In conversation with the founding members of Asbury Park’s Light Brigade Collective

"When we talk about the counterculture of punk, and with respect to our organization, we feel it's really important to keep alive that idea of collective liberation and freedom for everyone."

When you’re young, no one ever tells you how easy it is to become distracted and detached from your passions as an adult by the unfortunate surprises that life throws at you. On April 2, after almost a decade of what I can only describe as being asleep, I went to a benefit show at Trinity Church in Asbury Park and was re-introduced to my passion for punk/hardcore music and values courtesy of some incredible people associated with the Light Brigade Collective

During my formative years, I was captivated by punk/hardcore’s intensity and how drastically different it sounded compared to everything else. As I grew older, the subject matter or message in the song lyrics (family, society, government, injustice) became increasingly important; it made sense of the noise in my head, challenged previously held ideals and motivated me to be a better person—one who was committed to serving others. 

Which brings us back to the Light Brigade Collective (LBC), which, since its first show in 2021, organizes monthly benefit shows featuring punk, hardcore, hip-hop and other independent music and local art showcases to support local community-based social justice organizations. They raise awareness around racial, economic, sexual and gender identity, disability, housing, environmental justice, indigenous, political and social struggles. And they like to keep events all-ages to give youth a chance to express their art and build community.

In short, according to LBC’s mission statement: “We look to build community through the arts with an anti-oppression lens while also supporting large movements and organizations for collective liberation. Fight Like Hell for the Living.” And, in short, according to us: LBC’s a pretty fucking big deal, arguably the most important phenomenon in the Asbury Park scene. 

For this week’s feature, NJ Indy got to chat with LBC founding members, Derek and Mike, about the collective’s inspiration, how it’s organized, the kinds of action their mission manifests, and how they provide people with avenues to impact their community directly.

NJ Indy: How long have you two known each other or worked together?

Derek: Not too long, actually. We met through Food Not Bombs because FNB reached out to Food Justice at Trinity Church (Asbury Park); they were interested in setting up a little 24/7 food pantry outside of the church where folks could just come grab food whenever they needed it. So FNB built this pantry and Mike dropped it off at Trinity and I’m pretty sure that’s how we first met. We just started chatting and got along really well and for some reason I just mentioned, “Yeah I always really wanted to do shows, let me show you the [performance] space we have [on the church grounds].” I guess Mike really took to the idea and, once you know Mike, when he believes in an idea, he just runs with it. Next thing I knew we had a name, we were meeting up and the Light Brigade Collective was started. We just sort of agreed that it would be a collective and things would be agreed upon through consensus and the organization would be horizontal in the tradition of anarchist punk culture.

Mike: Yeah, I would say the idea for LBC probably started about a year ago in its infancy.

NJI: I’m sure you both wear a lot of hats and you mentioned that you’re inspired by anarcho-punk culture but, do you actually have any official titles within the organization?

Derek: Well, for the LBC, we really don’t. Mike certainly books most of the shows but I don’t know if he’s like, “the booker.”

Mike: I mean, yeah, you could say I’ve got my finger on the pulse of the show bookings.

Derek: I think what’s exciting about Light Brigade is that we get to provide an example of what anarchism looks like; it’s just about sharing power, we can collectively make decisions together. We’re showing how anarchist theory or direct democracy can work and that you don’t need hierarchical organizations.

NJI: So, after first meeting each other and then deciding you wanted to have shows, how long did it take to really iron out what you wanted LBC to be—the mission of the organization, etc.?

Mike: Really I feel like it was almost immediately. I mean, we met, Derek said he wanted to have shows at Trinity and I agreed and then our visions were sort of already really aligned. … I think our collective background in mutual-aid work really had us on the same page in many areas. We had the idea and in like two months time we already had a lineup for the first show at the church. So it all happened pretty immediately.

NJI: So how does the relationship at Trinity Church work? How did you find that space? 

Derek: So I’m the social justice director at Trinity Church; I actually work there. The Light Brigade Collective at Trinity Church is actually a collaboration. Trinity certainly supports what the LBC is about, agrees with its mission and provides the space to LBC for free; so it’s definitely a collaborative entity, but, to be clear, Trinity is not an anarchist organization. It’s very progressive and geared toward social justice, it’s known in the community as a center for LGBTQIATS+, struggles and issues. As of this July, I’ll have worked there for seven years; I started as the anti-hunger director then, eventually, I became the social justice director. Trinity’s main thing is just sharing space for the community, encouraging progressive spiritualities, progressive thinking and also the arts—making the arts more inclusive/affordable. Trinity was excited to provide an affordable show-space that’s DIY, inclusive, alcohol/drug free (for those who may be sober). 

NJI: Are there any other examples of progressive entities, churches or community-spaces in the area who are supporting these causes in a similar way? 

