The Story of Jud Jud, the World’s Only A Capella, Straight-Edge Hardcore Band
The search for the mythologized duo that lampooned the hardcore scene and went undocumented, until now.
It's taken a long time to track down B. Scot Rousse. Born to Hare Krishna parents, he was given a Krishna name at birth, and that name is B. Though he's not off the grid, trying to search for a man named B. on the internet didn't get me very far. Eventually, after trying for years to figure out who this mysterious person known only as B. was, he's sitting next to me, eating a bagel, and about to unfurl the story of one of his bands, the one he'd never previously spoken about and many assumed he never would.
B.'s band is Jud Jud, an a capella straight-edge hardcore band that, in 1997, released The Demos on No Idea Records. The nine songs contained therein are surprisingly diverse for a band that, after no more than five seconds, gives you a full picture of what to expect on every subsequent track. The needle drops, it catches the groove, and then blasting out of your speakers is a series of onomatopoeias. "JUD JUD JUD" goes the left speaker, then "JUD JUD JUD" goes the right. It's arrestingly blunt, as two humans gnarl their voices until they approximate heavily distorted guitars. They ping between the channels until they join in unison, creating the illusion of two chugging guitars becoming one. They mouth the sound of a crash cymbal being hit and then dissipating. They mimic drum fills by peking their lips and blowing. And when they need a pinch of feedback, they shift into a higher register and squeal. There's no instruments to be found aside from the human voice. It's just under nine minutes long, and this is all it is. It never once gets old.
But it's what's inside The Demos that made the hunt for B. that much harder. The record's cover sees B. and his Jud Jud cohort Steve silhouetted against a solid blue background, parodying the cover of the You're Only Young Once… EP by the New York hardcore band Side By Side. Inside the sleeve, the record's accompanying insert serves as both a punchline and a riddle. It positions Jud Jud as having been an active participant in the development of straight-edge hardcore in the 80s. There are flyers that see Jud Jud headlining over bands such as Minor Threat, Chain of Strength, Uniform Choice, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, and countless others. They're outlandish billings, the kind that make you call bullshit and laugh at the very thought of Jud Jud ever playing a show with bands that became hardcore royalty.
But what if it wasn't bullshit? What if Jud Jud's history, the one that was never documented, and went publicly unaddressed by its members, was more real than anyone ever knew? No fanzine interviews about Jud Jud are traceable—or seemingly ever happened—and that kind of silence was deliberate. B. makes note that he and Steve wanted the Jud Jud mystery to build in silence. And that's exactly what happened. Rumors began to swirl and take on their own lives, casting doubt on anyone who dared to speak authoritatively on the subject.
Meeting B. in person, this in and of itself feels like a joke. After years trying to find him, he one day went from a single letter on a seven-inch to a Discogs hyperlink, finally allowing me to see B.'s full resume and, more importantly, his full name. A Google search takes me to a page in UC Berkeley's Philosophy department. After years of dead ends and false starts, hoping to find one of the members of Jud Jud, I sent an email in the hopes that this was, in fact, the same person. It was a Hail Mary pass and, as it turned out, this person with a PhD in philosophy, who describes his scholarly work as "tak[ing] place at the crossroads of existential phenomenology, hermeneutics, and the philosophy of action," was B. from Jud Jud. After a few emails, I'd convinced him to talk to me.
Yet knowing Jud Jud's reputation, even with weeks' worth of communication back and forth, all of which confirms I'll be getting the whole truth, I'm still worried that whatever comes out of B.'s mouth will just be an ornate joke at my expense. And though we never address it outright, B. has come prepared, willing to verify his claims with the closest thing he has to receipts. For one, he's wearing a D.R.I. tour shirt from the band's 4 of a Kind era. It's a sartorial choice that's understated, but in a subculture like hardcore, which values authenticity above all else, a weathered tour t-shirt from 1988 goes a long way in driving home the claims that he was there, "back in the day." Once he starts talking, it becomes clear that he wasn't just there as a spectator, he was already an active participant.
Growing up in Valrico, Florida, a half-hour drive away from Tampa, B. would become part of the emerging hardcore, punk, and metal scenes before he was even in high school. He was already singing in his first band, U.R.N., which would release the Breaking Away demo in 1991. "I sang in a band when I was 13," he says, pausing slightly to drop a statement that, at first, I didn't even believe: "Jud Jud was already active in the late 80s, also."
This is a revelation. The only documents of Jud Jud's existence were their two seven-inches, 1997's The Demos and 1998's No Tolerance For Instruments. In many ways, it felt like a flash in the pan—a joke band that, much like the acts they were parodying, couldn't make the thing last more than a couple of years. But as B. continues to talk, it becomes clear that Jud Jud wasn't that. It was a joke that lasted almost a decade, even if no one outside Florida knew it.
