Washington DC is a weird, weird place. For one thing, it’s built on a swamp. The summers are unbearably humid and the winters uninhabitable. It has a park that runs right through it - and parts you just don’t go to. Drive for half an hour and you’re suddenly in the south. It has bluegrass, go-go, Sousa, Duke Ellington, Root Boy Slim and the Starland Vocal Band. And then it had punk.
The unfathomable, concentrated eruption that was early 80’s DC punk and hardcore is documented in 'Punk The Capital', a film 10 years in the making, and featuring practically every DC music luminary. You can see the amazing trailer and possibly throw the film a few quid to get it finished, right HERE.
In the meantime, here are my favourite bits of recorded DC punk action. The film covers the early years from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s ...whereas I go all over the shop.
MINOR THREAT – 12XU (AND OTHERS)
Here you go, this is the perfect distillation of DC. Just utter fucking chaos that makes absolutely no sense, has a certain level of danger attached to it and is still endlessly entertaining. This is from 82 or 83, towards the end of Minor Threat anyway. You can understand why Ian MacKaye wanted out of all that. A lot of writhing. Almost too much writhing.
BAD BRAINS – ATTITUDE
Holy crap, if this doesn’t make you shit your pants with joy then you are obviously dead inside. A band with a Fall like level of member revolving turbulence, they still completely kick ass to this day. HR throws some moves in this video that are half Gene Kelly, half Steve Martin and completely staggering. And is that a carnation in his lapel? Now that’s punk.
RITES OF SPRING – END ON END
Stick with it, as this clip goes to some pretty delirious places. I can’t think of too many bands that would basically destroy their equipment and then return to the stage and attempt to continue playing the same song on the now broken equipment. But then there weren’t too many bands like Rites of Spring.
BRATMOBILE – KISS & RIDE
Jesus Christ. I wish there was much, much more Bratmobile footage out there. Where were all you dorks with your chunky 1990’s video cameras when all this was going down? I was almost certainly at this show, but have no memory of it at all. I might have been in the alleyway beside Olympia’s Capitol Theatre drinking Big Bear. You could often find me there. I was a tool.
NATION OF ULYSSES – INTRODUCTION
Few lead singers would have the audacity to go-go dance to their own introduction (by Mike Fellows, I think) but there ain’t too many Ian Svenonius’s out there. And he’s still fighting the fight. Ulysses, Make Up, Cupid Car Club, Weird War, Scene Creamers, Chain and the Gang (and others). That is a legacy. Really I could have picked a moment from any of those bands and it would have been remarkable.
SLANT 6 – WHAT KIND OF MONSTER ARE YOU?
One of my favourite ever Dischord albums was the first Slant 6 release. Everything Christina Billotte did was pretty great: Autoclave, Quixotic, Casual Dots. I wish she would do much more.
TRANS AM – I WANT IT ALL
Just one of the weirdest bands to come out of anywhere. I don’t think I ever really understood a single thing they did, but it didn’t really matter. I mean, are they actually playing at The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame here? And did Seb ask the crowd if they’re horny? I can remember they caused total consternation when they arrived in DC during the early 90’s. And I guess they still do.
THE MONORCHID – DESTROY THIS CONVERTER
In the most loveable way possible, truly one of the most obnoxious bands to ever come out of DC (take a look at this interview to see what I mean). On the day I moved to DC in 1994, my most abiding memory is Andy Cone casually firing bottle rockets from the roof of Pirate House towards the traffic below.
VOID – WHO ARE YOU
DC punk has always been about imperfection, as epitomised here with Void, who looked gloriously dorky and still provoked an insane level of devotion and violence. Green shorts, unplugged guitars, leaping as high as possible and bales of sweaty individuals. A lot of disparate, ludicrous elements that add up to the whole of something.
FUGAZI - SUGGESTION
Included because I couldn’t find any Brief Weeds. Why no Brief Weeds? I loved Brief Weeds, proof if any were needed that as serious as Fugazi appeared, they were goofy motherfuckers too. Also included as I’ve never seen this astounding clip before and it features a gaggle of DC acolytes hovering around the stage including a glowering Ian Svenonius and Amy Pickering on vocals.
Ian MacKaye, HR from Bad Brains, Jad Fair, Henry Rollins, Brian Baker and practically every DC punk legend can be seen in 'Punk the Capital', a film by James Schneider and Paul Bishow.