‘Punk The Capital,’ Another D.C. Punk Documentary, Is On The Way

By Ally Schweitzer

"Punk the Capital" features footage of D.C. bands like Teen Idles, shown here in 1980.
"Punk the Capital" features footage of D.C. bands like Teen Idles, shown here in 1980. Brian Nelson

One of the newest documentaries to capture a chapter in D.C. punk history is actually quite old: Punk the Capital has been in the works for more than a decade.

Today, co-creators James Schneider and Paul Bishow launched a Kickstarter campaign for the film, which is now in post-production. When it’s completed late this year or early 2015, it will be one of several films about D.C.’s storied punk scene, a list that includes Bad Brains: A Band In DC, Jem Cohen’s Fugazi film Instrument, and the in-progress documentaries Salad Days: The Birth of Hardcore Punk in the Nation’s Capital and Finding Joseph Iwhich focuses on Bad Brains frontman H.R. 

But while D.C. punk may not be the freshest subject, Schneider says Punk the Capital will look at an era that hasn’t been explored in depth: roughly 1977 through the mid-1980s. “There was a whole music scene, pre-1979, that had an identity and it had pioneers in their own right,” Schneider says. He’s referring to bands like Urban Verbs, White Boy, The Razz, and The Slickee Boys, which came along before D.C.’s underground rock scene began to give way to a faster, brasher hardcore sound. It’s a transition that some would call a split, Schneider says, but it also sprung from intentional cooperation between generations, in which those older, established bands extended a hand to the younger kids who would become D.C.’s hardcore pioneers. “Basically, we’re tracing that whole generation shift,” Schneider says.

Punk the Capital has been in the works for so long because, as Schneider says, he left the D.C. area for graduate school in France in 1999, and since then has spent a lot of his time working on other films, among them The Band That Met the Sound Beneath, a documentary about the Chilean band Pánico; Jean Epstein, Young Oceans of Cinema, about the French filmmaker; and The New Ball Game, which examined the D.C. neighborhood razed to make way for Nationals Park. Before graduate school Schneider made the short Blue Is Beautiful, a look at Ian Svenonius’ old band The Make-Up. (Schneider also directed the music video for “Devitalize,” the latest video from Svenonius’ current band, Chain & the Gang.)

The filmmakers hope that the Kickstarter campaign—which aims to take in $43,000—will help pay for things like producing DVDs and wrapping up editing, as well as preserving its Super 8 source material. A large chunk of that original video comes from Bishow’s video archive, much of which he captured at the fabled punk and rock venue Madams Organ. Other D.C. punks—or ex-punks—contributed their own Super 8 footage from those days.

Turns out, a lot of people were holding on to that old film, which they shot partly because no one else was going to, Schneider says. The bands in the film were “largely ignored by the media,” so they and their fans created their own documentation.

Even in the late 1970s, says Schneider, “the DIY ethic was alive and kicking.”