As the hardcore punk scenes erupted across the country in the early 80's, a few cities would come to distinguish themselves from the rest. And in 1981, Washington, DC, would stake their claim as arguably the best. At the center of it all was Dischord Records putting out records. And what better way to chronicle those early days than release some of the seminal EPs from the hardcore heavyweights onto one, concise album? Not counting bands like Bad Brains, they’re all here: Minor Threat, Government Issue, Teen Idles, SOA, Youth Brigade - all pounding out lightning speed punk anthems with an emphasis on the speed. And thus was to define the Washington harDCore sound.
Up first is the Teen Idles's Minor Disturbance EP. The songs are about as fast and unpolished as any other band of the scene. With lyrics like “We’re as idle as teens can get!“ they lived up to their name, as songs dealt with boredom, disillusionment, and being shut out of clubs for being too young. But as musically minimalist as they were (along with many others), their importance lies in them, along with Bad Brains, jump-starting the scene and setting a precedent of a new, unheard level of aggression and speed. They would also create Dischord Records while bassist/songwriter Ian MacKaye would lay the foundations for the straight edge movement. This was a band that was important on a variety of levels.
Henry Garfield (later known as Henry Rollins) gives you an idea of the psychotic origins of the definitive Black Flag singer in his band State Of Alert in the No Policy EP. And it just about trumps any band on this compilation in its ugliness and assaulting factor, which is an impressive feat considering the names on here. With the longest song clocking in at 1:12, they were much more bleak than the Teen Idles as Henry sings about fighting at shows in “Warzone” and “Gangfight,” suicide, and getting harassed by cops. Not much more to say here. These were a bunch of no bullshit, straight up pissed off group of guys led by Henry's low, throat-tearing voice.
Minor Threat comes in twice in this compilation with the self-titled EP and the In My Eyes EP. There isn’t much to be said that hasn’t already been said. They weren’t the first hardcore band, but they were certainly one of the most influential. The oft-misunderstood and oft-maligned straight edge lifestyle championed by Ian MacKaye deals with personal issues such as rejecting the things accepted by society that fuck with your mind and body. Meanwhile, his bandmates would rip through minute-long hardcore classics like “Minor Threat” and “Bottled Violence,” which denounces scene violence and the things that promote it. Others like “Filler,“ “In My Eyes,“ and “I Don't Wanna Hear It” have been matched by few in their sheer intensity. What separated them from their peers was how seamlessly they blended melody with tight musicianship while playing some of the fastest songs of the early hardcore days. “Take your time! / try not to forget / we never will / we’re just a minor threat!” I had to include that somewhere in here.
The highly underrated Government Issue and their Legless Bull EP is up next. Ironically, they would also have the greatest longevity of all the early DC punk bands. The snotty vocals of John Stabb reminds me of a Dead Kennedys-style cynicism and bite in insulting everything from religion to fashion trend whores to Crass. Subtle in their lyrics they were not. While they belted out the speedcore songs with the best of ‘em, they also changed up the music a bit, which served as a foreshadowing for later records. There is a bouncy feel in “Rock’n Roll Bullshit” as Stabb mocks, in order: Van Halen, the Ramones, and the Clash. “Sheer Terror” has a creeping, moody feel to it as Stabb sarcastically explains “It irritates you, the way I dress / It bothers you, my hair so short / I do it to annoy you, I confess / I hate you and all your sort” before the song explodes into a hardcore blitz.
The East coast version of Youth Brigade rounds out the compilation with their Possible EP. And they get the award for shortest song with a 3-second blip. Featuring the original singer from Teen Idles, Nathan Strejcek this time around has got a much more powerful, gruff vocal style. And following suit, his band does not fuck around. The chaotic opener “It’s About Time That We Had A Change” is fast and mean while “Pay Attention” and “Wrong Decision” get nods for top thrashers on this compilation. My favorite of theirs is “No Song,” which rumbles along at a menacing pace as Nathan gives the middle finger to religious factions of all kinds. Youth Brigade was a short lived band, but in their time, they give you another slice of vintage DC hardcore.
Included are the lyrics to all the songs plus a bunch of photos of all the bands. If there ever was a punk compilation that should be considered essential, this is it. Get it.