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PHOTOS/REVIEW: Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) at the MOCAD

I went in to Salad Days looking for some insight in to one of the first and most influential U.S. hardcore punk scenes. Beginning from the late 70s into the early 80s Washington D.C.’s homegrown hardcore punk scene was rising. Bad Brains are often cited as the pioneers of the hardcore genre, though the all-black Rastafarian band originally started as a jazz fusion ensemble, and wouldn’t describe their own music as hardcore punk. The other bands were mostly white, upper-middle class and educated young men that were exposed to social issues and injustices first-hand because of where they lived and the government-careers of their parents. The scene functioned as its own economy, away from the mainstream media and corporate record labels. The underground's DIY approach to booking shows, making flyers, designing record jackets, playing in bands, helping the community and true dedication to the music was certainly a contributing factor to its success, attention and lasting impact.

Band members and scenesters recalled how significant their environment was to the development of the culture surrounding the music. Without the abandoned spaces that D.C., the “murder capital” at the time, provided, or the attitude of well-off youth of the surrounding area looking to be a part of something - the scene couldn’t have existed or taken off the way it did. A lot of these factors really resonated with me in thinking about Detroit and techno music and its history/development. I am more familiar with the electronic music scene here and saw a lot of similarities and felt some inspiration for Detroit’s time ahead.  

The film goes on to discuss a time called “Revolution Summer” when a maturing hardcore scene spent focused on political action, discussing social issues and addressing feminism and women’s rights. The social changes and additions of a new wave of punk bands led to the forming of subgeneres like emocore and collaborations with key players in other genres like Go-Go. Go-Go was another DC-born style of music. Call it a spinoff of funk with early hip hop, R&B and Blues; the punks were fans and the joint-shows were successful. 

Old footage of key bands of the time like Bad Brains, Government Issue, Rites of Spring, Minor Threat, Fugazi and more accompanied anecdotes told by their members 30 years later. Salad Days pinpoints such a culturally experiential movement and the stories behind the music that drove it all.