[Photo by Nick Thieneman]
A Few Of My Favorite Songs By DC Bands
By Ryan Patterson of Coliseum
As I write this, I have just turned 33 years old. At times I feel like I might have been born just six or seven years too late, because the time in music that has touched me most seems to be the the late ’80s, when bands from the first few waves of punk and hardcore started to expand their horizons musically and politically. While not entirely limited to bands from Washington, DC, many of the acts from that area–mostly on the Dischord Records label–are my favorites and have inspired me most, both as a musician and in my ethics and ideals.
I discovered punk and hardcore around 12 or 13 years old and dove in head first. Buying a Minor Threat cassette led me to tracking down everything I could get my hands on that carried the Dischord logo. The same went for other labels like SST, but Dischord seemed to have the highest quality and it was obvious they were documenting a community and a movement. Plus, you could order Dischord releases for cheap and they’d send you a catalog with a hand written note. It felt like I was a part of something. I would come to realize that I was–it was–something bigger than a label or a band or even a town. It was a way of approaching life and music and art and everything else…
Luckily for me, I lived pretty close to a cool town (Louisville, Kentucky) where great bands came to play, a solid record store supplied us with the goods, and some wonderful local people made it all happen. So throughout my teens and twenties I was able to see a lot of bands that became legendary, a lot of them from Washington, DC. There’s always been a Louisville/DC connection; maybe just because everyone down here loved everything everyone up there did, but I think it also went both ways.
Putting this mix together took me a long, long time. It almost turned into a box set–about four hours of songs from a ton of different DC bands. I whittled it down to songs that I really, really love. I left out a lot of obvious bands for obvious reasons (Minor Threat, Embrace, Rites Of Spring, Dag Nasty, Scream, The Nation Of Ulysses–you should own these records) and a lot of less obvious bands simply because this was already getting ridiculous (Burning Airlines, Canyon, Chisel, Crownhate Ruin, The Cupid Car Club, The Faith, Fire Party, French Toast, The Hated, Holy Rollers, Jesuseater, Kingface, Malady, The Pupils, Rain, Reptile House, Routineers, Senator Flux, Sevens, Sweetbelly Freakdown, Three, among others).
I hope you enjoy. If you dig it, drop me a line and we’ll nerd out.
“You can take your Bonham and Moon; give me Zentek.”
Bad Brains, “I” (Bad Brains cassette, RIOR, 1982)
Tied with the last band on this mix as my favorite band of all time. Hardcore wouldn’t exist without the Bad Brains, and their influence has permeated through music far and wide. For all the crazy stories and bad situations surrounding the band, their music cannot be denied. My favorite song from their early period.
Gray Matter, “Retrospect” (Food For Thought EP, R&B Records, 1985)
One of the most straightforward rock/punk bands from DC in the mid-’80s, Gray Matter might have been slightly overshadowed by some of their peers, but have always been high on my list of favorite bands. Not a weak spot through their entire discography.
Government Issue, “Man In A Trap” (You, Giant, 1987)
I’m often a bigger fan of the later work by bands from the first few waves of hardcore, when the music became more melodic and dynamic, and Government Issue is a perfect example. For their last two LPs, they were joined by the incredible rhythm section of J. Robbins on bass (later singer/guitarist of Jawbox and Burning Airlines) and Pete Moffett on drums (also of Burning Airlines) and started to sound something like a DC version of the Damned. “Man In A Trap” is presumably the grownup answer to their earlier song, “Teenager In A Box.”
Monorchid, “A Was For Anarchy” (Who Put Out The Fire, Touch & Go, 1998)
Monorchid singer Chris Thompson has been the frontman for a long list of incredible bands (Circus Lupus, Skull Kontrol, Fury, Las Mordidas, Red Eyed Legends), most of which played an off-kilter, angular style of punk that took a lot of inspiration from the Fall. As with most of the bands on this mix, it was really hard to pick a favorite song, but something about the recording and songwriting on the Monorchid’s second album sticks out to me as a highlight. The first time I saw Monorchid, my friends and I convinced them to re-learn “Red Meat” from their first single onstage and play it for us.
