On January 30th, a little past 9 p.m, a line streamed alongside a trendy taqueria and falafel shop waiting to enter The Black Cat, a staple concert venue in Washington, D.C’s U Street Corridor. The crowd seemed dissimilar as people in cable knit sweaters stood next to some clad in studded and patched denim jackets, but all seamlessly shuffled in. On the venue’s second floor, the stage was retrofitted to become a movie theatre, with over sixteen rows of chairs set in front of a simple projector and screen. Within minutes, all of the seats filled up. Viewers waited while perusing drinks at the bar as lagging attendees happily hopped onto bar stools and pinned themselves to the walls.
“I’m here with a buddy from Arlington who worked at Dischord. He’s been a punk for a long time,” says Dave, 39, originally from Kentucky who moved to Petsworth, D.C. “This stuff was earlier than my time, but its fun to see footage of what I learned about after it happened.”
Dave, along with about two hundred others, came to see “Salad Days: The DC Punk Revolution, at its fifth screening in Washington, and its second at the Black Cat. The film focuses on the Washington punk scene in the late 1970’s through 80’s. Among personal concert tapings, the film features interviews with “scensters” from Fugazi, SOA, Minor Threats, and those who were inspired from it, such as Dave Grohl from Nirvana and the Foo Fighters.
Washington’s punk youth came from a different childhood than its punk contemporaries in other cities such as New York and London, which were working class and a result of long music scene lineage. Washington was, and still is, a white collar town, where government is the industry, and its educated children were of lawyers, politicians, and lobbyists.
“In D.C, there is no rock and roll industry to speak of,” says Ian Mackaye of Minor Threats, Fugazi, and a creator of Dischord Records, a label that released most of the time’s local emerging talents, in the film. “In this town, the canopy is Government.” Soon, a class of youth culminated from a deprivation of an established music scene. Individuals grabbed their friends, started bands, labels, and began playing shows in Georgetown, themselves.
“These kids came from a city that had no music industry and just started to create things,” says Scott Crawford, the film’s director. Since D.C is a smaller city, and by default its underground scene even smaller, bands shared similar styles, sounds, and some musicians even rotated between bands. The sentiment that quality of musicianship didn’t matter, but the act of playing is more important, wove throughout the movement, and made creating art less intimidating for new comers.
The Washington punk scene, at it’s fundamental form, really only existed for a couple of years with few members. Soon pivotal bands like Bad Brains fused punk spirit with soul, and a new genre, emotional-punk rock surfaced, changing how the scene phonically sounded. However the do-it-yourself ethos persisted. The punk scene’s founders set a stage that inspired other artists to not wait for an art culture, but to make art themselves. The nature of DIY is transient, and the punk scene’s music was just as transient as its surrounding culture.
Music will always change, and the film finely balances sepia toned nostalgia and broader themes of the punk scene’s influence, not just how great the time was. The film allows some to reminisce and others to appreciate a transformative era. Also, of course the film jams so music produced in the scene, which the crowd deeply appreciated. (So much so, that the Black Cat simultaneously hosted a punk rock karaoke night on the first floor while the film showed.) Crawford, didn’t want the film to come across as an homage of a scene too steeped in its own connotation. “I didn’t want this to be a bunch of people looking back as if the glory days had already happened…as if talking to a bunch of people in their forties talking about their high school football career. I wanted to steer clear of that line of questioning.”
Just like the movement’s legacy itself, the film makes the punk movement tangible, but doesn’t induce a feeling that viewers missed out on something that will never exist again. There is a huge nod to the future, and the youth that existed forty years ago, still exist today. Monumental D.C music clubs that are featured in the film such as the 9:30 Club, are extremely different now, and others such as d.c space have since closed, but out of necessity, the new generation has created their own places.
“There are a lot of house concerts…there are bunch of clubs, but if you’re just starting out, there aren’t that many,” Crawford mentions. “That really has the same spirit of ‘fuck it we will create our own network’ and that’s what is happening right now in D.C. People are still starting labels and their own music.”
Salad Days, is an important reminder of Washington’s original spirit and the powerful strength that lays in youth. It is a film that doesn’t encourage further lamenting on days past, but to explore and find your own underground scenes. Clearly this message has resonated way passed the immediate Washington D.C community. Scott, and his partner Jim Saah, set up a Kickstarter to raise $32,000 to aid production costs. They reached their goal in six days from over 980 backers spanning from Germany, Russia, Brazil, and all over the U.S who understand the importance of documenting this movement. The film will venture off to various theatres domestically in places such as Oakland, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, six more festivals globally, and more music festivals this summer. “Then I can sleep,” Crawford says.