*subject to change*
Intro: ZG / DC
Ta krvava prošlost. Bez kraja i konca.
Winter 1990–91 in Zagreb was super exciting for young people and promising in many ways but full of omens too. Fearful whispers about imminent war spread around the ex-country like viruses. The usual reply or passing thought was, “No, no way it would happen here.” It did. Where were you in ’90? And what to do (about it) in ’20.
Fugazi, Live in Galerija SC, Zagreb, Hrvatska, Jugoslavija, 22.10.1990.
“Good evening, everybody! Damn good to be here, in Zagreb.”
Shut the Door
Fugazi were the first DC (punk rock) band that played in (the Socialist Republic of) Croatia. In the late 1980s, records by Fugazi (and already mentioned Nomeansno) were held in high regard, and they circulated around town between all the punk rock subcultures. As it often goes, love of Fugazi led to interest in Dischord records and label’s artists other than Minor Threat or hard-core bands in general.
Dischord cofounder Jeff Nelson (ex Minor Threat) liked 9353 (almost forgotten band outside DC) so much that he reissued their albums with additional material on CD on his own small label Adult Swim. I got familiar with 9353 later, but they were my first preview of Washington, DC’s dark side, alongside the book of photos “Banned in DC”. I still have it. Dischord House had its share of punk rock weirdos (Beefeater!) for sure, but this book was full of photos of completely unknown bands (hardly heard in the age before the internet) that sported a messy goth/glam image. So here is a blog post dedicated to the unsung side of Washington, DC, from the early and mid-’80s. Kudos for the ever-present logistical support by Don Zientara and Inner Ear Studio, too.
[Nobody ever mentions the new wave “failure” of the Urban Verbs. Generally, the late 1970s stuff was rare and homebound, mostly documented on Skip Groff’s label, Limp Records.]
Banned in DC 1983-85: Dark Corners of Washington D.C.
I moved into the city in September 1984. I went to the payphone across the street and the payphone had “Nazi punks rule! Oi Oi Oi!!!” It made me very happy to be in punk rock Washington. (Mark Andersen, Positive Force activist)
Bad Brains had sailed to NYC in 1981, and they let the kids grow up with their hard-core punk. Moving fast and furiously, by the summer of 1983, most of the first and second wave of Dischord bands had broken up. At the time, Dischord was a very small (shoestring) hardcore punk label that could not even completely cover its inner circle of friends. The Faith played its last show in the summer of ’83, and Minor Threat broke up soon after. From that point until the summer of ’85 (Revolution Summer), it was very quiet and even slightly depressed around Dischord, especially during the gap year (1984). Scream, Marginal Man (ex-Artificial Peace), and Government Issue soldiered on, either staying with the label or moving on to stay afloat. The young men that formed the great Gray Matter slowed down the music’s speed, introduced melody, and shared stages around town with those bands. Tesco Vee, an old friend of the label and a punk-rock senior, moved into the city and formed the Meatmen’s DC lineup, revealing his secret fetishes (hard rock/heavy metal and ABBA) to budding punk crowds.
There were only a few records put out by Dischord in that period: the last recorded material by the Faith and Minor Threat, Scream’s debut LP, and Marginal Man’s 12-inch, followed by Beefeater, Rites of Spring, and another Scream LP in the second half of ’85.
But post-punk and post-hardcore in the wider DC metropolitan area (encompassing very quiet Baltimore, MD; Arlington, VA; Annapolis, MD; and the suburbs in between) existed, even if it didn’t thrive, in that period. It was documented on the Fountain of Youth (FOY) label (akin to Homestead Records in aesthetic) run by Derick Hsu (ex-Exiled), and occasionally by the bands themselves on their tiny samizdat labels.
I never worked my label (Fountain of Youth) like a business. My purpose was to get the record out. I just wanted to do it. I never really thought, “What are we going to do with the record now that is out?” I just figured everything was going to work itself out. And it didn’t. (Derek Hsu)
To start, I’ll pick some interesting tracks from the various-artists compilation Bouncing Babies. Actually, I’ve simply omitted the hardcore punk-related tracks from 1981–82, even though a couple of them are pretty OK.
Black Market Baby – Suzie Dear
Mid-tempo punk-rock dudes, leather jackets and boots, etc. Almost written out of DC history for being in the no-man’s-land between Skip Goff’s label and Dischord. Belated debut album issued by FYO in 1983.
