A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)
Washington D.C. widely regards government as its primary profession, but more importantly in some circles—the capital of the Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat, and Dischord Records. As one of the most influential characters in modern rock music, MacKaye’s pivotal label Dischord Records held a strong punk rock mission. Based in America’s capital during a violent, tumultuous decade, he says, “The thing in Washington (D.C.) is that it’s a petri dish for great ideas. They may not be sustainable, but you can always grow something here … because nobody’s lookin’.” Salad Days covers this 1980s grassroots punk revolution from Bad Brains to Fugazi, with much of it revolving (rightfully) around Dischord.
Putting together shows for the burgeoning community of teenage outcasts, he was outraged that venues wouldn’t let friends in for being under 18. “I didn’t want to own the scene here, I just wanted there to be a scene,” MacKaye says with conviction. An agreement was made with the 9:30 Club in D.C. to put big, black “X”s on their hands declaring they wouldn’t be drinking and could enjoy the shows. Along with yelling his creed on Minor Threat’s “Straight Edge,” a movement was born of respect and DIY mentalities. Passionate, like-minded teens were uniting for something that was all their own.
Some bands quickly grew frustrated with straight edge defining D.C. punk. John Stabb of Government Issue says, “If it was true that everyone in the D.C. punk scene in the ‘80s didn’t drink, fuck, or smoke, we would not be punk rock … we’d be monk rock.” The scene was splitting between bands that wanted to hold true to these beliefs and “drunk punks.” While this petty split was happening in the scene, Minor Threat’s tensions over straight edge ethos and financial goals came to a head. The band abruptly parted ways after playing a massive show with reggae-infused, go-go gods: Trouble Funk.
Punk in the ‘80s was a whirlwind of creatives and corporations existing on conflicting axes. D.C. goes deeper with a start of emotional hardcore (emo), passionate, political movements, and strides for scene equality. It’s even equated that Nirvana’s punk explosion to the masses roots from a transition with D.C. hardcore. However you chop it up or toss it, the creative individuals from this era were onto something monumental. (Scott Murry)