"We were childhood friends," he says of Steve, "We were straight-edge kids and, at the same time, metalheads and punks, and all the classic bands were coming through." B. and Steve would start Jud Jud as a way to lovingly poke fun at the straight-edge hardcore bands they'd admired. And before long, they'd find ways to take their "serious joke band," as B. describes it, to the next level.
At Miami's Cameo Theater, on February 4, 1989, Jud Jud would play a show to a crowd of hardcore kids that turned up to see a bill full of future legends. There were six bands on the bill already, including Uniform Choice, Gorilla Biscuits, Bold, Insted, Reason To Believe, and Bad Rep. But there would be a seventh in Jud Jud. "Uniform Choice was late, it was getting late into the night, and that was our gimmick, to jump up on stage and do the act, do our little thing, perform a couple of numbers and then jump off stage. We'd do it in between bands or at the end of a set," B. says. "And that was the first time we did it."
Sean Bonner is the former owner of Toybox Records, a one-time designer for Victory Records, and current Global Director of Safecast, and he corroborates B.'s story. "I was at that Bold and Uniform Choice show, and that for sure happened," says Bonner. "Everybody was at all of these things. So if you weren't at a show, it was really noticeable." But the Tampa kids hadn't finished having their fun. This new breed of Tampa hardcore and punk kids saw heckling as the highest form of tribute, so when Uniform Choice took the stage, they decided to take things a step further. "During 'Screaming For Change,' we all threw change at the stage," says Bonner. "They were not into that at all. But we thought it was hilarious. Like, come on, you're screaming for change and getting pelted with pocket change."
Jud Jud made plans to rush the stage and perform whenever a prominent straight-edge band played in the state. Though both B. and Steve were straight-edge at the time, they saw the self-seriousness of the genre—and the tough-guy machismo that was beginning to permeate it—as something worth laughing about. Yet, at the same time, Tampa was building a reputation for having a set of violent, racist skinheads that would disrupt shows. When Judge rolled through town, Jud Jud made plans to subvert the dour intensity of the night by hopping up and doing their thing. But they never got the chance. "Judge played at the Star Club in Tampa and there was this massive brawl," says B., "These skinheads beat up this black guy. And this is in the Judge documentary, they talk about the violence at the Tampa show being one of the things that made them get out of hardcore for a while."
Where much of hardcore—and specifically straight-edge hardcore—was becoming about violent indoctrination, Jud Jud was serving as its ludicrous counterpoint. "Anything that is so moralizing, and takes itself so seriously, demands to be parodied, demands to be treated with some irony," says B. Where many kids coming from lower socioeconomic planes often turned to straight-edge and hardcore as a bonding mechanism, so too did this crop of kids from Tampa. Only instead of resorting to the chest-beating, lunkheaded aggressiveness of their forebearers, they opted for humor. "I think that's a coping mechanism," says Bonner. "We were all really poor, you know? It was just a really bad scene in family life for a lot of us. So having this circle of friends, and trying to find ways to make each other laugh, I think that was our survival."
Jud Jud would continue to make impromptu shows happen, jumping up on stage and performing their songs. B. and Steve would storm the stage, grab mics, and begin to "jud." It'd happen in a flash, dashing off a song or two, dropping the mics, then disappearing back into the crowd. As one might expect, many of the bands and their fans weren't too receptive to Jud Jud, and made jokes at their expense. "In the earlier days, the reaction was people being flabbergast, mockery, and just confusion," says B. "Then we got older. A couple years makes a big difference when you're 12 or 13. We had more friends, and then it was more fun because people recognized us."
Bonner notes that, at a certain point, Jud Jud performances became celebrated, with some kids going as far as reprinting show flyers to immortalize the band's shows. Soon, Jud Jud would find allies in the nearby Gainesville punk scene, which was developing a sound, and an absurdist outlook, of its very own. This was due in large part to Var Thelin, who ran the No Idea fanzine, and, by the early 90s, would turn No Idea into a full-fledged record label, releasing albums by Less Than Jake and Hot Water Music. Var's off-kilter humor would fill the pages of the No Idea zine and sneak its way into the mailorder catalogs his label distributed. Before long, he'd have a run-in with Jud Jud, and even though he hated the "neanderthal metal that started being called hardcore," Jud Jud struck a chord—as much as an a capella band can.
"It was amazing. And impossibly improbable," says Thelin. "Their rhythms were incredibly tight, they're doing this all a capella, two mics, and it was the pinnacle of taking the piss out of something. But, at the same time, reverently." And as Jud Jud found more devotees in Florida, the band would decide to immortalize their songs in the way so many bands did back then: A demo tape.
"Their rhythms were incredibly tight, they're doing this all a capella, two mics, and it was the pinnacle of taking the piss out of something. But, at the same time, reverently."
