Cool DC Events: NPR’s Screening a Punk Doc

The impact of Dischord Records and its surrounding miniverse of hardcore and post-hardcore punk is enormous, and its influence is still felt today in D.C. and everywhere. For alternative music fans living in our nation’s capital, it is nearly a ritual to glorify D.C.’s past as a hotbed for a thriving, groundbreaking punk scene.

The latest artifact of this culture has surfaced in an in-depth documentary on the old scene, entitled “Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90).” Created by Scott Crawford, a zine publisher-turned-documentarian, the 90 minute film combines unique vintage concert footage with current-day interviews.

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In a great tip of the hat to the scene of old, NPR Music will be hosting a screening of this documentary in its DC office. According to their blog, Scott Crawford will appear after the screening on a panel along with Jim Saah, the film’s director of photography, as well as veteran DC punk Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Bad Religion) and moderated by Ally Schweitzer of WAMU.

The event is on Tuesday, May 5 at 7pm. Unfortunately, it’s already been fully sold out, but hopefully you know someone who can get you in! Otherwise, don’t fret. The Library has your back. Come by and ask about our great (and still building) collection of DC punk classic CDs and DVDs! You can celebrate the rich punk legacy of our city here with us.

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The Inspiring Composer Behind the “House of Cards” Theme

We’ve covered a few NPR All Things Considered music interviews in the past: eco-experimental classical composer John Luther Adams and indie rock producer du jour John Congleton (coincidentally both named John). Last week ATC featured another crucial musician, one Jeff Beal, composer of the eerie-yet-sophisticated House of Cards theme.

Beal, who has also composed music for shows such as Monk, The Newsroom, and Carnivale, as well as the heartbreaking SeaWorld documentary Blackfish, describes the “musical joke” of the main theme. The bass line plays an ostinato in A minor for the duration of the theme, but the melody often slips into A Major, causing fleeting dissonances that set the tone well for the sinister TV series.

One cool fact about Beal is that he has taken the writing, arranging, and even recording process entirely into his own hands. He has no assistance with the writing and arranging of his scores, and records a 17-piece string ensemble in his living room. He also plays the trumpet, piano and guitar parts, and his talented musical family helps out as well: his wife Joan has recorded vocals for the score and their son Henry contributed the main bass line, recording from his dorm room.

Composer Jeff Beal (center) conducts string musicians in his California home.

Another awesome revelation is that Beal has managed to take such a hands-on role, despite his diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. While this crippling nervous disease began to show symptoms eight years ago, Beal’s combination of “alternative treatments” and strongly focused brain activity (via his feverish composing and recording) have managed to reverse brain atrophy and keep the disease at bay.

Jeff Beal is truly inspiring, as well as one of the coolest composers in the game (David Fincher hired him for House of Cards before even shooting it), and you should all check out this feature.

Cool DC Events: DC Music Download’s 3rd birthday @ 9:30 Club

Welcome to February! A cold and dark month, February nonetheless manages to be a good month for birthdays. I bet you have a few friends with February birthdays. And then there’s all those presidents. Heck, even my birthday is in February! (No bias, I swear).

Another important birthday comes in February as well, that of DC Music Download, a music website that has become a large part of the D.C. scene, covering and supporting local bands in reviews and with events. This year, they’re celebrating their third birthday (an eternity in internet time), at none other than that classic D.C. venue, the 9:30 Club!

DC Music Download's Three Year Anniversary Show

This Saturday night (2/7/2015) at 7pm, the party begins with DJ Ayescold, known for the wide-ranging musical reference of her sets. After her comes Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists, a loudly emotional band of “lounge punks.” Next is a crew of punk veterans’ new project Loud Boyz, and closing the show are crucial local mainstays, the psych-rock band Paperhaus. These guys, who also own a house show of the same name, have supported the scene around them for years, and at this event the scene is paying them back with a record release show at the 9:30 club. Sure to be a moving event. There will also be a D.C. music photography exhibit present, anchoring the 3 year-old website as a part of its city’s legacy.

Anyways, it’s this Saturday, and tickets are $16. An extra cool twist is that $1 of each ticket purchase will go to supporting the D.C. Public Library’s Punk Archive! Which, you should know, we’re big fans of here. So do something cool with your Saturday night! Attend a “happening” event, see some cool music, and support the indie scene in D.C. at this great birthday party.

