20 Years of Dischord
/dischord; 2002/

rating : I don’t like to give marks to albums but since Barbara “the boss” H compels me to: 8,5



more info:

Dischord Records was created in 1980 to document the music coming out of the Washington, D.C. punk community. The label has put out the work of over 40 bands, and has distributed hundreds of other releases connected to the D.C. area. We will continue our work as long as this community continues to create music that speaks to us. Thanks.”

This is the introduction to the Dischord website and this is a good introduction to this compilation as well. It should have been released two years ago but “the process of choosing the songs, writing the text, and collecting photos and other materials for this project turned out to be far more work than we anticipated” explain Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson in their introductory lines.

This compilation consists of a handsome three cd box set in which the first two cds contain a song by each Dischord band in chronological order; the third cd is composed of unreleased tracks and 6 live video clips; finally there is a 134-page book introducing you to all the bands and to the label (there are a lot of photos and you can notice Ian Mac Kaye and Jeff Nelson’ change through the years as well as the evolution of their desk, which is a bit funny). Dischord has always been a classy label which have ethics (low prices for example) and this compilation represents the state of mind of its dwellers (since I learnt, among other things, that when they started the label, they moved to a house they called ‘Dischord House”).

At first, I was a bit disappointed by the music because I’m a big fan of Dischord but I have to admit that I’m much more into 90’s Dischord bands than into its 80’s precursors. In the first place, Dischord was created for Washington DC’s hardcore scene of the early 80’s and the bands slowly evolved towards what is known as emocore (which nowadays is unfortunately used anyhow); Fugazi being one of the forerunners of the style. As a consequence, the first cd is devoted to the “early” bands and the second one to the 90’s releases but a 90’s Dischord fan already have most of these songs. On the third cd entitled “rare and unreleased”, there are mainly songs from the 80’s bands (only 4 songs from the 90’s). I was a bit disappointed at first but then this compilation gives a trace of this particular scene thanks to the music but also to the photos and the text that show a particular attitude and sometimes witness a particular atmosphere (e.g. the crosses on the hands). Dischord has just been the home of DC bands through the years (except for 2 or 3 groups out of more than 50) and you may notice that a large circle of friends form almost all the bands.

 With retrospect, the problem is that all these bands of the early 80’s all sounded alike but we’ve got to keep in mind that this scene was then something new. It came just after the punk explosion. This scene is interesting because its elements managed to renew their music a lot through the years and always for the best unlike other similar scenes (San Francisco for instance: when you listen to the first Bad Religion albums, they sound as great as Dischord bands but the problem is that they’ve almost always done the same songs throughout their albums and their label, namely Epitaph, has not been the home of highly innovative bands like Dischord – I mean Pennywise, Nofx, Ten Foot Pole for instance are definitely good groups but it’s difficult to compare their aura in terms of influence and especially in terms of renewal to Fugazi’s or The Make-Up’s).

DISC 1: The first Dischord band was The Teen Idles, in which there was Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson who were to form the most influential band of the 80’s with Brian Baker (now in Bad Religion !) and Nathan Strejcek: MINOR THREAT. The live version of Minor Threat’s song “Straight Edge” is really interesting because it represents the attitude of most of the individuals composing DC scene. The song “coined the phrase that is now used to describe a drug and alcohol-free lifestyle” (and nowadays a lot of people claiming to be ‘staight-edge’ are just veggies but are into drugs and alcohol !! Shame !!). The Untouchables (Ian MacKaye’s brother’s band) used to play an original song called “Nic Fit”, which will be quite famous 10 years later when Sonic Youth invited Fugazi’s singer in Dirty to cover the track. A lot of other songs are interesting because they are good and we’ve forgotten the band long ago (Faith’s “Subject of change”, Gray Matter’s “Oscar’s Eyes”), or because there was someone who is now famous in the band (State of Alert in which there was Henry Rollins, early Scream in which Dave Grohl had not taken over the drums yet, Deadline’s “Stolen Youth” in which there was already Fugazi’s drummer, Brendan Canty).

