Just when you thought you’d read it all, heard it all and seen it all in punk rock, something new comes along to ask you to reset that thought, Punk the Capital being a prime example. At first you think you think, “Oh, another documentary on DC punk?” and the next thing you know a whole new visual and educational feast is unfolding before you.
Punk the Capital’s jumping off point is the ‘DC family tree’ in the DC special issue 47 of Flipside fanzine, and it quickly points out that this tree was missing some branches via Boyd Farrell’s (of BLACK MARKET BABY) letter in response in Flipside issue 48. Some misconceptions about the scene’s inception are read out gradually by Boyd and you are taken on a journey back in time to a Washington punk scene often overlooked, beyond the sprawling shadow of Dischord records, that rose to prove itself, and by doing so also took most of the oxygen out of the room from then on in.
The documentary begins with the chapter ’76-78: First DC Punks’ and you are transported via some incredible unseen (to my eyes) footage to the early days of the under-rated SLICKEE BOYS, THE NURSES, THE RAZZ, WHITE BOY and the early gigs at The Keg club. All the usual talking heads are interviewed and many more, including members of TINY DESK UNIT, URBAN VERBS, THE PENETRATORS, THE KORPS and Capitol Crisis zine.
Record stores have often been central hubs of burgeoning scenes and Skip Groff’s Yesterday and Today was no exception, his label Limp producing some key early offerings that became the inspiration for the future Dischord legend. Limp compilations like ‘:30 Over D.C. – Here Comes The New Wave!’ and ‘The Best Of Limp’ in 1978 (and later ‘Connected’ in 1981) served as early documentation of the city’s scene that would become so important for the later Dischord mission.
The two 1979 chapters show a local scene hotting up with the arrival of BAD BRAINS, and their early vocalist Sid McRay explains how he introduced Darryl and the rest of the band to records he’d found by THE RAMONES, DAMNED and SEX PISTOLS, and how it all went from there. Again the footage, including younger versions of some familiar faces in the crowds, and the gigs you’ve never seen before should leave you wondering how and where they unearthed all this stuff.
By the end of 1979 the next generation comes along and gigs move to Madam’s Organ, an art space that the young punks gradually took over from the Hippies and the Yippies (observing their drug taking for further inspiration). BLACK MARKET BABY enter the picture as one of the true under-valued bands of American punk, as well as TRU FAX AND THE INSANIACS, 1/2 JAPANESE and the undocumented ENZYMES, the band members describe a scene of left leaning punks discussing ideas of Socialism and the like before the dust settles on Madam’s Organ and three key bands remain; BAD BRAINS, BLACK MARKET BABY and TEEN IDLES, then talk turns to Inner Ear Studios and the 9:30 Club.
The early hardcore era soon comes into focus with FAITH, YOUTH BRIGADE and S.O.A. with an 18 year old Henry Rollins leaving his 14 year old band mates to join BLACK FLAG, and even Joey Shithead makes an appearance to further describe the hardcore ideology, while BAD BRAINS move to New York, not long after money raised for a club to replace Madam’s Organ evaporates into thin air. Then along comes MINOR THREAT to fill the void left by the departing Fearless Vampire Killers and the Dischord HarDCore legend begins.
The 1982 chapter entitled ‘Putting DC on the Map’ sees the older bands feeling suddenly old and irrelevant as the young ‘Georgetown Punks’ gradually rise to prominence. MINOR THREAT split and reform and the hardcore scene coalesces around them with a newfound unity. Straight edge is discussed, obviously, as well as new bands like VOID who turn up the volume, before the jocks and skinheads turn up and ruin things as usual, leaving the real punks to question, “What’s next?”
RITES OF SPRING appear and then the film just suddenly ends leaving you checking to see if this is an error and wondering if there’s going to be a sequel or whether the film makers Paul Bishow and James Schneider are simply silently implying that the rest has already been more than adequately discussed elsewhere, their mission over, the family tree complete.
The DVD extras herein are just as fascinating as the main event, with chapters exclusively on THE SLICKEE BOYS, VOID, the Stahl brothers of SCREAM meeting childhood heroes THE HANGMEN, and the WGTB benefit gig that featured THE CRAMPS and URBAN VERBS, that ended in both damage and inspiration.
By the end of this DC marathon you come to realise that ‘Punk the Capital’ isn’t some afterthought but the actual documentary on DC Punk that everyone’s been waiting for. Obviously years in the making and offering far more than other efforts, it is a truly insightful and educational document of what actually happened over emotional reflections, and a film that DC punk fans the world over will want to see as soon as possible.