Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

DC hardcore is a story that never ends. These recent reissues prove it.

DC hardcore is a story that never ends.  These recent reissues prove it.

In most punk scenes on this noisy planet, the line between romantic obscurity and total oblivion is dangerously thin, with countless bands perpetually slipping through the cracks, fading from our collective memory, quietly and permanently. But Washington, DC, has always been different. Ours is a hardcore punk scene of deeply dedicated and highly disciplined self-documentaries working in the long shadow of Bad Brains and Minor Threat: zine makers, documentary film folk, punk librarians and of course record labels. More often than not, cracks are opened and music is lifted from the void.

Over the past year, we’ve seen a growing pile of freshly recovered records to prove it—many of them coming out of LG Records, a new record label run by Andy Coronado, formerly of DC punk greats Monorchid and Skull Kontrol . Along with recent releases from Skam (a forgotten teen band from the early 80s) and Pitchman (a forgotten teen band from the early 90s), these reissued records help expand the DC punk story, providing new tracks to a puzzle that apparently has no edges.

Spreading the puzzle takes work though. Aside from the aforementioned Skam and Pitchman recordings, all of the recordings discussed below—listed chronologically by when they were made—were released on LG and are available exclusively on vinyl. Sorry, no streams. As always, punk requires commitment from all parties involved.

Based on the strained punk missives they recorded between 1982 and 1983, these Northern Virginia teenagers knew who their enemies were: the cops, the IRS, Jim Bakker and Ronald Reagan. Who were their friends? Skam has played shows with Scream, Nuclear Crayons and United Mutation, but in the few years they’ve been together, only the band’s show at the 9:30 Club has been cancelled, making it something of a footnote to a footnote. (Bassist Jack Anderson switched to an exponentially gnarlier style of pronunciation on No Trend, while singer-guitarist Vince Forcier eventually played on Racer X, then Second Wind.) Now, four decades later, ‘No Name’ brings together some raucous live Skam tracks and tight studio recordings, including a raging cover of The Stooges’ ‘Search and Destroy’ that feels less like a rabid statement of punkness and more like an exercise in youthful introspection . “I’m a cheetah walking down the street with a heart full of napalm” never sounded more like “Is that really who I am?” More than a band trying to find their place in the scene, Skam sounded like kids trying to find their place in this world.

Shudder to Think, “1987”

Let’s try to hear Shudder to Think as a long-term reconciliation of opposites – a band forever rearranging the uncomplicated urgency of hardcore punk to better match the rococo wowee of its singer, Craig Wedren. Yes, Wedren loved Rites of Spring and the Misfits, but he says he initially took his biggest vocal cues from rock’s most beloved screamers (Steve Perry, Ozzy Osbourne). How did it work? Well, it was all working like crazy in 1994 when Shudder to Think released “Pony Express Record,” his major label debut and the pinnacle of this impossible balancing act. But cast your mind back to the group’s earliest recordings from 1987, collected here, and you’ll hear Wedren singing at his spicy core with such reflexive certainty that it almost feels jarring. It’s not that his voice was inimitable. It is rather who would dare? Fortunately, his original bandmates – drummer Mike Russell, guitarist Chris Matthews, bassist Stuart Hill – never quit, and once things tightened up in this album’s closing moments during ‘Take the Child’, we caught up with holiest of sounds, a self-taught band.

Wicked Cherubs, “Lysergic Complaints”

In punk, outsiders can become insiders through wild displays of charisma and force, and the Wicked Cherubs seem to have had plenty of both. “It’s hard to explain how different it was back then,” writes former Cherub Seth Lorinczi in the liner notes to Lysergic Lamentations, an album that joins the band’s first two demos from 1987 and 1988. “Downtown Washington, DC was torn apart . . After the torrential rain storms that burst like water balloons above your head, you could literally smell the decay rising from the abandoned buildings. The city was falling apart in real time, but it was also our playground: Chinese takeout; wig shops; public telephones; liquor stores that sold to anyone. And dc space” – the experimental downtown venue that admirably opened its doors to this teen quartet’s style of garage rock, a hardcore-proof sound that leaned less “Flex Your Head,” more “Nuggets.” But these strange and mean songs were key to the cherubs in the scene and later in the city’s hardcore lineage. Guitarist Tim Green would eventually join Ulysses’ wild nation. Lorinczi would join Circus Lupus. But here, these cherubs were still foreign children who seemed to approach their music, their city, and their youth as the same thing: an unknown playground, eaten away by time.

