The Formative Years – Dischord Records
Not unlike it is the case with a lot of great things, the premise of Dischord Records has always been and can be simmered down to a simple common denominator, i.e. the documentation of music coming out of their community in Washington D.C.
Founded by Ian McKaye in 1980 to release his band’s The Teen Idles’ first “Minor Disturbance” 7”, Dischord Records started quickly to spearhead and advance punk and hardcore at large, which is not further wondrous given the calibre of the bands on the label with either people being directly involved or their close friends.
My first exposure to Dischord Records must have been via Minor Threat – a band whose oeuvre, line-up and impact would deserve a separate dedicated instalment of this series, as would many of the over sixty bands that have found a home on Dischord Records to date.
Even quite a few years after Minor Threat’s short-lived tenure and subsequent breakup, their memorable songs propagating the very essence of DIY ethics paired with them planting the seeds for what would become known as the “straight edge” movement, had an instant impact on me, which prompted a letter to the Dischord Records along with a big order. Many more should follow.
While other early punk and hardcore labels like SST, Alternative Tentacles and Touch & Go Records had ups and downs with their bands and releases, Dischord Records was a trusted benchmark in terms of quality without falling prey to following a cookie-cutter formula with their releases – au contraire – they were at the forefront of breaking down silos and seemed very much inspired by introducing new musical style to a narrow-minded crowd, which resulted ultimately in a shift from pure hardcore punk to an active redefinition of what underground music could be with the right attitude.
If you look at Dischord Records’ extensively diverse roster and the myriad of releases, it is hard to fathom that all bands hail from the same city. I would consider literally each and every release of the first half of their catalogue as a veritable classic, with bands like Government Issue; the fantastic Void with their unhinged punk metal fusion; Iron Cross; the wonderful Embrace who essentially coined what was to evolve to become labelled as the “emotional hardcore” genre; Rites of Spring (one of my favourite bands of all time, their “End on end” compilation is flawless); Ian Svenonius’ free-jazz influenced Nation of Ulysses who perceived themselves to be more of a political party than a band; Scream; the predecessor of Girls against Boys i.e. Soulside; Henry Garfield’s S.O.A; Gray Matter (their “Take it back” 12” is pure gold); Jawbox; Marginal Man with their punchy dual guitar attacks; Shudder to Think with their skewed pop sensibility; Dag Nasty with their classic releases; Lungfish and of course the revolutionary Fugazi with Ian being only some of them. To name only a few...
Despite seeming unsustainable on paper, Dischord Records’ approach to releasing records and dealing with bands, i.e. defining themselves as equal partners of the bands they are working with, has been working to this day and I would be hard-pressed to recount any negative experiences from people who have worked with them, no matter if it was in front or behind the scenes.
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