As an active participant in the D.C. independent music scene, I was personally offended by the article written by Emily Zemler in the Nov. 22 edition of The Eagle, as it completely misrepresented the D.C. music scene. It is very different from the scene in N.Y.C., which is to be expected. It is a vastly different city. There is an indie rock scene in D.C., which may seem lacking when placed next to the larger media-hyped indie scene in N.Y.C. However, the real spirit of D.C. music does not rest in indie rock. Simmering under the surface of the local music scene is the same visceral energy that has fueled the D.C. punk/hardcore scene since the early ‘80s.
The days of Dischord and Fugazi, Rites of Spring before them, and the even earlier Minor Threat, are past. While amazing bands still come out of that community (Q and not U, Black Eyes), the real heart and soul of D.C. lies in bands like Majority Rule, 1905, Tradition Dies Here, Medic, Del Cielo, and the list just goes on. It is a do-it-yourself ethic that is the unifying factor for an entire community of artists, bands, musicians and activists, who all work together in a supportive way to keep things bright and vibrant in D.C. The integrity and passion in these bands is almost tangible.
Zemler wrote about “unsigned bands” in N.Y.C., reflecting on how much better they are than their major-label counterparts. Maybe so, but a year from now, half those bands will be gone. The other half will be on those very same major labels, conforming to the same image and sound that will sell the most records. The problem is that this community has for so long rejected the world of mainstream music and mainstream politics, and that it is hardly visible to the vast majority of the public. It’s never been about getting signed, or making it, or selling records. It is about the community, activist politics, the music and D.C. You might see it every once in a while at the Black Cat, like the Thanksgiving benefit show last Thursday with Del Cielo and Tradition Dies Here, and even then, the majority of AU students have probably never been to the Black Cat. You have to really dig down to find these shows and bands.
It happens at places like the Warehouse Next Door, at random church spaces and people’s basements. What’s important is the music and what the music stands for. Stages and security can be left at the door. The bands play on the floor, and afterward stick around to watch all the other bands and talk to the people at the show. One thing D.C. has had since the days of Minor Threat, and has stuck throughout, is a complete lack of any rock star attitude. The people in the bands really are no different from you and me. They go to college, have a job and struggle to pay the rent.
Zemler did, however, make a valid point about a lack of show spaces in the area. That is definitely a problem, and is something that I and many other people are actively working on. As president of the AU Independent Arts Collective, I am using the resources available to me at AU to support this community and introduce more AU students to it. The IAC is hosting a show in the basement of Kay on Saturday night, featuring five bands no one has heard of, but who have more integrity, heart and passion than any band playing the Black Cat/9:30 club/Nation/wherever that night.
It is hard to quantify things like the feeling you get at a punk show in D.C. It’s something that just has to be experienced. And of course, it is not for everybody, as nothing is. Not everybody considers a sweaty basement full of crazy loud kids a good time. Regardless, I needed to write this, as Zemler’s article completely disregarded what is one of the most important parts of my life: the independent music community in D.C. It is here, as vibrant and beautiful as it has been for 25 years, and will continue to be for years to come.
Carni Klirs is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.