Kerosene 454, “T Minus 100″ (Came By To Kill Me, Slowdime, 1996)
I was lucky enough to see Kerosene numerous times during their lifespan and it was always an intense, enthralling experience. Their drummer Darren Zentek is my favorite drummer of all time. You can take your Bonham and Moon; give me Zentek. This band fired on all cylinders at all times and remains a big inspiration to me. Bassist John Wall ran Slowdime Records with Warmers member Juan Carrera, putting out much of the best music coming from DC through the late ’90s/early ’00s.
Bluetip, “Hot Fast Union” (Hot(-)Fast(+)Union EP, Slowdime, 2000)
Another band that was touring heavily during my time, Bluetip was the followup from Swiz members Dave Stern and Jason Farrell. Farrell is one of my top handful of guitar heroes, and Bluetip put out a solid run of great records before they dissolved and Farrell returned with Retisonic, who are equally great. Of all their songs, “Hot Fast Union” is probably my favorite with its stops and starts, incredible dynamics and massive hooks.
Void, “Condensed Flesh/War Hero” (Condensed Flesh EP, bootleg, 1981)
Something about the recording, performance and energy of Void’s 1981 Inner Ear demos are vastly superior to their more well known recordings on the Faith/Void split LP. It wasn’t until hearing these bootlegged sessions that I became a Void convert.
Ignition, “Revision” (The Orafying Mysticle Of… EP, Dischord, 1989)
Ignition is among the holiest of holy late-’80s DC bands for me. When people talk about “heavy” music these days it seems to be all about loud amps and slow riffs…This is heavy music to me–intensity, not volume. Ignition guitarist Chris Bald lives in Louisville now, but I’ve never met him.
Slant 6, “What Kind Of Monster Are You?” (What Kind of Monster EP, Dischord, 1993)
I never really dug their albums, but Slant 6′s first EP, especially this song, was a slice of pure melodic punk perfection.
Christ On a Crutch, “Off Target” (State Of the Union compilation, Dischord, 1989)
Dischord’s State Of the Union compilation was incredibly important for me–I love every song on it and the booklet that came with the LP opened my mind to the ideas of vegetarianism and personal/political idealism and activism. This song was one of the best on the album and still gives me chills. I was told once that when Christ On A Crutch decided to relocate from DC to Seattle they rented an entire band’s worth of gear from a DC rental company, packed the van, moved to Seattle and never returned it. I have no idea if this is true, but so the legend goes.
Regulator Watts, “’48 Donut Queen” (The Mercury EP, Slowdime, 1996)
Once again, this is music that defines real heaviness and intensity for me. Regulator Watts was Alex Dunham’s post-Hoover outfit. They released one absolutely flawless LP and one CD compiling their singles and odds n’ ends. This is another band that makes it very hard to pick an individual song to feature. They didn’t write a bad one and their records occupy a special place in my heart.
One Last Wish, “Three Unkind Silences” (1986, Dischord, 1986)
I’m going to ruffle some feathers here, but I’m starting to think that One Last Wish is a better band than Rites Of Spring. Containing 3/4 of Rites Of Spring and 1/4 of Embrace, they burned out fast and disappeared in less than a year, but the music seems barely dated after all this time. If not better, they are at the very least equally as good as their previous bands.
Shudder To Think, “Shake Your Halo Down” (Get Your Goat, Dischord, 1992)
Shudder To Think scared me a little when I first heard them. I knew I liked it and it had the seal of approval of my favorite label, but I just didn’t know what to make of it. In some ways I still don’t; they are the rare band that defies explanation. This album came out at a time when I bought every single thing Dischord released, often ordering it as soon as the catalog came in the mail. Shudder To Think never put out a bad record and for many people their major label debut, Pony Express Record, was the “one.”
