Photographer Spotlight: Matt Viel

Matt Viel is a Long Island hardcore staple. It really is that simple. He’s one of those people that you can count on to be at the show, have a conversation with, and even stage dive on you (sometimes with camera in-hand). But Matt is also one of Long Island’s most important chroniclers of hardcore and underground culture.

In just a few short years, Matt has quietly amassed a tremendous library of photos from across the underground spectrum. If you get down with Long Island shows and bands, there’s a very good chance you’ve seen Matt’s photos. Finally, here’s a little about Matt himself.

What got you into photography?

I always loved looking at live band photos in zines, in record inserts, etc. However, it was never really something I ever really thought about doing myself. I bought a camera because I would go a bunch of places with my girlfriend and decided it would be cool to have photos that weren’t just on our phones. It was a Canon Rebel T6, it came with two lenses and a bag for like $600 on Black Friday. Not a bad deal. It kind of just happened from there.

Raw Brigade (Photo: Matt Viel)

What is your camera and usual setup?

Right now I use a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with an EF 24-105mm f/4 IS II USM Lens. I also use an Insignia NS-DCF200c for my flash, but I need to upgrade soon, mostly because it just drains batteries.

H2O (Photo: Matt Viel)

What was the first show you shot, and how do you feel you’ve improved since?

January 14, 2018. Iron Chic at Amityville Music Hall. I really only took photos because I happened to have my camera (the previously mentioned Rebel T6) with me in the car. The photos are terrible haha. Out of focus, I only had the camera for like two months at that point so I barely knew how to use it. I also didn’t have an external flash, so I had to use the one that was built in to the camera. 

I’m still learning as I go along, but I like to think my stuff is way better than it was when I started.

DRAIN (Photo: Matt Viel)

What’s your favorite show you’ve photographed?

There’s two. The first was Eyehategod, Negative Approach, Sheer Terror, and The Fight at AMH in May of 2019. Some of my favorite bands ever playing a tiny venue on LI. That was one of the first shows where I was really psyched on the photos I took. 

Eyehategod (Photo: Matt Viel)

The other are the Gorilla Biscuits LI shows that happened in February 2020, like 2 weeks before COVID shut everything down. It was two nights. The first was GB, Indecision, Mindforce, Constant Elevation, and Restraining Order. The second was GB, Kill Your Idols, Fiddlehead, and Rule Them All. Awesome lineups top to bottom on both days.

I had just gotten my current camera like 3 days before and this was the first show I would be shooting at a “big” venue (Revolution in Amityville). I went there straight from work and realized when I got there I left the battery charging at my job, which was about 30 minutes away. Fortunately, a friend was kind enough to drive there, get it and drop it off at the venue for me. The first few shots from the first night are with my old camera.

Mindforce (Photo: Matt Viel)

What kinds of shows do you find it most difficult to shoot? Which do you enjoy most?

I can’t think of any particular kinds of shows that are tough. The hardest one to shoot was the Hangman One By One record release show in 2019, mostly because I was trying to dodge fists and feet most of the night (I stood on stage behind a giant PA speaker and still managed to get kicked in my ribs more than once [laughs]. 

My favorite ones to shoot are shows with a lot of crowd participation, getting the pile-on shots or the stage dives always look cool. 

Hangman (Photo: Matt Viel)

Are there any specific bands or events that you want to photograph in the future? A dream project?

I can’t think of any “dream projects.” Glassjaw are playing two shows on Long Island in 2022, I’d love to take photos at those shows. Now that shows are back on a semi-regular basis I’m just trying to shoot as much as I can.

Deadguy (Photo: Matt Viel)

What is your favorite photo you’ve taken?

My favorite photo isn’t even a show photo, it’s a photo I took during a BLM march/rally on Juneteenth, 2020. It’s just some people walking by All-American Hamburgers in Massapequa and even though some of it is a little out of focus, I love the way it came out.

Photo: Matt Viel

If you could photograph any band, past or present, who would it be and why?

I wish I could have photographed Bad Brains/Black Flag in their prime. Or Man Is the Bastard. 

E.Town Concrete (Photo: Matt Viel)

You seemed to find a different ‘voice’ in your photography when you began chronicling Black Lives Matter protests last year. How did the experience affect you as a photographer and as a person?

Taking photos at those protests/rallies/marches last year made me want to get involved as much as possible doing whatever I could, even if it was just taking a photo and sharing it. It also helped me just sit and take in the moment, rather than going for the “awesome” shot or whatever like I would at a show.

Photo: Matt Viel

Also speaking to people who I had never met, listening to their stories as they told them, or seeing people there with their children who were holding signs and marching with us, it moved me in a way I can’t really put into words.

Nosebleed (Photo: Matt Viel)

What bands first got you into punk and hardcore?

Like a lot of people my age (I’m 38) I got really into punk through the Fat Music/Punk-O-Rama CDs from the mid-late '90s. Bands like NOFX, Pennywise, Bad Religion, No Use for a Name, etc.

Then I would just buy CDs by bands on those comps, read the thank you lists, look at the shirts they wore in the photos or sometimes just checked a band out based on the cover art.

King Nine (Photo: Matt Viel)

That led to me checking out bands like Sick of It All, Agnostic Front, Minor Threat, 7 Seconds, Black Flag, etc. I miss those days.

Flesh Prison (Photo: Matt Viel)

What recent releases do you think everyone should listen to?

There’s been a ton of amazing releases in the last couple years, both hardcore & hip hop. My favorite records from this year so far;

  • DJ Muggs & Rome Streetz, Death & the Magician
  • Kota the Friend & Statik Selektah, To Kill a Sunrise
  • Westside Gunn, HWH8 (Side A & B)
  • Nas, King’s Disease II
  • Turnstile, GLOW ON
  • Section H8, Welcome to the Nightmare
  • God’s Hate, God’s Hate
  • Goodbye World, At Death’s Door
  • Dead Heat, World at War
  • Ekulu, Unscrew My Head
Benny the Butcher (Photo: Matt Viel)

And if you know me, you know I always have to rep Long Island. Here’s some of my favorite LIHC releases of the last year or so:

  • Somerset Thrower, Paint My Memory
  • Koyo, Drives out East
  • Stand Still, A Practice in Patience
  • The Fight, Endless Noise
  • Rule Them All, Dreams About…
Koyo (Photo: Matt Viel)

Give us your pick for Long Island’s most underrated band, from any era.

My answer to this question will always be Blood Red. Tommy from Silent Majority on vocals and Vinny, Craig, and Tom from Inside on bass, drums and guitar. That band means the world to me. I started going to LI shows after Silent Majority and Inside had both broken up, so Blood Red was the first local band that really grabbed me. Hostage is the most underrated LIHC record ever. I wish that discography would get a vinyl treatment.  

Also, special shout out to The Reformation (pre-Iron Chic/Capital/Thieves & Assassins). I’ll put their 3-song demo up against any other LIHC demo. Incredible songwriting, three vocalists all with awesome styles. RIP Rob McAllister.

Restraining Order (Photo: Matt Viel)


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Tagged: photographer spotlight