Written by Pierce Jordan
Dan Yemin is a simultaneously understated and irreplaceable player in the mid-Atlantic region of American punk and hardcore. His older outlets Lifetime and Kid Dynamite serve as important examples of the emerging DIY ethics of the east coast scene in the 90's while also including the criticism and exploration of the social relativity of punk in a context of global community. Yemin is also responsible for Paint it Black, a Philadelphia hardcore band that formed in 2002. Yemin balances the rehearsals, shows, and recording with his professional and home lives, while giving himself more opportunities to make music in his new project, Open City, a punk band with shared with his Paint it Black compatriot Andy Nelson, Rachel Rubino of Bridge and Tunnel, and Chris Wilson of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.
While staring down hardcore's machismo and excessive violence, Yemin has musically established himself as an attention capturing force in any project of which he's a part; his guitar work in Lifetime and Kid Dynamite feature the vicious fast picking that has come to characterize guitar in east coast hardcore while his lyrics are visceral hymns of responsibility for one’s own self-improvement, an interrogation of masculinity, as well as accountability uplifting the oppressed voices of a neighbor.
West Philadelphia was the center of Yemin's world during the late 90's and 00's and the shows at the warehouse known as Stalag 13 bring memories of performances from bands like Refused and Spazz along with the distinct memory of Kid Dynamite's release show for their first self-titled record. "When Stalag was running, they had like, five shows a week there," Yemin says.
Stalag 13 was not alone. The Killtime and Fake House were two other warehouses that also facilitated historically memorable performances. Videos of bands like Orchid and Jerome's Dream at the Killtime can be found in the recesses of YouTube and other corners of the web, while less evidence exists of the Fake House— where Yemin remembers seeing one Bikini Kill. He recalls the larger-than-life more-than-a-band musical experience known as R.A.M.B.O., the project led by Tony "Pointless" Croasdale. The band featured members of the Philadelphia hardcore band Kill the Man Who Questions, including drummer Jeremy Gewertz, who would go on to play bass in An Albatross, and a live show which would feature anarchist-motivated performances of skits involving elaborate props made from cardboard interspersed with hardcore punk. R.A.M.B.O.'s bassist Bull Gervasi was the co-founder of the Cabbage Collective, some of the first truly organized promoters in Philadelphia's early 90's DIY scene.
"They played with the Locust at the Rotunda and it was one of the biggest shows in Philly. It was the Locust, R.A.M.B.O., Life's Halt, and What Happens Next. And for that one they built a tank out of cardboard and papier-mâché and just drove it straight into the pit where it got destroyed...They were certainly the biggest Philly band in the crust end of things, and they toured like, a lot. They were the first band I heard of to do an Asia tour. They saved up for like, two years and bought those All-Asia passes. They played in Korea and a bunch of Indonesian islands...places where they had to be rowed out to where the show was.”
Yemin's position as Paint it Black's vocalist transcends the limitations which typically hinder a singer’s performance of certain other additional roles in a band. He is responsible for most of the songwriting, while the band shares the responsibility for arranging the songs. But it's Yemin who grasps audiences attentions with his words and sincerity. The songs represent his essence and initiative more than any other one member of the group.
Philadelphia’s attitude characterizes its arts community most. It’s one of a hardened resiliency which informs the public works, the stories-high murals, and the music embodying the sound of survival. Yemin's no-bullshit attitude puts him in the driver's seat of Paint it Black's existence, playing shows when and where they want to and are able to, making sure that each performance is a curated experience crafted to fit the particular setting, time, and feeling of the moment. It’s no secret that they are simply an incredible hardcore band which has set the standard for the genre in their area, while also doing legendary shit playing kitchens and skateparks.
An important thing to take away from the first encounter with Paint it Black is the band’s intention to exude a genuine passion and human relation of emotion through their music and performance. Paint it Black deeply believes in each show being a unified experience for both the band and the attendees. They seek to shed as many of the pretenses that attach themselves to any particular happening or event within an art form as possible; too often is music incorporated into the category of entertainment instead of art. Beyond that, Paint it Black uses their space to work against the belief that their place in hardcore is something damagingly “special,” some spectacle for those privileged few in the know or those who fit the specific fashion of the particular moment. The band instead work to create spaces where the atmosphere of their performance is devoid of the "outsider" element. By openly prompting their audience to check to make sure that the attendees to their left and right are safe and comfortable as the pit pushes from one side to another and bodies rain from above, Yemin and bassist Andy Nelson relate their understanding of the imperfections of the live show setting, exuding the same level of consciousness present in their lyrical content.
This attitude is present in the decidedly conscious choice that Lifetime made not to contribute to the tiresome masculinity that filtered into the New Jersey hardcore scene from their neighbors involved in the genre in New York City. Yemin looks at the days of Kid Dynamite as special times in Philadelphia, but not one whose character is lost on today.