Thursday, June 29, 2017

I Can't Get Enough: 20 Years of Vitamin X

I just cracked open a zip file full of Vitamin X flyers sent over by their chief howler, Marko. You know, if you flip through 20 fuckin’ years of flyers you can clearly see where this came from and where it’s going. The initial ones were plain, unassuming, not flashy, merely informative. The mid-90s. Then in the cut and paste job, you’ll start to see creativity as the 90s draw to a close. Finally, you get your requisite skulls, skeletons on skateboards, crucial live shots or horror movie imagery. Everything that just seemed to scream Y2K thrash revival. It doesn’t matter that it’s cheesy, it matters that it’s awesome. Jump forward another 10 years and the flyers are more often posters, real works of art. Some of them borrow John Baizley’s excellent album art, others are original creations. It’s pretty cool to see a band’s history in flyers as a testament to all they’ve done. It’s damn impressive. Here’s a little taste of their chapter and an even smaller taste of their whole story...

Big thanks to Marko, Marc, and Alex for sharing their memories!

PS: This is all in first draft form, so bear with me on the typos.

Marko Korać I used to live in Belgrade in Serbia. I had to join the army in 1993. There was a war going on back then. I managed to run away and it’s a long story, but I arranged a visa and ended up in Amsterdam. I actually wanted to get to the US, but I didn’t have enough money. I started selling my records in ‘93 to make enough money, but the war hit the country really hard. In September, I was supposed to go into the army, but I left in July with a 10-day visa and stayed here in Amsterdam for 23 years. I’ve legalized myself in the meantime.

Alex Koutsman Just like Marko, I moved to Holland in ’93. I was originally from Russia. I was younger than Marko. He moved by himself. I came with my parents. I was 12 or 13. It was after the wall fell and the situation was pretty shitty in Russia. We had the opportunity to move to Holland and we took it. Coming in from another country, not speaking the language, not having any friends, you immediately become an outsider.

Marko Korać I had a hardcore band in Belgrade called Spiteful from ’91-’93. We never really recorded a demo, just did some shows at that was it. I got conscripted in ’93.

Marc Emmerik  I asked my parents for a guitar. I was already at a young age interested in music. I was making tapes. I asked my parents for a boombox and I was making mix tapes and taping the music from the squat radio. I was always busy with music and a some point I asked my parents for a guitar…for years I was doing whatever on the guitar, not even knowing how to tune it, but I was constantly banging on it.

Marko Korać Vitamin X started in early ’96. At shows I was always jumping around. My friend Eric was like, you’d be a good front man, you want to start a band? He brought Marc to the first practice but he was actually drumming. I was like, who is this dude, because Marc was always a little bit in the shadows and background.

Marc Emmerik I was always asked to play guitar in bands, but in my first band I was playing drums. I wasn’t a real guitar player, but I could drum. I told him okay I can join, but then I want to drum. So I met up with them and we did a few practices with me on drums and it wasn’t very good.

Marko Korać He drummed for the first two practices, by the third practice he was like, “hey I wrote some songs.” He started playing and I was like, “dude, you can actually play guitar really well. How about you play guitar and I’ll ask somebody else to drum?” That’s how the line-up formed.

Marc Emmerik  I was always coming from behind the drums to show them what to do on guitar.

Marko Korać The first show was with Deadstoolpigeon, that’s with the Manliftingbanner guys. I was more in the crowd than actually singing. That was March 1997.

Marc Emmerik  Within a few weeks, we were already getting offers for shows. It went really fast. I knew Robert from Commitment Records and he heard about this band and that we were actually all straight edge. So he immediately asked us if we could play at some festival.

Alex Koutsman Robert Commitment was very supportive right from the start.

Marc Emmerik  I was studying with Robert and he really liked Vitamin X, so he suggested that we put out a 7”. In hindsight, you could say we put out that first 7” too soon…Within a few weeks we had shows and we were playing and we’ve been playing ever since. It’s never stopped!