Braille Party – Terrorist
A multi-part hard-core song from a band I know nothing about.
Body Count – Bull in a China Shop
Just to remind you of No Trend’s Fuzzy Dice (More, 1988). And that ska punk was great initially.
Lucky Pierre – Looking Back
More sax (played by Jeff Nelson’s brother Brian, who would later join No Trend under the name Johnny Ontego), from this otherwise unknown band.
Underground Soldier – Sunday Slaughter
Doug Birdzell moved on to play in Beefeater, as a terrorist bassist using a slap technique.
Crippled Pilgrims – Black and White
A Paisley Underground pop-rock band on the East Coast, in DC. (Other janglers of a similar ilk were picked up by Homestead in the same period, circa ’84). Crippled Pilgrims’ music is lovely, reminiscent of the early dB’s. FYO issued their excellent mini-LP, which was followed the next year by an album. The very dense LP added some dissonance to the mix, if not more melodies. These records are out of print (lost masters) but have been saved from complete obscurity by Reaction Recordings’ CD release: Down Here: Collected Recordings 1983 – 1985.
9353 – Ten Witches
An even-better alternate mix of an already-great song.
Reptile House – Talons and Claws
The very best early song by Reptile House that I’ve heard, sound-wise.
Government Issue – Dead Dog
Metal-punk take on slow, heavy-riffing doom.
Glee Club – Disguise
Government Issue guys in disguise play Throbbing Gristle records in the basement. The fun just never ends…
Death Camp 2000 – Unknown
Don Fleming’s (Velvet Monkeys) side band that specialized in making noise. Their only recording.
1/2 JAPANESE (Uniontown, MD)
I am traditional in many ways, so let’s begin with the band of elders. Compared to DC’s 16-year-old hardcore kids, Half Japanese were “punk dinosaurs,” whose involvement in music stretches back to the mid-1970s bedroom activities of the brothers Fair. Strangely, Half Japanese wanted to feel like they were in their early teens most of the time, and they approximated it with unprecedented style. Many of the early recordings were issued in Europe, so Half Japanese might be the best-known name here. But not too popular. One can tag them as no wave, new wave, post-punk, or punk rock, but they are simply all of these at once and beyond categorization. Half Japanese’s 3xLP debut annoys me, although it comes across as charming when I am not feeling too moody. For my own spastic pleasure, I would edit it to a single LP. I have problems with the “songs” they recorded when they regressed to the age of 8 years old or so. Loud is a treble racket that I like just fine. But the series of full-length albums recorded in 1983–85, Our Solar System, Sing No Evil, and Charmed Life (belatedly issued in 1988), are truly fantastic works of art in a world of their own. The Fair brothers daydream about pretty-girl athletes and have nightmares full of monsters and zombies from B movies.
Our Solar System LP 1984
Dance When I Say Dance
Too Much Adrenaline
Fire To Burn
Knocked Down On the Dance Floor
You’re Gonna Miss Me
Sing No Evil LP 1985
Sing No Evil
Rub Every Muscle
Too Bad About Elizabeth
House Of Voodoo
Velvet Monkeys were another band of slightly older guys, led by Don Fleming. The studio material from said period is stylistically closer to a smooth new-wave sound even more than it is to murky DIY post-punk. The Velvet Monkeys in concert rocked pretty hard, though, with a full guitar sound hearkening back to Detroit. Spooky stuff and all, the Velvet Monkeys were also soul mates of Half Japanese, or so it seems when looking back and making assumptions. In the second half of the 1980s, Don Fleming moved to NYC and formed an indie superstar lineup of the Velvet Monkeys along with his main new band, B.A.L.L., which included Mr. Kramer of Shimmy Disc on bass.
Future LP 1983
What Can I Do?
You’re Not There
All The Same
“Colors” SP 1985
Colors Part I
Colors Part II
“Spooky” SP 1985
Trance Band Process
NUCLEAR CRAYONS [1981-85]
Fronted by scary-looking Lara Lynch, Nuclear Crayons were DC’s earliest art punks and total misfits to emerge in the midst of the hardcore crowd. The epitome of local no-wave frustration, Nuclear Crayons’ diffuse songs were just barely held in place by inspired bass lines. (A parallel would be Tim Wright in DNA.) Following the example of Dischord, the band founded its own label, Outside Records, which issued Nuclear Crayons’ material and also managed to pull together an excellent V/A record, “Mixed Nuts Don’t Crack”, which documented hardcore and post-punk outcasts in the fall of ’82. Some of the negative energy accumulated by Nuclear Crayons was transferred into the sinister electronics of Lynch and guitarist Darin Drake’s next project, The Earth Hell Band.