DC Music News: Punk at the Public Library!

Hello readers! First of all, welcome back to another semester of posts from me, your music library blogger. Woop woop. And now, our featured story:

So if you pay any attention to our blog (which you should be doing, duh), you’ll know that we’re pretty interested in D.C.’s punk heritage/scene. We are fortunate to exist in a city so central to the development of the punk genre and movement, and we get excited about the various punk-related happenings that continue to make D.C. so musically interesting. Also if you pay attention to us, you’ll know that we are, indeed, a library. So we’re pretty excited to share today’s piece of news with you!

Which is: the D.C. Public Library has established a “Punk Archive,” a comprehensive collection of media and artifacts related to the original D.C. hardcore scene of the 1980s. Last year, the Library began crowdsourcing both central texts (CDs, LPs, original footage and photos) and more apocryphal curiosities (t-shirts, concert posters, zines). They did this, in part, by holding events in which performers old and young played punk sets, with the request to bring an item of punk history as an admission fee. This was an excellent way to reunite the D.C. punk community of old and bring its feeling into a new millennium.

Now, the archive has been established as a part of the Public Library’s Special Collections and will continue to be built into the future. The Public Library’s website states that they are working on an “online portal for access to collections, and will further engage the public in the project through programming, volunteer training, exhibits and concerts.”

Sounds awesome! As a fellow punk-loving library, we tip our hat to this excellent venture, a new and unorthodox method of preserving some essential musical history, and an effort that seems right in step with the community-building potential of the original D.C. punk scene. A cool BBC video segment on the collection here.

Sweet New Arrivals: Classic DC Punk Rock

Hey everyone! Happy thanksgiving/corporate-sponsored-culturally-dubious-gluttony-holiday! Tomorrow we’ll all be going home to our families or roommates’ families, stuffing our faces, and taking a moment to reflect on all we are thankful for.

We here at the music library are very thankful for our Sweet New Arrivals this week- five CDs of classic DC punk and indie rock! Most of these new additions are related to the legendary Dischord Records, a label that has come to embody DC’s biggest moment in rock history and has served as inspiration for countless musicians and music fans since.

 

First off is the mother lode: 20 Years of Dischord. This is a 3 CD box set retrospective of, yes, the label’s first 20 years (1980-2000). It contains 73 songs, 21 of which are previously unreleased songs, demos, live versions, and alternate versions. It also comes with a 134-page book full of pictures and write-ups of each major Dischord release. This is a comprehensive introduction to the label and the scene that birthed it.

 

        13 Essential D.C. Hardcore Albums

These two albums are crucial Dischord releases from the label’s heyday in the early ’80s. The 1982 Void/The Faith album (left) is a back-to-back split by two of the earliest hardcore bands in DC, a collection of intense punk. Meanwhile,  Rites of Spring’s self-titled 1985 album (right) is considered an essential document in the punk subgenres of post-hardcore and emo. Composed of past members of the Faith and future members of Fugazi, Rites of Spring applied the fierce energy and shouted vocals of punk with emotional lyrics and almost pretty guitar lines.

 

Next is an album by Ian Mackaye’s band the Evens. For those who don’t know, Ian Mackaye is a founding member of Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Dischord Records itself. The Evens are his latest project, a collaboration in which he plays baritone guitar and his wife Amy Farina (formerly of the Warmers) plays drum. The Odds (2012) is their most recent release.

 

Last is the most important indie rock album to come out of DC: The Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I (1999). In fact, the Dismemberment Plan are probably the only important indie rock band to come out of DC (so far). This, their third album, is widely considered their masterpiece, an angular blend of post-punk, art-rock and math rock. It was produced by J. Robbins of Jawbox, another sweet DC band. About to throw this baby on the stereo!

Happy thanksgiving, everybody!

Epic DVD Review: In Search Of Blind Joe Death

Here comes another DC-related DVD review for y’all! But while its subject shares a hometown with the punk stars of our last review, that’s about it. In Search of Blind Joe Death follows the life of the enigmatic, eccentric and iconoclastic guitarist John Fahey. Fahey, who invented a style of richly harmonic, fingerpicked folk guitar dubbed “American primitive” in its day, reinvented the sound of American acoustic guitar in a transcendent way.