Marc Emmerik  The band started in late ’96, but the hardcore punk scene was kinda’ dead.

Marko Korać One of the reasons why I moved to Amsterdam was I had this impression of the Dutch scene being huge because I knew all these bands from the ‘80s, BGK and Lärm. They had a huge scene in the ‘80s, but when I got there, everything was dead. Nobody was active except for Seein’ Red. Shows were really small.

Marc Emmerik  There was not a lot going on and that was one of the reasons why I thought it was good to play in Vitamin X. These guys couldn’t play well but they had a lot of energy and energy was what I was missing in a lot of the bands in the mid-90s.

Marko Korać It was the moment that the scene started growing in Holland and especially in Amsterdam.

Alex Koutsman There was a whole up-surge of youth crew bands in the mid to late 90s. In Holland specifically, with Commitment Records releasing a bunch of 7”s of all straight edge bands and organizing a full-on straight edge festival called Return of the X-men. It really brought together a scene of bands that otherwise might not have found each other – they would have found each other eventually – it was really a starting point. It lasted two, three, four years.

Marc Emmerik In the beginning we were playing a more late 90s type of hardcore punk, influenced by Youth Of Today, Turning Point, Judge, and Gorilla Biscuits. I liked all those bands, I saw all those bands, but I personally wanted to go faster in the beginning. The drummer was not good enough to play faster, so I had to wait.

Marko Korać Eric wanted to do youth crew. I didn’t mind. I liked all those bands. I just didn’t really like the whole generic 90s youth crew sound. There’s good straight edge bands though.

Alex Koutsman I thought that youth crew had gotten really boring and aged really fast in the late 90s.

Marko Korać Eric left the band in ’99 and the moment he left, Marc and I wanted to take it in a different direction.

Despite the fact that we’re straight edge, we kinda’ got fed up with the whole straight edge scene. It had become so generic and so uniform. We didn’t want to follow all these rules about how you have to sound or what the lyrics are supposed to say. I mean, in the beginning we already had a pro-legalization of drugs song. We had anti-war songs. There weren’t many you-stabbed-me-in-the-back bullshit songs. So Eric quit and Marc and I questioned whether we should change the name of the band. At that point though we already had a lot of contacts. We had our name out there. So we kept the name but changed the music a little bit. But it’s still hardcore and you can hear the youth crew influence on every record. Also, that ‘70s rock vibe from Marc was there at the very beginning.

Alex Koutsman I said when I joined Vitamin X, “We gotta’ play meaner, we gotta’ play faster.”

Marko Korać Alex joined the band in 1999 and you can call that the real beginning of Vitamin X because the three of us have stayed together since then. It’s just drummers we’re changing all the time.

Marc Emmerik  I already had enough songs to do an album. I wanted to get away from the youth crew sound and go faster. I was looking for a studio to get that specific sound and we ended up in a studio that almost all the early 80s Dutch hardcore bands recorded at - BGK, Nitwitz, The Ex. It was a small place a half-hour from Amsterdam. This was 2000, so this was almost 20 years later. The engineer had all these big analog tapes. So we finished recording and started mixing and I’m hearing between our songs some familiar sounds. I was like what is this? I know this band. The guy looks on the tape and it was the original, unreleased third LP by BGK and he had recorded over it.

Marko Korać Anton from Underestimated Records wrote to Robert Commitment that he was interested in doing a new record or he wanted to do a co-release.

At the same time, Code 13 was touring Europe in ’99. I already knew Havoc Records. At that point, Felix only had 7”s. Vitamin X “Down the Drain” was one of his first LPs. I was hanging around with him in Europe and I was like, dude I have a band, I’ll send you a recording. I knew from reading his column in MRR, that he was also into straight edge stuff.