The only Nuclear Crayons show I played sober was at Gay Pride Day and that’s because the beer was on the other side of P Street Beach and I was still on my crutches and I couldn’t make it all the way down there. (Bernie Wandel)
Bad Pieces Seen Delivering The Foretold Conclusion Spin All When After Consummate Pieces Open LP 1984
Anarchy Posers / Take Away the Faith
What’s Wrong With Us?
THE EARTH HELL BAND Witches On Holiday LP 1986
Seen It Too
CHALK CIRCLE [1981-83]
All-girl art-punk band influenced by Rough Trade feminist punk and post-punk. Just like Nuclear Crayons, Chalk Circle tried to make a place for themselves in public among the hectic hardcore bands and zigzagging underage punks. In the final stage of Chalk Circle, just before splitting-up, Sharon Cheslow joined Colin Sears’ band Bloody Mannequin Orchestra, comprised of punks that gathered around WGNS studio / label.
As the DC hardcore scene became more macho and less about a tight-knit group of friends, we found greater support with an older group of people. We always thought of punk as having no rules, but when hardcore became more popular there developed a code to which Chalk Circle didn’t adhere. Nonetheless, Anne and I loved hardcore and went to all the shows. We went to all the Minor Threat, S.O.A., GI, and Youth Brigade shows and loved to dance. (Sharon Cheslow)
Their attempts (demos, Inner Ear sessions, live tracks) were recently collected on “Reflection” LP (2011) on Mississippi Records / Post Present Medium (USA). Support this one-off release!
NO TREND [1982-88] (Ashton, MD)
Post-hardcore, post-punk, antagonistic band battling against everything, while also giving heartfelt tips for teens. Their sound-as-weapon was initially built on PiL and Flipper templates by guitarist Frank Price, and often directed at annoying hardcore brats by the wicked leader of the No Trend Troupe, Jeff Mentges, aka cowboy Cliff Ontego. Voluptuous sex vampire Lydia Lunch moved in their circles, too. Through various core and expanded lineups, No Trend changed a lot during their five years of existence. But the fiery energy and bile stayed with them until the end, no matter how unhinged or “pop” they became. It’s a mystery why No Trend never ended up on Alternative Tentacles. If it weren’t for the “Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex” album, issued on Touch & Go in 1987, they would probably be even less known than they are today. Watch out for the Drag City delight: “Too Many Humans/Teen Love”, a box set anthology of recorded material from 1983–84. Highly recommended! Fingers crossed for No Trend Box Part II: 1985–86.
Take a look inside and decide: Too Many Humans/Teen Love Box Set
No Trend EP 1983
Mass Sterilization Caused by Venereal Disease
Too Many Humans LP 1983
Fashion Tips For the ’80s
Too Many Humans
A Dozen Dead Roses LP 1985
All Of Nothing
Tear You Apart
One Last Dream
Two Seconds Till Non Existence
MISSION FOR CHRIST
Post-hardcore band that existed on the margins of the margins. Their sole single, on No Trend’s tiny vanity label, shows a UK post-punk influence, but the other tracks not chosen for the record reveal hardcore roots. Mission For Christ were friends with No Trend, so I assume they were pals within a sea of adversaries. Spread the Gospel, love thy enemy!
Pennies From Hell SP 1984
Pennies From Hell
The rest of the ’83 Session:
He and She
Smash the Rich
Stay the Course
You can easily find the cool CD collection “The Complete Sessions” (2012) for very little money, on hardworking Ektro Records from socialist Finland. Fuck vinyl; CDs are reliable and cheap products!!
Basement hardcore band with bizarre psychedelic touches and growling echoes of future death metal. If the players hadn’t heard the Meat Puppets or Rudimentary Peni during United Mutation’s gestating phase, they must have been intrinsically deranged. Or they were just dropping a lot of acid in the practice space. Unlike other DC hardcore groups, United Mutation rarely played live. However, they managed to self-release two essential and singular seven-inch EPs. The first one, Fugitive Family, from ’83, was issued as a split release with Dischord.