In the mid-80’s happened a first important development in Dischord bands’ music with the arrival of younger bands. One of these groups in which there was Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty was called RITES OF SPRING. Undeniably, considering “drink deep”, this group was a first step towards Fugazi’s music. Other bands are really interesting: Ian MacKaye’s EMBRACE (“money”) which was another step towards Fugazi (especially because of the vocals), DAG NASTY’s punk-rock at their beginning with Brian Baker; SOULSIDE which is rather unknown despite the name of its members who were to form GIRLS VS BOYS – their first album entitled Hot Bodi-gram was released in 1989 and the song on the compilation called ‘punch the geek’ surprisingly does not evoke Girls vs Boys particular style but Fugazi’s songs on their brilliant Red Medicine from 1995. ONE LAST WISH and HAPPY GO LICKY – other bands with Picciotto and Canty – refines the original hardcore which begins to turn into emocore and consequently into Fugazi. FIRE PARTY is an all-girl band which seem to anticipate the grunge-girl bands (Hole, L7, Babes in Toyland, etc.). Shudder To Think offers a lively indie that differs a lot from the other bands (it will be one of the only group to leave Dischord for a major). THREE is halfway between Gang of Four’s particular punk and 90’s emocore/indie style. Their album Dark days Coming released in 1989 is definitely the one (along with Soulside’s) that I’ll try to get in the next few months…

DISC 2: This cd is meant to document Dischord’s releases in the 90’s. Which band would you expect to open this cd: FUGAZI of course. “Blueprint”, one of the best song on Repeater, their second album which was released in march 1990, appropriately represents Fugazi’s first period (which lasts till Steady Diet in my opinion). FUGAZI is the emblematic band on Dischord for several reasons. It is Ian MacKaye’s group but all the members have been involved in many other Dischord bands. It is the most influential group of the label but also one of the most influential underground US bands of the 90’s since they almost invented a style (who immediately comes to mind when referring to the term ‘emocore’ ??). Fugazi has always renewed its music and explored new paths. Fugazi delivers incredibly vigorous, head-bopping gigs full of energy and emotion.

This compilation makes two other influential groups resurface: LUNGFISH and JAWBOX. Lungfish’s indie-emo has the shortcoming to be really repetitive while Jawbox’s releases on Dischord are closer to say Fugazi’s Repeater, Steady diet and even In On the Kill taker. In my opinion emocore bands come from the recipe written by these bands: staccato guitar riffs with a fierce sound, powerful bass lines, a lot of fills in the energetic drums, vocals inbetween singing and speaking sometimes screamo…

HOLY ROLLERS brought to emo three-part vocal harmonies, which was to become a melodic hardcore /skate core cliché. This might be why some emo fans disapprove of this musical device (and end up disliking the second Karate album for instance). CIRCUS LUPUS plays the same kind of music but I’ve never really liked their songs.

SEVERIN (with Alec now in The Capitol City Dusters) and THE HIGH-BACK CHAIRS are definitely way more indie compared to the other bands. Severin’s song includes bagpipes, which sound bizarre in a typically US power-pop song. “Summer” by The High-Back Chairs sounds a bit like Rem, maybe speedier and makes me feel like listening to their 1992 album entitled Curiosity and Relief. AUTOCLAVE, an all-girl band with Mary Timony (Helium), seems to be a good quiet indie group worth to listen to (but that’s the first time I listen to one of their song). When Autoclave split up, 2 of these girls formed SLANT 6, a rrriot girl group a la Babes in Toyland & Bikini Kill.

THE NATION OF ULYSSES, whose drummer was James Canty (brother to Fugazi’s Brendan Canty) who was to become a few years later THE MAKE-UP’s guitarist, is a particular band on Dischord - as will be THE MAKE-UP - because they are the only “rock’n’roll/garage” bands. Both had a deserved fervent fan base but unfortunately did not enjoy a success which a lot of rock bands enjoy at the moment. Those who like The Strokes, the White Stripes and this bunch of newcomers in fashion should get Nation of Ulysses and The MAKE-UP cds because their relentless tours entailed people to create epigones. When you become familiar with Make-Up and their “gospel yeah-yeah” style mixing handcrafted stage uniforms and garage music (“…a marriage of the call & response and exhortation associated with gospel, with the focus on image and attitude that was present in yeh-yeh, a musical style popular in France in the mid-60’s”), you realize that most of these new bands are just shallow followers.