With a handful of songs together, Jud Jud recorded their first demo in Steve's apartment. And while Jud Jud was largely a self-sustaining entity, they needed someone to press the record button and make sure they weren't clipping when vocalizing. For that, they brought in Thelin. "I was the 'engineer,' sort of. It was just, 'Hey, push this button.' And it worked." This demo would be recorded simply by having both B. and Steve plug microphones into a DAT machine, press record, and perform their songs. And for as ridiculous of a band as it was, it required plenty of practice, something Jud Jud had come to take rather seriously.
"We had band practice," says B., noting that Jud Jud had a leg up on their peers, given that they could rehearse simply by picking up the phone. "We would do band practice on the landline sometimes. Schedule a time, pick up the landline, and call each other and practice." Their songwriting involved picking hardcore tropes and using them as the jumping off point for their creations. "There's a song called 'Slither Song,'" says B., "And it's meant to evoke this kind of heavy metal guy [mimics a side-to-side slither motion], the sinister slithering of a heavy metal dude. You'd say, 'Let's do a slither part,' and then you'd make one up and cobble a song together."
While working on their "serious joke" band, they'd form a handful of projects that ditched the joke part. Steve's band Assück became a defining grindcore act, and B.'s band The End of the Century Party was finding its space alongside contemporaries like Palatka and In/Humanity (which B. also played in). And as those bands traversed the country, Jud Jud demo tapes began popping up on their merch tables along the way. "We made this cassette in '96, and we both brought it on tour with our bands that year," says B. "I was a roadie for Steve's band the next year and we spread them all over the country. We brought a crap-load of these tapes and tried to leave one in every city."
That demo would be known as XafiX. Though not a joke at the expense of the emerging Bay Area band AFI, XafiX was a play on Bold's idea of being "Nailed to the X." "An XafiX is a reference to the crucifix," says B. "When you die, if you're straight enough, you can face death by being crucified to an X." The artwork, which was created by Bonner, was meant to parody the cover of Judge's New York Crew EP. From the varsity font down to the demo's title resting nicely in a banner over a pair of hammers meant to resemble an X, Jud Jud's demo looked the part. And that aesthetic recognition caused plenty of kids to plunk down a dollar or two to find out what Jud Jud was all about.
Shortly thereafter, the band would record a second demo, the existence of which has been all but lost to time. B. brought a copy of XafiX along with him when we met, but he bemoaned not having a copy of the second demo, and was unsure how many were even made. Beyond that, without the members of Jud Jud being able to see the reactions of the people blindly buying their demos, they had no way to know how this was being received by their unwitting audience. And even if newly minted Jud Jud fans wanted to, there was no way for them to find out more information. "No one could find us," says B., "I don't think there was info."
More people would get a taste of Jud Jud in 1997, when Thelin and Bonner collaborated to release the Blindspot Mailorder Distro compilation on their respective labels. In the middle of the tracklist was a Jud Jud song, and while it seems quaint now, those kinds of compilations were massively influential at the time. "Those comps back then," says Thelin, "You'd sell 50 or 60 outside a show in Tampa just because [people] couldn't believe it was so cheap." With two demos in the can, and Jud Jud's songs beginning to take root outside of Florida, Thelin decided to take things to the next level and put Jud Jud's two demo tapes onto one seven-inch. "It just made sense," says Thelin. "I made records, so let's put the demos on a record. It was definitely a time where labels like us could do whatever the hell we wanted. If we wanted to do a weird seven-inch, we could make 500. Eventually we'd get rid of them."
With that, The Demos was born. It would be sold via mailorder, as, despite claims to the contrary, Jud Jud never toured. And though they'd still play shows in Florida, often times as a featured act instead of an impromptu add-on, they'd be small shows in record stores like The Blue Chair or 403 Chaos. "Once those seven-inches were out there, the interest could be bigger," says B. And soon, a lot more people would be trying to find out about Jud Jud, thanks to the band pulling a rather improbable coup.
At the same time that Jud Jud was lampooning straight-edge hardcore, Victory Records was building an empire on the back of it. Releasing records by bands like Earth Crisis and Raid, Victory would, however briefly, become a champion of the hardline movement, which took straight-edge to its puritanical extreme, with records that were narrow-minded at best, and homophobic, sexist drivel at worst. Victory's owner, Tony Brummel (who'd come to be known as Tony Victory), was gaining a reputation as a cutthroat businessman, while also peddling music by bands that had testosterone seeping out the ears. "It was the epitome of that shit," says B. So when Bonner landed there in 1997 as the art designer at Victory Records, he'd attempt to inject a bit of Florida's goofball nature into the stone-faced label.