Fugitive Family EP 1983
Fugitive Family / Plain Truth
I Know a Place
Lice And Flies…
Rainbow Person EP 1985
Take Your Pick
Another group of drugged-up malcontents in a psychedelic, Day-Glo world of their own. They loved punk rock, the post-punk music coming from the UK, and the glam rock of their childhoods. They hated the macho side of hardcore, with all its adolescent-testosterone vapors in the air, as much as the ominous atmosphere of the Government-Army-Media triumvirate that was seated in and around Washington, DC. In Bruce Merkle Hellington’s words, The Stranglers & Punishment of Luxury were some sort of guiding sound to turn to as the starting points for 9353’s art adventure. They were also in awe of Killing Joke. These young freaks produced two smooth (but haunted!) records. And, judging from the extended CD versions of those albums, 9353 were almost as prolific as the Smiths or Hüsker Dü during a brief, two-year period. Every single song is worthy of your short attention span. I dare you! Great stuff, highly recommended!
What 9353 was? It was me and two clowns, Vance and Jason, and a drum box. We played 6 shows that way until Dan Joseph joined the band. I ended up doing all the flyers, all the managing. By the time Dan joined the band I was already burnt. Dan joined at the end of May ’83. (Bruce Merkle)
To Whom It May Consume LP 1984
With All Respect
Famous Last Words
We Are Absolutely Sure There Is No God LP 1985
Who Does What & Why
GRAND MAL (Würm Baby) [1983-85]
The simple sex beat and moderately dark overtones of Grand Mal’s plodding garage rock had real potential. But by the time of their only recording, the post-punk influence had partly faded away. Unfortunately, they didn’t become rhythmically more diverse. The goth side of the band, Linda LeSabre (drums) and Don Diego (bass), would move to LA and continue in style with Death Ride 69, while singer Joe Aronstamn and guitarist Marc Lambiotte would surface in the Holy Rollers , who joined Dischord in the late 1980s. Malcolm Riviera (from the Velvet Monkeys) also played guitar.
We went to Washington Cathedral with t-shirts that said “Jesus lied” on the back. We got into philosophical arguments discounting the existence of God. It was totally packed. (Joey Aronstamn)
Binge Purge mini LP 1985
Fear To Feel
Live at Wilson Center, Washington DC 01/28/1984
Ice Age (Joy Division)
Grand Mal Bandcamp.
TROUBLED GARDENS [1984-1985]
Short lived and (mostly) instrumental post-punk trio led by multi-talented Dan Joseph (guitar, synthesizer and drum machine programming) who played drums in 9353 and Crippled Pilgrims at the same time. Troubled Gardens left behind “Troubled Gardens Cassette” (collection of 4-track bedroom recordings) & slick sounding mini LP “Eden Revisited”, which can recall late period 9353, On-U Sound and 4AD (Dif Juz). Dan Joseph is a free-lance composer, curator and writer based in New York City nowadays.
Troubled Gardens Bandcamp.
Madhouse was Monica Richards’s midperiod phase in a long line of artistic realizations with gothic inclinations. She traveled from her hardcore punk roots in Hate From Ignorance to the death rock of Madhouse to Strange Boutique’s art-rock sophistication and farther away still… Madhouse could be seen as an energetic American youth’s crude, raw take on Siouxsie and the Banshees’ post-punk done, so it comes out closer to death rock than to the British pop stylings that the band might have idolized. However, Monica’s channeling of Siouxsie is quite spooky. Strange Boutique was a continuation and refinement of Madhouse, with the late Fred “Freak” Smith (ex-Beefeater) as the guitarist par excellence.
We played Wilson Center and I really made a mistake ‘cause it was new generation of skinheads. We were playing and they were throwing lit cigarettes at me and saying things like, “Take off your shirt”. I’d written an anti-rape song and I said “This next song is about rape, which I’ve been through”. These stupid boys, who just discovered their penises, all said “Fuck you!” Man, I was so angry. That made me never want to play or go to a hardcore show again. (Monica Richards)
Madhouse mini LP 1985
REPTILE HOUSE (Baltimore, MD)
Art-punk band from Baltimore, a somehow nonexistent city that, in terms of punk microcosms, was always stuck in the shadow of Washington, DC. (Am I wrong?) Their debut seven-inch EP was released as a split between Dischord and the Druid Hill label. As captured on tape, the bass lines were still heavy post-punk, as was some of the guitar playing. But an upbeat vibe from the power-soul vocals of Daniel Higgs (then known as Daniel V. Strasser) and the swift drumming of London May (who would join Glenn Danzig in Samhain the following year) led them away from the shade of those gothic mansions in Baltimore’s historic quarter. This EP is an intro to DC’s Revolution Summer ’85. Years later, the mighty Lungfish and its modern, psychedelic rock slithered and crawled out of Reptile House’s remains, in a surreal feat of cosmic zoology.