Red C, “Pressure’s On” (Flex Your Head compilation, Dischord, 1982)
The best song on Flex Your Head? This timeless. It’s been brought to glorious life again through the years via covers by Rocket From the Crypt and Ceremony.
Soul Side, “Name In Mind” (Trigger EP, Dischord, 1988)
Along with Ignition, Soul Side is one of those bands that has always managed to reach directly into my soul (no pun intended). This is music that I truly love and I come back to over and over again through the years.
Rain Like the Sound of Trains, “Under The Eye” (Waiting For the Water EP, Spring, 1995)
Despite the all star cast (Soul Side singer Bobby Sullivan, Verbal Assault guitarist Pete Chramiec, Beefeater bassist Doug Birdzell) this band took a bit of flak from the punk/hardcore world for its funk/rock/punk/reggae mixture, and I’ve taken some flak over the years for my appreciation of the band. Regardless, I’ve always dug it. Every player is incredible and the songs are powerful. I was lucky enough to see them at a matinee with Endpoint in Louisville in 1994.
Hoover, “Two Down” (Two Headed Coin/Lincoln split EP, Art Monk, 1993)
Hoover is the sound of thousands of bands sprouting in the early-and-mid-’90s. After Hoover debuted on Dischord, a band like this popped up in just about every town across America, and much of the UK and Europe. Often these bands were pretty good, but maybe I just have a soft spot for the sound. Hoover was another band I was lucky enough to see and they did not disappoint. This song is from their split with Lincoln, a band who blew my young mind wide open when I saw them play in the early ’90s… But that’s another story for another time.
Swiz, “Taste” (Swiz, Sammich, 1988)
Total Cool, Total Power. Swiz are one of those bands that seem larger than life, almost mythical in my mind. Just completely and wholly badass. ‘Nuff said.
Jawbox, “Static” (Novelty, Dischord, 1992)
For Your Own Special Sweetheart is probably their best record, but the sound and songs of Novelty so clearly define a point of time in my life. It will always be my favorite Jawbox record. My first “show” was seeing Jawbox in Louisville while they were touring behind this record. My parents dropped my friends and I off in the parking lot before the show. It was unbelievable–the band that we loved, on the greatest record label in the world, there in front of us, in an old laser tag building that had been fashioned into an all-ages club. It was one of those moments that set me off to follow the path I’m still on to this day.
The Farewell Bend, “Rumors About Lightning” (In Passing, Slowdime, 1998)
A DC import, Brandon Butler started the Farewell Bend after the dissolution of Boy’s Life and moved to DC soon after. This album seemed to fall through the cracks, but I thought it was great and it still holds up. Farewell Bend didn’t last long and Butler emerged soon after with Canyon, a great dreamy, almost psychedelic folk/country band that I caught live numerous times.
Lungfish, “Cleaner Than Your Surroundings” (Pass and Stow, Dischord, 1994)
I think Lungfish are often mislabeled as a meandering post-rock band, when they often wrote some of the most compelling rock tunes of any band in the indie underground of the ’90s and ’00s. To be fair, there is some meandering and it’s all repetitive and hypnotic, but in the best way possible. I come back to this song a lot when I need to get pumped up or inspired. It’s so fucking tough.
Fugazi, “Epic Problem” (The Argument, Dischord, 2001)
Fugazi were the defining band of my life from age 13 onward and they remain, along with Bad Brains, my favorite band of all time. I saw them at least five times and in hindsight wish I’d traveled farther to see them more. They encompass nearly all of punk’s possibilities, its passion and idealism, its musical intensity and experimentation, its anger and its hope. The Argument isn’t my favorite Fugazi record, but it was their final statement and “Epic Problem” was its highlight. Starting with the drum fill a little before the two and a half minute mark, the song gives me chills and moves into one of the most triumphant moments in the canon of a band who exemplified so much of what we all hoped and dreamed could be accomplished with the music and ideas shared within this greater community of punk. I miss them.