Hello all, Jesse here, music library bloggist. If you remember, I reviewed one of Media Services’ many music-related DVDs, 20 Feet From Stardom, last semester. Starting with this post, I will be reviewing about three Media Services DVDs a month. The idea is first to cover all of our D.C. music-related DVDs and then branch out into the larger variety of music DVDs that Media Services offers. Welcome to the Epic DVD Review.
Anyways, when many hear the phrase “D.C. music scene,” a prominent thought is the D.C. hardcore punk scene of the 1980s. Led by bands such as Bad Brains, Void and the Faith, D.C.’s punk scene epitomized the intensity and wild spirit of the American punk subculture. Because D.C. bars allow all ages (minors just get ye olde X on the hands), punk bands could hold shows in legitimate establishments and this helped the scene thrive.
Of course, the scene was taken to a new level when Ian Mackaye and his crew showed up. Out of the ashes of Teen Idles, Mackaye and drummer Jeff Nelson recruited guitarist Lyle Preslar and bassist Brian Baker to form Minor Threat, a band that would become the champions of the D.C. scene, building it along with their own fanbase. They were Mackaye’s first platform to introduce his punk ideals to the masses, including the importance of an independent music scene and the idea of the straight-edge lifestyle (abstaining from alcohol and drugs). Their insanely fast and angry sound, coupled with Mackaye’s wild stage presence and shouted vocals, were a major influence to just about every hardcore punk band that followed them.
Minor Threat only lasted four years but the impact they had on their scene and genre was enormous. Luckily, some prescient camera people were able to capture some great moments of their hometown performances, and three such performances are collected on our Minor Threat DVD.
The first, a short set in a second floor gallery above a D.C. jazz club, is nearly mythical: in extremely grainy black and white footage, the strikingly young band (including a not-yet-bald Mackaye, gripping a soda can) plays to a small group of spirited fans whose moshing bodies often jostle the camera or block its view of the band, giving you a feeling of participation.
The second set, two years later at Buff Hall, is filmed in better quality (still not quite prime but at least it’s in color!) and shows the effect of the band on a larger crowd. After a surprise funky intro, the band explodes into full rage, and fans who were sitting onstage begin jumping into each other and off the stage with wild abandon. Mackaye, head swollen from a car accident earlier that day (what a champ) sings into the faces of the crowd, and a second microphone is set up stageside for a group of fans to sing along in.
The final set captures Minor Threat at the height of their powers, performing a set at the 9:30 club in 1983. Mackaye begins the set with a goofy monologue while the rest of the band set up, giving the sensation of a room full of friends. Throughout the set the crowd’s energy is explosive, something I’ve never seen at the 9:30 club. The audio/video quality of this set, meant for a documentary that never was finished, is the best- Jeff Nelson’s brutal drumming benefits most. At the end, an exhausted MacKaye leaves the audience with a heartwarming comment: “Nobody sings like DC.”
Finally, the DVD includes a quick interview with Ian MacKaye after the show. Awkwardly divided into question-only and answer-only sections by the makers of the DVD, it is nonetheless worth the watch. Sitting in front of a piano, the frontman fields questions from an interviewer who seems to be very ignorant of the scene. However, his responses are very enlightening, revealing his strong views on the punk scene, scenes in general, straight edge, stagediving and moshing, and organized religion. When the interviewer compares punk to another youth movement, the hippies, he acknowledges the similarities but implies that while the hippie movement faded away, punk will be longer lasting.
I’d recommend this DVD to any Minor Threat fan, any fan of hardcore or punk and anybody interested in musical subcultures in general. If you’re not a punk fan, the performances may get a bit repetitive, but the interview with MacKaye holds significance far beyond the genre of punk. Even if you don’t like punk, it’s still worth it to see the dynamic devotion of the band’s fans, and to witness the beginnings of an essential DC scene. Check it out (again, DVD 4394), and if you like it, come listen to their complete discography at the Music Library!