We’re already doing an LP with Underestimated, so I suggested we do a 7” with Havoc. He asked me to send him some new songs when we have them, so after the “See Through Their Lies” LP, we did a demo and sent it to him. He was like, “whoa man, you guys speeded up!” That 7” became the “People That Bleed” EP.

Marc Emmerik  We actually almost recorded an album. We had 17, 18 minutes of songs. The other ones ended up on the tour 7” that Underestimated put out.

Marko Korać Ernie from Lifes Halt wrote us, which is a funny coincidence because we worshipped Lifes Halt.

Marc Emmerik  I got the Lifes Halt 7” and when I heard that, it was exactly the style that I wanted to play.

Marko Korać He heard our song on the Memories of Tomorrow comp. He said all these nice things but he didn’t identify himself as being in Lifes Halt. So we wrote him back and said “you live in LA, you’ve probably seen Lifes Halt, fuck, that band is awesome!” He wrote back, “I’m from Lifes Halt.”

We became really good friends with Ernie. He did the art for “People That Bleed” and “Down the Drain.”

Alex Koutsman There was one point before the US tour, before the first album. We just had the two 7”s out. Kill the Man Who Questions were on tour in Europe and they were playing in Amsterdam and I wanted to talk to them. They were like, “you play in Vitamin X!?” I was like, “hold on, you’ve heard of Vitamin X in the US? How?”...we had barely played outside of Holland at that point.

Marc Emmerik  We had contact with Anton and Felix and they both suggested that we do a US tour.

Marko Korać Anton from Underestimated Records actually invited us to tour the US. We were not a big band or anything, but he’s going to release our record and he’s going to book a tour. At the same time, I was in touch with Felix and he offered to drive us and he’s going to release a 7” for us. Ernie from Lifes Halt offered to do the west coast part of the tour and we did a bunch of shows with them. We did 12 or 15 shows on the east coast and midwest, then we flew to California and did shows there.

Marc Emmerik  In the meantime, we switched drummers. The guy that drummed from the beginning through “See Through Their Lies” quit and we got this other drummer from the Dutch band Betercore. He played guitar in Betercore. He was not the best drummer, but because he was also a guitar player, he had a lot of cool ideas.

Alex Koutsman We were going on tour without our actual drummer. We did one show in Europe before going to the US. It was a total disaster. It was one of the worst shows we ever played. We were coming to the US and we knew that the third show on that tour was CBGBs.

Marc Emmerik  We arrived in the US and immediately, there was a difference in the way of playing and the way of performance that the US bands had. All of the younger US bands hadn’t gone over to Europe yet. We were never able to see them and the hardcore punk bands in Europe, like 95% of them were just standing still during their performance, not moving. Nothing was going on.

In Europe, it was pretty normal to play 40 minute sets or 50 minutes to one hour. In the US, some of them were just playing like 10 minutes. It was a whole different world and different perspective and immediately we were like, we need to change things.

Marko Korać It was unbelievable. I’m going to the US and I’m going to play CBGBs! Wow! It was impossible to even think that a couple months before. It was sold out. Kill Your Idols were playing, Causalties were playing, Tear It Up was playing, Death By Stereo, Last In Line and us. I couldn’t sleep the night before.

Marc Emmerik  We arrived at CBGB's in our van and there was a huge line. I've never been to CBGBs before, so I thought it was for something else. Then Felix said “that's CBGB’s, that’s for the show.” I just couldn't believe it. It was sold out. We entered the venue and it took us like 15 minutes to get to the stage it was so crowded…It was a turning point in our career…Felix said “if you play this show well, then you’re going to have a good future. Everybody in the scene is going to tell each other about this show and if you play a bad show now, then it could all be over”…I was extremely nervous, I was shaking.

Alex Koutsman Playing CBGBs was already nerve-wracking. Playing with all these bands was nerve-wracking. You’re jetlagged as fuck and you’re playing with a drummer that has never played a good show with you.

Marc Emmerik  Musically, I didn’t think we played a good show, but we were extremely wild and going over the top. Everybody really liked the show.

