Punk the Capital shows us the challenges and struggles of the development of a legendary musical movement
Link: Official Site
Like many kids across the country, I felt the shock waves of the DC punk scene. I don’t know which came first for me, Bad Brains or Minor Threat? But then came Rites of Spring, Government Issue, Dag Nasty, and more. Their punk community eventually became a part of my scene. It became a part of everyone’s scene. DC punk and hardcore bands were quickly engraved into the psyche of the punk mentality. Their songs were a handbook for change and for anyone to challenge the system and question the answers.It was a grand experiment that failed, succeeded, failed, and succeeded again. How did a scene this epistemologically important to a genre and historically vital ignite? That is where the new documentary, Punk The Capital comes in.
If you dug into Mark Anderson’s book, Dance of Days, you have a pretty solid foundation of the history of punk and hardcore in the nation’s capital. The documentary Salad Days gave us a look into the early history of the DC punk scene and its bands. But neither really encapsulates the political and social culture that gave rise to this monumental movement like Punk The Capital.
Created by James June Schneider (Co-Director, Editor), Paul Bishow (Co-Director), and Sam Lavine (Associate Producer, Co-Editor), Punk the Capital is DC’s Lipstick Traces. The film paints a picture of how, through resistance, a scene this precedent could form when all of the odds were against them. The charm of this documentary is that you get a strong sense of what DC was like from the mid-1970s and into the 1980s. The archive film footage is raw yet relevant and in its presentation, you feel its anxiety and anticipation in its beautiful chaos.
“The DC scene. . . it wasn’t New York, it was small. . . We had to make it,” said Howard Wuelfing (The Slickee Boys and The Nurses) about its beginnings. What the documentary is quick to dispute is that Bad Brains was not the genesis of punk in DC. Stretching years back, Punk the Capital uncovers its prehistory through excellent interviews and thorough research. The spotlight begins with pioneers like Overkill (not the metal band), The Look, The Razz, and The Slickee Boys.
Not only was the establishment of the DC punk scene a fight against social tensions, it was a fight for originality and individuality, and these groups were trailblazers who carved a path for the scene to erupt.
“If DC seems like a town where punk shouldn’t happen in, then maybe that’s exactly where it should happen,” said Jake Whipp of White Boy. We learn about the DIY ethic through this moment as they released their own album that featured real life elements that people could connect with. It was a reverberation that created more points of reality, more bands, and a creative need to bypass mainstream media and extrapolate a community of musicians, artists, radio personalities and journalists who created an underground they were still trying to comprehend.
Then came Bad Brains to completely reinvent the scene. This piece on one of DC’s best loved punk bands serves more as a transition into a new era of counter culture history as the documentarians continue to paint a picture of DCs turbulence to steady the music scene. This film shows that was not easy. Unlike New York City, Detroit, or Los Angeles, the metropolitan environment was transitory and moved by government employees consistently changing guard.
As the scene grew, the complexity of the timeline expanded into strange post Yippy culture, strange Dadaistic moments, and powerful social progressive movements. Rebellion was the glue that held everything together. There is an amazing glimpse into the Madam’s Organ scene, the blooming of record labels, the history of the 930 club, and the ignition of the hardcore scene, and finally the preservation. The documentary dispands external influence of the city for pure musical history, the balance that attracted me the most. However, the fascination to watch this story unfold is unprecedented. The creators had over seven hours to work with, and they did a smashing job at condensing content into a poetic epic. A must watch!