To my ears, this is a truth: Chris Thomson is one of the greatest punk singers to ever inspire society. Have you ever heard it? In this band, Fury? Or in Circus Lupus? Or in Las Mordidas? Monorchids? Skull Control? Legends with red eyes? Coffin stings? Listen to each of these bands immediately, I say, then keep listening to them until you die. That voice, especially. You might hear Steve Ignorant’s outrage and Mark E. Smith’s disdain hand-held on a nightmarish mission through Darby Crash’s sinuses, but I still hear Thomson scoffing with an existential malaise all his own. Imagine stepping through 1989 AD, first meeting Thomson as the bassist of post-hardcore band Ignition, then discovering he’s fronting a new band with the crazed members of Swiz. Imagine him raising the microphone to his teeth for the first time. Imagine him yelling, “I’m not afraid of you,” and believing in him on a cellular level. What a debut. This legendary EP – one of DC’s best hardcore 7″ singles ever, now reissued on 12″ – might be full of harrowing songs about betrayal and shotgun blasts, but Thomson essentially pulls a fire. Something starts here.

Circus Lupus, “Circus Lupus”

With Fury lasting just a few months, a few songs and two shows, Thomson jumped to college in Wisconsin, where he joined this early version of Circus Lupus, then quickly got everyone home to record these nine tracks at Inner Ear Studio in the summer. since 1990. New band, new sound. Bristly. Caustic. Not fast, but busy. Not funky, but bulky in a way that delighted. All over but totally tight. Drummer Arika Casebolt brought the unbridled noise. Reg Shrader – later replaced by Lorinczi – moved his fingers around the bass in some almost breathtaking grooves. Chris Hamley liked to make his guitar speak in spikes and scribbles, and then Thomson would bark back. “Ink for my poison pen!” “Wear your mask and frown!” Is that what he was saying? The poem continued to explode in his mouth until it all sounded like threats. Somehow, it just made you want to get closer.

Pitchman, “My Angel Age”

The Lupus Circus has been around for about four years, gaining fans up and down. Up there was Joan Jett, who produced the band’s single “Pop Man” in 1992. Here was the Pitchman, a group of local teenagers who wanted to destroy the world, or at least their high school. “My world ends with strawberry shampoo!” screams then-16-year-old singer Drée Thibert on “Dead Girls,” one of the fiercest songs Pitchman recorded in 1993, triangulating the lumpiness of Circus Lupus, the fury of Huggy Bear, and the hopefulness of Nation of Ulysses . As these songs demonstrate—there are a dozen of them streaming on Bandcamp, titled “My Angel Age,” four of which were compiled on an eponymous 7-inch EP by guitarist Mat Keel—Pitchman’s preternatural cool frequently morphed into anger. , burning bright, burning fast, then, after less than a year together, burning out, their momentum carrying them into new bands. Drummer Aaron Brenner would quickly join the Meta-Matics, one of the most inventive bands in DC punk history. Bassist Gabe Andruzzi eventually became a member of the Swiss Army Knife – sax, percussion, keyboards, etc. – of the major label of the acclaimed dance-punk band Rapture.

Las Mordidas, “Ex-Voto”

If we assign superlatives to all the bands that Thomson led, let’s agree that Monorchid was the toughest. Skull Kontrol was probably the coolest. Rightfully so, Fury was the most clearly angry. And Las Mordidas was definitely the weirdest. The band’s rhythm section was transplanted from neighboring punk-funk band Fidelity Jones, with drummer Jerry Busher and bassist Dug E. Bird stuck confidently into their own pocket lingo. The band’s guitarist was the melodically minded Jon Kirschten, formerly of Rain and the younger brother of Faith bassist and stage hero Chris “Bald” Kirschten. This left Thomson holding the mic on a walk, following the superball grooves as they bounced down the fairways, then chasing the chords of Kirschten’s hymns on the mountainsides. In any other band, Thomson’s voice sits in the dead center, like a bruise that keeps asking to be pricked. Here, he floats in a kind of limbo and, for once, it doesn’t hurt.

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