Alex Koutsman I think every show on that tour was great in one way or another.

Marc Emmerik  The Vitamin X that we now know, was formed during that tour.

Alex Koutsman We came back and played a show at Fluff Festival in Europe which they actually shut down, they said “you guys and your crowd are going too crazy.” We were like “this is how we play.”

Marc Emmerik  We got a name in Europe for being violent, but we were only violent to ourselves. I was throwing my guitar around, but we were just going crazy. We weren’t fighting or anything.

Alex Koutsman We had learned how to play like that in the US – to really give it 110% and have a wild stage show and not stop between each song.

Marko Korać Anton is a cool dude, but he is all over the place. Felix on the other hand was very organized. He’s a very disciplined and organized guy. I thought a split release for the “Down the Drain” LP would make sense in order to satisfy everyone.

Alex Koutsman Both Felix and Anton were with us on tour. We were good friends. They had both put out records by us, so it was natural to go with both of them. In retrospect, when you work with more people, more things can go wrong.

Marko Korać The second press of that record was not on Underestimated Records. It was just on Havoc.

Alex Koutsman The second US tour was a lot longer. Our first tour was 3 weeks, 21 shows. The second one was like 45 shows. We drove all over the US and it was really brutal.

Marko Korać I’m really thankful for Anton for bringing us to the US in the first place. He did a lot for the band.

At Thrash Fest in Minneapolis, we played with Tear It Up and Total Fury, Amdi Petersens Armé and Nine Shocks Terror. That show was incredible! In my opinion that was the peak of the whole thrash revival.

Alex Koutsman That was a totally amazing show. For us, it was the end of the tour so we had 46 shows behind us, so we were tight as hell, but we knew we were going to have to bring the A game. All the other bands on the bill were killing it. Caustic Christ was there. Tear It Up was there. Total Fury from Japan was there. Amdi Petersens Armé was there from Denmark.
I remember Andy from Tear It Up came up to me after the show - we had played a bunch of shows together on that tour - he said it was the best show he’d ever seen by us. I felt dead after that show, I could barely breathe, so I was happy to hear that from him. Then he went on stage and they totally killed us.

Marko Korać The 2004 US tour was the longest one. I think we played 48 shows. But I think the tour in 2003 was at least 46. We also played shows and toured around Europe all the time…We had some really wild shows in Brazil.

Marc Emmerik  Boka organized the tour for us. We did a lot of shows there, 12 shows.

Marko Korać The Brazilian thing is also pretty funny. We were contacted by Boka, but we didn’t know who he was. He wanted to do a release for us and a tour. Turns out he was in Ratos De Porão!

We did almost the entire tour with I Shot Cyrus. We did a bunch with Discarga, bands like Infect, there were so many of them!

Alex Koutsman The one thing compared to the US that is different is equipment. Back then it was hard to come by good equipment. Some shows we played where the guitar amplifier was a 20-watt practice amp and that was what five bands were using.

Marko Korać When we went to Rio de Janeiro our car broke down so we had to take a bus. When we got to the central station the guys who were organizing our shows surrounded us as we walked because they were worried people were going to rob us. We had our instruments and merch with us and people were following us. The guys just surrounded us all the way to the van like a shield.

Marc Emmerik  Sau Paulo is pretty safe, but we went to Rio and people were scared that something would happen to us.

Marko Korać Police stopped us multiple times, searched our bags. We had to pay them just so they would leave us alone. It was ridiculous. It didn’t happen on our last tour in 2014 though. The economy is improved. It felt much safer.

Alex Koutsman Back then Brazil was still an upcoming economy so things were cheap as hell for us. Things like food were super cheap. They had a lot of great record stores, a lot of cool people. I have nothing but great memories of those tours.

