D.C. hardcore hit peak nostalgia years ago and just kept going. The endless supply of documentary films, books, curated art shows and band reunions still manages to draw an audience, happily, despite critics’ warnings that we’ll eventually get sick of it. No, D.C. will never get tired of documenting itself, and that’s especially true of D.C. punks, whose most lasting institution, Dischord Records, was founded for that very purpose.
Hardcore, and D.C. hardcore in particular, has a rep for being stuck in the past. But it stays fresh by continually creating new pasts to draw from. A few years back, bands like Coke Bust brought the early ’80s thrashy style of hardcore back into vogue. But there are others reviving the mid-’80s melody of Dag Nasty, the late ’80s aggression of Swiz and the late-’90s chug of Damnation A.D. Soon there will be late ’00s tribute bands to Coke Bust, too. The logical endpoint is to be, to paraphrase The Onion, nostalgic for bands that don’t exist yet.
This Was My Night & This Was a Lot of Other Nights is another chapter in the scene’s love affair with itself, though an entertaining and necessary one. Editors Tim Follos and Hussain Mohammed compile show reviews and interviews from Follos’ blog Day After Day DC, covering the past decade — the most recent era of harDCore. It reads like a blog, in good ways and bad: The energy of the house shows reviewed (though “lovingly described” is more accurate; Follos has hardly an unkind word for anyone) is palpable, and he draws from a depth of knowledge and eye for detail only a true fan could.
At the same time, the long personal asides, shout-outs and inside jokes (most involving Sick Fix‘s Pat Vogel) remind you this was written by and for a small group of friends who all hang out and play in bands together.
This Was My Night isn’t so much about a particular city or era, but rather a particular crowd of 20-something, group-house-dwelling, radical politics-having, dog-walking, (ex-)vegan straight edge punx dedicated to putting on shows in makeshift spaces on shoestring budgets.
So the 12-page review of the 2013 Damaged City Fest that opens the book is kind of overkill. And for a book aiming to document an era that produced hundreds of local bands, a lot of the same ones show up again and again — Ilsa and The Max Levine Ensemble, both terrific bands, but reflective of the authors’ personal preferences.
There are a lot of others from that period that don’t appear, either for taking a different punk-derived trajectory, or just being in different social circles. They include Deathfix, Mass Movement of the Moth, The Apes, The Shirks, The Cassettes, Medications, Imperial China and the whole Sockets Records roster. Today, as always, there isn’t one D.C. punk scene, there are many scenes, and they don’t always communicate well with each other.
This Was My Night isn’t so much about a particular city or era, but rather a particular crowd of 20-something, group-house-dwelling, radical politics-having, dog-walking, (ex-)vegan straight edge punx dedicated to putting on shows in makeshift spaces on shoestring budgets. And in that sense, it’s really about one band, Coke Bust, whose members and fellow super-promoters Chris Moore and Nick Candela (aka Nick Tape, who’s since moved to Brazil) held this scene together mostly by themselves through sheer force of will.
Thus one of the best pieces in the book is by Nick Tape, in which he describes the benefits of booking shows at the Corpse Fortress, the famously filthy, hot, dilapidated Silver Spring house that put on memorable shows until the neighbors finally got sick of the ruckus and got them all evicted.
“As a promoter, access to a venue with no rules and no set fee is enormously helpful,” Tape writes. “The lack of a fee allows promoters of shows with mediocre turnout to still pay bands somewhat respectable amounts at the end of the night.”
The second half of the book is made up of interviews with familiar punk figures, some of which are more lucid than others (Bad Brains’ H.R. is, predictably, in another world). There’s a bittersweet chat with the now-deceased Dave Brockie of Gwar. There’s a theological discussion with Positive Force co-founder (and fellow scene historian) Mark Andersen. There’s the requisite Ian MacKaye interview — a surprisingly unique one given the man must give dozens of interviews a month — in which he takes a deep dive into the history of Georgetown.
Follos is a skilled interviewer, able to draw out rich personal stories without being too much of the fanboy that he is (and most of us who read the book are). He can also be mischievous, asking Brian Baker, “Why is it necessary for Bad Religion to have three guitarists?” and getting Ian Svenonius to accidentally agree with conservative columnist George Will.
It’s fair to wonder whether a book like this needs to exist, especially for a genre saturated in self-documentation — and especially today, when many of the bands documented still exist, and a lot of the material is already accessible online. But I’d say it does. Given the book’s ultra-insider perspective, the target readership seems to be the 50 or so people who already appear in the book.
But only an insider could tell the story of the Bobby Fisher Memorial Building, another DIY space that the Borf graffiti collective jury rigged and briefly put on art installations and punk shows before it inevitably got shut down: “Towards the end, they cut our power, because we were stealing power from a neighbor who was also stealing power,” writes Chris Moore. “We ran over 15 shows on generators. Cops never shut down the shows… Seeing 20 people installing soundproofing and insulation… that’s awesome.”
The authors of This Was My Night & This Was a Lot of Other Nights host a book-release party Monday, April 25 at Black Cat with Scanners and Mirror Motives.