Keel Haul Love
In their earliest phase, Pussy Galore were antagonistic garage-rock wannabes who brought sex back into teenage R’n’R (as resurrected by the Cramps, amongst others), while melding it with Euro metal-bashing. Not-so-distant echoes of the car crash in No Trend’s “Teen Love” are present in the grooves. Hello, Junkyard America! The white noise of Pussy Galore’s first seven-inch EP is a more-than-appropriate intro to their very primitive rock, with Jon Spencer’s European influences still audible (EN, MES & Brix, Nick Cave). Soon after, Pussy Galore left DC for NYC. Over the years, they became better and then worse, or just jaded. (Their slightly disappointing and bluesy swan song, Historia de la Musica Rock, even waved goodbye with a tune referencing “Revolution Summer.”) By the next decade, PG had finally split into three very cool fractions: Boss Hog, Royal Trux & The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
The Obsessed were legitimate metal torchbearers in the metropolitan DC area, giving off similar vibes to the premium local doom band Pentagram. Mastermind and legendary guitarist-vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich crossed paths with DC hardcore punks and, although he is first and foremost a metalhead, he loved to attend shows by bands such as Bad Brains and Void. At some point, even Vance Bockis (soon to be 9353’s glamorous bassist) sang for the Obsessed. In 1983, the Obsessed put out a crippled but nevertheless beautiful debut s/t EP on their own. It sounds weak (especially the rhythm tracks), but that murkiness gives it an extra gothic aura. A demo tape from ’84 and sessions for a long-playing album, planned for 1985, fared better. However, the boss of Metal Blade Records proclaimed the Obsessed to be obsolete and hardly marketable (compared to Slayer and the thrash metal brigades), and so the label declined to issue Purple Tape ’85. Disillusioned, Wino broke up the band and accepted a call from Saint Vitus, with whom he spent the second half of the decade as a born-too-late rocker. When he reactivated the Obsessed in 1990, his home state was full of heavy new bands. Maryland’s branch of Doom America bore fruit: Internal Void, Iron Man, Unorthodox, Wretched, etc.
We heard about a recording studio that was ridiculously cheap from our friends in Pentagram. Catch A Buzz Studio. We made an appointment for two days: one day to set up and get levels, the next day to record. The second day the engineer was gone and there was a note that said, “Got tickets to the Superbowl but my brother is gonna engineer”. Well, his brother didn’t know shit but we recorded anyways. I was told somewhere that the snare sound is like an empty pizza box, but we believed. We had a radical printer who was the Marines’ printer so he laid out a beautiful wraparound cover and we had our own label: Invictus (Victory). We believed. One day my new boss said, “Hey, they reviewed your record in the new Kerrang”. I was excited and jammed down to get it. It was reviewed by someone who is now my friend but it was a review that left me sad and disheartened…still I believed an carried on to fulfill my dreams. (Scott “Wino” Weinrich)
The Obsessed EP 7” 1983
Iron & Stone
Concrete Cancer (Promo Demo Tape) 1984
The Obsessed s/t LP aka Purple Tape (recorded in ’85, released in ’90 by Hellhound)
Live at the Bayou ’85
Ground Out / Feelingz
Iron and Stone
Indestroy / Kill Ugly Naked
Unrest EP 7” 1985
So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star
Scott & Zelda
Well, this post maybe isn’t ideal for month of June (in Northern Hemisphere) but come back after the summer, in October!
EDIT: The earliest recorded material (debut EP and cassettes from ’85) by important local anglophile band Unrest, led by Mark Robinson of Teenbeat records, wasn’t included initially because I don’t have it in my digital archives. But I decided to add Unrest anyway. I am finally being proactive! Looking fwd into the near future. I couldn’t leave out Troubled Gardens as well so they are in now. Infantile fun just never ends…