitions. “Punk is a life style as well as a mind state,” Nastacha said. “An actual punk would look at a girl’s character and her morals. Is she authentic? Is she original? Independent? Does she question authority or expectations of society? That’s what constitutes as a punk. It’s not about what you wear or what you listen to. It’s literally how you approach life.”
And although it can seem like there hasn’t been much progress made when it comes to gender equality in the punk scene, Maria explains has been, even if minor. “Sure, we get our fair share of scumbags but there’s scumbags everywhere! I know what I’m getting into when I go to a show and decide to be in the pit, if you shove me, I’ll shove right back. If I don’t feel like being shoved, I’ll step out of the pit and people for the most part respect that.”
She also said punk now is more of a “do you, don’t care what people think, don’t be an asshole” type of vibe. The girls stated that if you judge someone for how punk they are, that’s just being wrongfully pretentious. Punk should be about expressing freedom, just as the original founders of NYHC and punk set it up to be. “Being punk means I don’t have to conform to anything. I can do what I want and feel what I want. Punk is having a voice for those who don’t or who have trouble finding the words they want to say. I feel that this is what our music does,” Nastacha expressed graciously.
The Staten Island punk scene has embraced Jigsaw Youth and they continue to draw crowds for their local performances. “The punk scene on Staten Island has some amazing talent,” Nastacha explained. “Our group of friends that we constantly play with and support are genuine people and they all really bring something special to the scene in their own unique way. Plus, we party hard.”
Maria shared one of her favorite Jigsaw Youth tour stories. “We got really high and wanted to get milkshakes so we went to Steak and Shake, but the ice cream machine was broken. Steak and SHAKES had no MILKSHAKES! We were cracking up and couldn’t stop laughing for miles.” After all, girls just wanna have fun.