After building a relationship with Brummel through his Toybox label, Bonner would move to Chicago and quickly be given carte blanche at Victory. "I remember it being weird because I got to Victory and Tony sort of just handed me the keys," says Bonner. With Brummel bemoaning how serious every project at the label had gotten, requiring significant financial investment in terms of marketing and promotion, Bonner floated the idea of lightening the load by starting a singles series. "I remember pitching the singles club idea as doing a fun, easy thing," says Bonner. "Try some shit out, and if people like it, maybe that becomes a real Victory band."
The first release of Victory's Swingin' Singles series paid lip service to Brummel, as it was a reissue of his band Even Score's lone seven-inch, A New Means. This made sense for Victory, but what came next most certainly didn't. As Victory was becoming the home for every band that was fusing hardcore with metal, the second release in the singles series would see the most humorless man in hardcore affiliating himself with the band that took aim at the industry he was building.
In 1998, Jud Jud's No Tolerance For Instruments would be the second and final release in Victory's Swingin' Singles series. "I was just kind of like, 'I can get away with anything here.' And so, I was just gonna see if I could do this," says Bonner. Appropriately, Brummel had no idea who Jud Jud was. "Nobody had heard of it before. Even Tony didn't know what to think about it," says Bonner. The seven-inch came and went, with a few hundred copies going to series subscribers before Brummel quietly put the Victory Swingin' Singles project to bed. But even with Victory no longer supporting the Jud Jud release, the record would begin to gain steam on early mp3 blogs. "There was a primitive music-sharing website called mp3it.com based out of San Diego. I can't remember how we were in touch with them, but they put up Jud Jud as mp3s. Then, it spread," says B. "It kind of went viral before 'going viral.'"
No Tolerance For Instruments would receive a repress on Steve's label, Schematics, in 2000—boasting a parody of Bold's Speak Out cover art this time around—and Thelin would continue to repress The Demos to fill demand, pressing nearly 4,500 copies of a seven-inch by an a capella hardcore band in the process. After nearly a decade of being a Floridian curiosity, Jud Jud was starting to find a national audience as if it were a real band. But as 1998 rolled on, it became clear that Jud Jud was nearing the end of the line.
By the end of 1998, B. had moved to the Bay Area to finish college. And though Jud Jud didn't play an official final show, their last performance was the culmination of everything they'd spent a decade working toward. Before B. left, Jud Jud organized a show with Tampa's other parody acts—two of which he played drums in. One was the Unholy Alliance, which was a wrestling-themed grindcore band full of defined characters and ornate storylines. Similarly, his band Watermark 6000, which was a friendly joke at the expense of Hot Water Music, referring to their schtick as "Hot Tub Music," also played. "We had everyone show up in costume and have everybody get up on stage who knew the Jud Jud songs and jud-along," says B. "The whole room was jud-ing. We'd have the right side of the room be Right Jud, and the left side of the room be Left Jud. We had this whole-room Jud Jud performance. We didn't know it was the last show at the time, but it was."
But in the ensuing decades, Jud Jud's mythos has continued to spread. "When I moved to California in '98, by then, people already knew about Jud Jud and were shocked and full of laughter when they found out I was in Jud Jud. They were incredulous, even. Because we were purposefully misleading in the materials that we put out," says B. Flyers for shows with his new band Scholastic Deth would say "ex-Jud Jud," a tradition that's continued in the promotional materials for his new band, Brain Fever.
With all that misinformation out in the world, it allowed fans to build their own histories of Jud Jud without the band members ever addressing it. WFMU's blog claimed them to be one of the best audio hoaxes and urban legends, The Runout would name Jud Jud the "most innovative hardcore band of all time," and Punknews gave The Demos a belated five-star review. Before long, musicians would begin to get meta with Jud Jud's music, as the instrumental, post-rock band Community College would cover "Fast Song" and a Philadelphia musician would launch Chug Chug, a band that would exist solely to cover the entirety of The Demos with full instrumentation. "I'm genuinely surprised that anybody cares," says Bonner. "But at the same time, I totally get why anybody cares. I think it was a great joke. And a great joke doesn't have an expiration date."
Recently, B. uploaded the band's two EPs to Bandcamp, allowing fans old and new to return to the simple, rhythmic brutality of Jud Jud. For the first time in the band's history, he's no longer interested in letting the rumors run wild. I ask him why now, after 20 years, he's willing to set the record straight. And, fittingly, he talks about straight-edge, and the need for people to grow and change over time. "Don't shut yourself in a box, or in a moral code, that is inflexible to the contingencies of life," he says, "We should let all people recreate themselves and reinterpret themselves as their lives progress."
And that's what Jud Jud did, too. Though it started as a parody of straight-edge hardcore bands, as time has gone on, the a capella duo has become the reverently worshipped hardcore act they always pretended to be. Jud Jud may still be a joke, but it's one worth taking seriously.
David Anthony is on xTwitterx.