Marko Korać While we were in Brazil, we got a message from a guy in Japan who wanted to release our “People That Bleed” 7” as a CD there and if we’re interested, a tour. With Japan you can’t really ask to tour. The culture is different. You have to wait until you’re invited. That’s what What Happens Next told us…What Happens Next went before us and they did this tour report in Maximum Rock N Roll. So we based all of our plans on reading what they wrote.

Marc Emmerik  The shows were really big. At that time, we still didn’t have the name that we have now, but we played really big shows.

Marko Korać  The scene was really good in 2003. We played 13 shows which is a lot for Japan. We played Tokyo four times…everything was way better than we expected.

Marc Emmerik  In 2003, we went to the Japan, then in 2004 we went to the US again and we wanted to back up that tour with a new album.

Marko Korać  Bad Trip” was, at that point, the most professionally played and recorded LP. We were better musicians. Marc was a much better songwriter.

Alex Koutsman Vitamin X is like Spinal Tap. Our drummers seem to explode or disappear all the time. At that time, we are on like drummer #6. It was Paolo who was from Italy. He was living in Italy so he wasn’t in Amsterdam all the time to practice with us.

Marko Korać  Paolo was drumming for us then, but he wasn’t a very good drummer. Marc and Alex came up with all the drum parts. Alex is actually a very good drummer.

Alex Koutsman With “Bad Trip” because Paolo wasn’t around that much, we did a lot of practices without him. We basically had the record. He came over and we started practicing and he just wasn’t cutting it. He couldn’t keep up the speed. He wasn’t fast enough. We wanted him to play double on the hi-hat instead of cheating, he couldn’t do that.

Marc Emmerik  At first, I actually asked Olav from Larm and Seein’ Red if he wanted to be the drummer on that album.

Alex Koutsman On some songs we had to do a lot of fucking takes, punch-ins and punch-outs. In the end, it was a big, successful record, but that’s not how we were looking at it just before we left the studio.

Marc Emmerik  We had a deadline. We had to finish it before the US tour. The production is cool, but I hear all kinds of stuff that I would have done differently, but the songs are really good.

Marko Korać  We really worked hard on that record. It took us more than a year to finalize everything…That record really opened the door for us.

Marc Emmerik  That 2004 US tour was 48 shows and it was way too long. The 2002 tour was 42 shows, that was still doable. 48 shows, with every day a show, it was just too much! We all were at the end of the tour kind of going crazy.

Marko Korać  We nearly broke up in 2004 towards the end of the US tour because I got in a fight with the drummer.

Marko Korać  We we’re getting so much mail from South East Asia. I didn’t know how the thrash scene could be so popular there!

Marc Emmerik  We were doing Japan again so we started checking the prices for flights to Southeast Asia.

Alex Koutsman We did four shows in four different countries in four days. We did Singapore, The Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
In Indonesia, there was maybe 1200 people at our show. They broke down the doors of the club. There was no air conditioning, so after every band they would kick people out in order to get some air in. We were on stage tuning up, the promoter comes running up, “you have to play, you have to play!” We were like, “hold on, give us ten more minutes and we’ll be ready.” “No no no, they’re going to break down the doors!” “What do you mean” and then bang! We just see this huge stream of people running in. Ok I guess we are playing now.

Marko Korać There was probably 1,000 people there. I couldn’t breathe. There were a couple of times in the middle of the show I had to stop and go get some air. I was losing it. I was drowning in the heat.

Marc Emmerik  Marko couldn't sing. He had to crowd surf outside to get air and then he was crowd surfing back in after every few songs. I remember I was playing and I thought, if I die now at least I will die on stage.

Marko Korać We were about to play a second encore and Alex screamed “stop, don’t play, Boka is dying!” We looked at Boka and there is white stuff coming out of his eyes, nose and mouth. So we stopped playing right there. If someone had played hot shows before, it was Boka. Even for him, it was too much. After the show we were outside and it was probably 40 °C, but it felt so nice. The organizer told us a death metal band played a week before us at the same club and the singer died from the heat. He had a heart attack. They told us that after the show, not before the show.