In Search is a documentary on Fahey’s life, from childhood to his death in 2001. Fahey was born in D.C. and grew up in the neighborhood of Takoma Park. As a child, he was inspired by the verdant, sylvan forests that surrounded his home. His search for musical expression began in the District, inspired by the sounds of the old Delta Blues of the American South. Fahey, who began playing guitar at a young age, quickly formed his own musical vocabulary, equally informed by these old bluesmen and the harmonic compositions of Stravinsky and Bartok. He began to release recordings on a label he founded, named Takoma Records after his hometown.

After graduating from American University (once an Eagle, you know the rest), Fahey moved to California, where he continued recording as well as finding new (old) artists to release on Takoma. The documentary describes his unique sleuthing process of tracking down old Delta Blues artists and recording new material with them for Takoma.

Once he was done with school, Fahey began touring and his eccentricities began to bubble up to the surface. He would disappear for long periods of time, turning up after a point in a random location (such as Tasmania). He began uncalled-for, one-sided rivalries with other musicians, and his alcoholism became a problem. After a time, a doctor prescribed him sleeping medication, which he began to abuse in alcohol’s stead (along with heavy Coca-Cola drinking).

As he aged (rather quickly thanks to his various indulgences) he became more and more eccentric, as did his music. He ditched the acoustic guitar for the electric, creating strange, experimental music influenced by the noise-rock of the ’80s. He also took up painting. Meanwhile, he had relocated to a motel room in the middle of nowhere, Oregon, where he spent the remainder of his days selling thrift shop records to collectors. He died at 61. His music lived on, its echoes audible everywhere from Nick Drake to Sonic Youth to Led Zeppelin to Beck. Essentially, any artist wrenching more than simple open chords out of an acoustic guitar can thank Fahey for the idea.

This DVD does a great job of revealing the many sides of John Fahey, with the guitar master’s hauntingly beautiful music providing the perfect soundtrack. It includes interviews with many who knew him well, and many acolytes, from deranged Maryland record collector Joe Bussard to rock superstar Pete Townshend. It also features several performances of his works, as well as the type that influenced him, by a parade of musicians such as Bussard (playing with a screwdriver!) and George Winston, as well as members of the Decemberists and Calexico and good-natured rival Stefan Grossman. There are also a couple of rare performance and interview videos with Fahey himself from the late ’90s.

I’d recommend In Search of Blind Joe Death to any Fahey fan, as well as any fan of folk music and the guitar. It’s a close look at somebody who redefined the language of the instrument, drawing from a deeply ingrained musical culture but emerging with something 100% original. There is also rich inspiration to be found in the life of Fahey itself, in his virtues and vices the embodiment of a truly American musician. And if you like it, check out some choice Fahey CDs from us, your loyal Music Library!

Cool DC Events: JAZZforum- Sun Ra in Century 21, 10/22

Attention jazz heads and space freaks! Your icon and idol, Sun Ra, will be featured at this week’s UDC JAZZalive event. It’s part of an ongoing series of exhibitions, discussion forums, presentations and concerts hosted by UDC that will extend into the spring and likely the distant future as well!

While we sadly cannot attend an actual Sun Ra concert, this event still promises to be a great one for fans of the psych-jazz master. Funk scholar Thomas Stanley, who teaches sound art and sonic culture at George Mason U, has put together a monograph called The Execution of Sun Ra, which “is an attempt to bore into the late jazz oracle’s remarkable ideas about history and human development.”

At this lecture he will speak on his findings. This should be an incredibly interesting experience, considering the intellectual depth and strangeness that defined Sun Ra’s view of our species. The event is tomorrow night (Wednesday the 22nd) at 7pm. It will be held in the Recital Hall of the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, on UDC’s Van Ness Campus (4200 Connecticut Ave). It is free and open to the public, and books will be available for sale at the event.

Also, if this talk engenders a deep interest in Sun Ra in you, the reader, take the time to stream some of his albums online or, highly suggested, check out his Space is the Place DVD- sure to be a trip!