Math rock also developed through Dischord bands with BRANCH MANAGER whose song “Mr.Weekend” really makes me want to discover their self-titled album from 1995. They really sound impressive and their music is not as brutal as Don Caballero; it has a great indie aspect, and in addition it does not seem to be inclined towards demonstrative jazz-rock. They probably paved the way for one of my favourite Dischord bands: SMART WENT CRAZY. The band’s approach to emo was quite different from other Dischord bands. Their math-rock is really melodic and intense, the vocals are full of harmonies, the rhythmic section has an inclination towards jazz but knows to rock as well, some guitar lines are clearly noisy-pop while others are strictly emo. After Smart Went Crazy called it quits, Devin Ocampo and Jeff Boswell formed FARAQUET, which is my favourite Dischord band (besides Fugazi). Their 2000 album The View From This Tower is my favourite math-rock album. It is highly melodic and takes back Smart Went crazy style to go deeper into its rhythmic search and ingenious chord progressions.

Of course, FUGAZI had an influence on 90’s Dischord bands. Let’s mention Hoover (whose song here has a great jazz dimension), Trusty,  The Crownhate Ruin (whose sound is noisier than Fugazi’s, in fact the song here is strangely similar to Unwound’s New Plastic Ideas). Lately, Dischord welcomed new groups: BLUETIP & Q AND NOT U. Bluetip’s “castanet” is the best song from their second album Join us. Q an not U’s melodic and energetic track comes from their debut lp No Kill No Beep Beep released in 2000, which was the last record released before the 20th Dischord anniversary. That’s why it is the last song on this cd. Bluetip split up in 2001 and Q and Not U have just done a new album.

DISC 3: As I’ve already said, this one is not really interesting if you only like 90’s Dischord bands and if you’re not interested by the label’s musical history. Indeed, most of these rare and unreleased tracks are by the early bands. I have already mentioned the presence of MINOR THREAT’s live version of “straight edge” earlier on. Their song “asshole dub” is much less interesting. It reveals the Bad Brains reggae and dub influence, which fortunately did not affect very much Dischord’s music after all. Most of the songs being quite similar to those on the first cd in terms of music and sound, there is a political dimension conveying anger and frustration which is very interesting (Youth Brigade’s “I object”, Void’s “Black, Jewish and poor” and “Authority”), and social commentaries that may remind you of those Refused and International Noise Conspiracy new-situationist (Scream’s “Search for Employment”, Deadline’s “No revolution” in which the singer utters “no-socio economic redistribution” !! That was in 1981 and it is still true…). In fact, almost all the 17 first tracks are early 80’s DC hardcore (the video-clips too).

The first song to register a significant musical change on this cd is Dag Nasty’s “All Ages Show”, which does not represent the evolution of the label since it is just good punk-rock. Then comes “The Word” by Fugazi recorded in 1988, an interesting unreleased song (from their first recording) but it is not particularly better than the songs on their first album. Their other one is a good live version of “Burning” in 1988. Finally, I don’t consider unreleased songs by Shudder to Think, Circus Lupus and Slant 6 particularly interesting.

Even though the third cd is rather disappointing, this 3cd box set is a beautiful item and it greatly documents Washington DC’s scene which started from ‘straight-edge hardcore’ to mainly go towards the invention of emocore in the early 90’s (or at least lavishly contributed to its creation) with Fugazi, Jawbox or Hoover, and still perpetuates this style (Bluetip, Q and not U), and enabled the blossoming of very interesting garage bands (Nation of Ulysses, Make-Up) and math-rock bands (Smart Went Crazy, Faraquet).


/nov 1st 2002/