Marko Korać  We started playing more festivals and even getting more recognition in Europe. But then we were alone because all the bands we had been playing with split up. The thrash bands from the era were gone…It was a pity and I was disappointed at the time, but there were other good bands out there.

Alex Koutsman We had just released our most successful record to date. We had done a lot of tours. We had gone all over the world. All the other bands were breaking up. We had discussed this. We had discussed whether or not it was time for us to also stop. We were missing a drummer again. It was, and always is, hard to find good hardcore drummers.

Marko Korać  2005 was just a year after “Bad Trip” came out, so a lot of our touring in Japan and Southeast Asia promoted that LP.

Marc Emmerik  We made some money on those tours, so we were like okay what should we do, should we divide this money, or should we just do something crazy with it? We chose the latter. I said let's record with some crazy producer guy. I came up with three people, Ian Mackaye, Rick Rubin and Steve Albini. Rick Rubin didn’t work out. Ian MacKaye, he said he wanted to do it, but he didn't have time in that period. He wanted to record it. Shellac was doing a show in Amsterdam and after the show we just talked to Steve Albini and he said he was down.

Marko Korać  Marc always has these crazy ideas.

Marc Emmerik  In the meantime we had a new drummer Wolfi, who also played in Tangled Lines. That's how we met him, because of Tangled Lines. Extremely good drummer. We practiced with him for something like a year in 2007. January 2008, we went to Chicago.
We recorded the album in Chicago with Albini, then we went to Detroit because we had a show there anyway. After the “Full Scale Assault” recording, we did a short tour. I rented a studio for a 1/2 day and then John Brannon came. He had to get his voice ready so he said, “I'm going to go across the street to the bar and have a few drinks and then I'll come back and sing.

Marko Korać  There was a gap of 3 or 4 years before we finally released “Full Scale Assault”. We were playing too much.

Marc Emmerik  Our style is rooted in the thrash, fastcore style, but it has crossovers to several other styles, hard rock, but also ‘77 punk, but also early 80s US hardcore and mid-80s crossover style and also ‘80s Discharge, Motörhead style, all these different styles. I like all these styles and I also try to incorporate them into our songs. You also see that in our audience. Our audiences are really diverse at our shows. You see mohawks, you see metalheads, you see thrash guys, you see crusties.

Alex Koutsman I don’t think it was a clear break. If you listen consecutively to the first 7” to second the 7” to the first album to “People That Bleed” and “Down the Drain,” there’s a clear a progression there. It’s not like we were all of a sudden deciding we’re not gonna’ play youth crew, we’re gonna’ play thrash. There was no such thing as thrash or it wasn’t as clearly defined as it became later.

Marc Emmerik  You cannot write a 150 30-seconds songs. It's too much. I always try to make an album diverse and make each song different. My ideas never dry up and it’s stayed interesting because of that.

Marko Korać We’re a close group of people, me, Marc and Alex. We take it very seriously. Doors opened for us and it was fun, so automatically by inertia, we just continued.

Marc Emmerik The “People That Bleed” 7”, I think it sold like 9000 copies. The “Down the Drain” LP also sold really well and “Bad Trip” as well. Felix always thought that we were going to be one of the first bands to be on a bigger label, but it never happened.

Marko Korać I really felt like we were part of the beginning of new era in hardcore. We were real lucky we ended up in this whole moment.

Alex Koutsman Hopefully we were able to inspire kids and show them what’s possible. Before us and before DS-13, I can’t remember European bands going to tour in the US or Japan. That wasn’t common. Not at all.

Marko Korać Every year brings us some new shows, new tours, new experiences, new friendships, so what’s the point of stopping? We’re all into this music. Why would we stop?


  1. Wow this is a lot of history! Like a LOT of history! so yeah i can totally understand your emotions behind the first two lines! Good job documenting it