Mike: I mean, not exactly; not to my knowledge at least.

Derek: I’m sure there are other churches that do music or events, but none that I really know of. I mean, I wouldn’t really call ourselves a venue; I think we are more of a social space that happens to support bands/musicians. We’re sort of like the First Unitarian Church in Philly but I’d say the main difference is they just rent out their space to the bookers, while Trinity has agreed to provide the space for free… and they were excited that each show would provide benefit to a social justice organization and the community. Light Brigade doesn’t pay anything, which is great because the bands get more and the organizations we’re supporting get more.

NJI: Wow, Trinity is pretty remarkable in that regard. With that being said, will you ever branch out and try to organize shows at other venues? Or do you prefer to keep everything in house at Trinity?

Mike: Well, we are in partnership with Trinity and, in my opinion, it is very important that we maintain that; so, at bare minimum, that will always be known as our home base. We will always have our monthly program at Trinity church but, you know, if there’s an event on the west side, something appropriate that we feel like we can lend ourselves and the LBC name to in order to raise funds for, we might consider that… I think it;s worth noting that Light Brigade, as much as its at Trinity and about punk/hardcore/hip-hop shows, we are helping facilitate the Transformative Justice Program, Food Not Bombs, the Asbury Book Cooperative—thats also a very big part of what we do. A large part of our vision is to provide avenues and opportunities, to help transition folks from caring and singing along about causes they believe in, to actually getting involved in community work and activism. So as much as Trinity is our home and shows are our bread and (vegan) butter, there are more arms of the Light Brigade as well.

Shirt designed by Origami Tsunami and printed be Y THAT K.

NJI: Can you elaborate more on your vision and the inspiration behind the mission of Light Brigade and the way it’s run?

Derek: When I was coming up, I think my first experiences with punk/underground were going to see Dead Prez or Defiance Ohio or Against Me! in a basement in Philadelphia. I was always geared up in a punk scene that was very political, feminist, anti-war/capitalist/globalisation… that was always a huge part of the punk/hardcore scene to me. I guess punk was supposed to be a counterculture… and not just in the aesthetic. When we started Light Brigade I was very excited to embrace that counterculture, to actually support the ideals like: we support feminist struggles, we don’t support colonialism or violent-imperialist borders, we don’t support transphobia or heteronormativity. We think its fine to be heteronormative, of course, just don’t force others to be heteronormative. So, when we talk about the counterculture of punk, and with respect to our organization, we feel it’s really important to keep alive that idea of collective liberation and freedom for everyone. Growing up in the ’90s, I feel like shows were just a little bit more political: there’d be info-tables or you could get books. I don’t think the entire punk/hardcore scene has completely shifted, but it’s certainly gotten a little more apathetic and a little less interested [in the original values/ethics]. We were excited to bring that back; though, I don’t think our ideals are too down people’s throats. Activism is a big part of what we’re about but I think if you come to a show, you don’t have to be in total agreement with some of these things, you can still come and feel supported and have fun. I’ve been an activist for 20 years and sometimes the activist community isn’t that friendly, it can be a little insular. I mean, I remember going to Against Me! shows and even their own fans alienated the fuck out of them when they became a little bit less anarchist. We want to create a really friendly environment and just because we may have certain beliefs doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be an anarchist to come to a show here.

Mike: Yeah, we may have and promote our personal ideals but we don’t expect everybody that plays at or frequents Light Brigade shows to embody [our ideals]. We obviously have no tolerance for hate speech or hateful action or anything that infringes upon the personal autonomy of another being—those are not ever tolerated, accepted or welcome in our space. 

I was always enticed by more politically minded bands. When I was young, from Dead Prez to A Tribe Called Quest, there was a lot of conscious hip-hop; and then I discovered Rage Against the Machine and then Crass, Conflict, Choking Victim, all of those bands kinda spoke to me as a kid. I was immediately interested in these movements: anti-capitalist thought, anti-globalization, the overall acceptance that the punk community had to offer. I recall vividly going to see Drop Dead in the basement of a college in Connecticut during a horrible snow storm. There was a vegan bake sale, there were a bunch of tables for veganism, earth and animal liberation, anti-capitalist ideology, slingshot magazines, earth-first journals, all of this radically minded literature; I was captivated by it and integrated all of that thought into my bands and it all carried on later in life. I got exposed to Food Not Bombs, the Anarchist Black Cross and other stuff, and the older I got I recognized that when a kid comes across an issue like food insecurity or housing insecurity, there are certain organizations that are low-hanging fruit like PETA, with respect to the senseless murder of animals for food; however, there are other ways to combat issues or [injustice], that maybe aren’t the popular or low-hanging fruit groups. For me, something like Food Not Bombs was grassroots, it was a mutual-aid collective with horizontal decision-making and it was actually going out into the street and feeding folks. That’s something I really care about and it’s important to Light Brigade… providing avenues to people to go out and experience activism, support their beliefs and be involved in their community directly.

