Punk the Capital:Building a Sound Movement
directed by James June Scheinder, Paul Bishow, Sam Lavine
Those with a passing knowledge of American hardcore could be forgiven for thinking they knew everything about the D.C. scene – Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Dischord Records, cue up some talking head clips with Henry Rollins and Ian McKaye and you’re done.
However, the city had an interesting punk scene years before hardcore propelled the city into legend, and that aspect is one of the most fascinating about Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement, a documentary tracing the unlikely beginnings of a sound that would travel worldwide.
Other than thriving go-go and bluegrass scenes, the nation’s capital was not known for music. Part of this was due to being a government city, with the turnover that that brings, and part of it was the lack of infrastructure. When punk hit in the mid ’70s, enough weirdos and misfits took up the challenge of creating music in a city that seemed indifferent at best.
1976 is a wonderful starting place for Punk the Capital, showcasing the trailblazers and pioneers not given as much press as their hardcore brethren. Clips of the Slickee Boys, White Boy, Tru Fax and the Insaniacs are compiled, along with early Bad Brains, showing a variety of bands – some new wave, some gleefully obnoxious, many with stage props and clothing. Sometimes the music isn’t as polished as it should be, but as a member of Overkill says, “We dared to suck.”
And sometimes that’s all you need – someone to show that it’s OK to suck. Well, that and venues, and radio, all of which start to form or adapt to the new style, along with record stores, which were vitally important to the fledgling scene.
Soon enough, the Bad Brains would supercharge their sound, inspiring a younger, hungrier wave of punks that would find their voices and create what would be known as D.C. hardcore.
At under 90 minutes, there’s lots of stuff that wasn’t included in Punk the Capital, but it does its job of focusing on the beginnings of the scene, and moves at a brisk clip. There’s plenty of Dischord-era footage, and a great clip of Ian McKaye getting up from an interview to retrieve his old journals to prove the cover price of a show over 40 years old. Viewers coming in with some knowledge of the scene will be rewarded, those coming in fresh will be pleasantly surprised at the footage, drive, and desire of the early D.C. punks.