NJI: What’s the best way for someone to get involved with LBC?

Mike: Well, in my opinion, the best way is to just kind of come out and see what we do and have a conversation with us in real life. We’re very easy to find and you can keep up with everything we’re involved with on Instagram. We believe in fostering a scene that supports itself in all avenues of life, we believe in a whole community support structure. Come out to a show, ask a punk who’s who, and come speak to us, we are all friendly people. 

NJI: Are there any people or organizations that have been particularly instrumental in the success of LBC thus far? 

Mike: We used to joke, “We’re the Light Brigade Collective, but it’s just me and Derek,” but now, the collective has really grown and there’s pillars of our scene who’ve grown with us; they might not consider themselves part of the collective but I consider them to be a huge part of what we’re doing and this community. So, people like: Swank (Shore Style Punk Night), who is like a backbone for the scene in this area, he cares a lot and is a man of community and positivity; then you have Shep (guitar, Kirkby Kiss) who does a lot of our graphic design work and does a lot of graphic design for bands in the scene, he lends his talents to LBC and other things we are involved in; Ian (“YTHATK”, artist) who has helped us with screenprinting and out of the kindness of his heart has provided us with screenprinted posters for every show; Michelle (Cats Luck Vegan) and her partner, John, come out and sell vegan baked goods at our shows and help us promote; John (Asbury Audio, freelance sound) who does sound for us, he brings his own sound gear and makes every show sound great; Ed the Punk (Ed Vice Booking), he’s worked with me to put on shows before and another super strong component of our scene, the VNAPRN (Prevention Resource Network) people come out to our shows and provide a free NARCAN training and harm reduction supplies; Tim Shaw (Fuck it, I Quit!) and Ohana Rising Yoga helped us curate a weekly free Light Brigade yoga program and Tim is a huge supporter of LBC. We also have to mention Danielle from Udder Chaos and Chris from Hardcore Animal Rescue!!

Derek: Also Zack from Food Not Bombs and the Transformative Justice Project helps us run the shows, helps us clean up and persons the info tables. We are growing, for sure. 

NJI: Growing up, we went to and played in a lot of shows, a fair amount of them were for various benefits, which was always nice to see. All of your shows are strictly benefit-shows, no?

Mike: Every event we do, forever, will be a benefit. It will benefit something. Derek and myself, aside from merch sales which are solely to help fund the shows, we collect nothing. Every single dime we collect is split: half for the bands to split up and half for the beneficiary of the evening; because that’s what makes up the collective. Derek and I are really just points of contact and facilitators for lack of a better term. The folks that come out and offer their time, whether in an artistic sense or with labor, it’s all voluntary and they’re all compensated for that.

Derek: Yeah, we believe in economic justice, just not for ourselves.

NJI: What, if anything, does the LBC need?  

Derek: Mic stands? Microphones? Ha ha!

Mike: Yeah, I mean we’d love for people to donate sound equipment, but I think the big need is always people power; people coming together, people utilizing our services or programs in whatever capacity… we need people for this sense of community, utilizing the space and working to make it even greater. 

NJI: Any final thoughts or things you want people to understand about the collective?

Derek: One thing we did touch briefly on that I want to sort of reiterate is that we are excited to make the punk/hardcore scene and activist scene friendly and inclusive. To be real, making the punk or music scene in Asbury inclusive is really a lot of work. Asbury has been racially divided purposely: it was founded 150 years ago and black folks and working class Italians weren’t allowed to live on the east side of the tracks, so our town was founded in segregation..not to mention the genocide of the Sand Hill Lenape nation, which I think it’s important to make mention that our space at Trinity Church, where we do shows, is on Sand Hill Lenape territory. With that understanding, within activism love can be seen as kind of corny; you know, “love and peace, lets love everybody!” But ultimately, that’s why we do this work, because of love and we care about other people’s freedom. We just want to make people feel welcome and create safe or brave spaces to learn in.

Mike: It’s worth noting that you’re talking to two people who are deeply rooted in their spiritual practices. I mean, I don’t play in a hardcore band, I play in a Kirtan band. Im absolutely devotional, but everybody is motivated by different have those old adages, “No Gods, No masters,” or “Religion has no place in anarchism,” but that’s not really something we subscribe to…so, we’re not necessarily in the cool kids club when it comes to activism. You know, the aspiring yoga teacher and the Christian anarchist aren’t exactly at the top of the list in that club so we don’t really bring that cool kids club vibe into what we do.

NJI: That club sucks.

For all things Light Brigade Collective: Instagram. UPCOMING EVENTS: