n 1980, a volatile, young, and recently defunct Washington D.C. band known as Teen Idles found themselves with an expensively recorded set of songs without a venue for release. Rather than spend the money that they had amassed during their tenure on the burgeoning D.C. hardcore scene elsewhere, the group, spearheaded by then-eighteen year old Ian MacKaye and band mate Jeff Nelson, decided to release the songs on their own accord, via their very own Dischord label. Twenty-two years later, Dischord Records stands as the longest running, most steadfast purveyor of the ideals encompassed by independent rock, all of which are exemplified by McKayes group, flagship artists Fugazi, among many others. With over 130 releases by 40-plus groups, Dischord will forever be known as the Holy Grail of punk rock labels. With a strong work ethic centered around dedication towards artists and fairness towards consumers, Dischord succeeded where former contemporaries like SST failed, while consistently turning out exceptional music based exclusively in the Washington D.C. area.
Early releases consisted almost entirely of seven-inch singles by local bands, most friends of MacKaye and Nelson. For many groups, these singles would stand as their sole contribution to the label; no bands were truly signed. As the profile of MacKaye and Nelsons new band, Minor Threat, grew, so did Dischords audience, making the formerly occasional endeavor a full-time job for MacKaye. 1981 saw the release of the Flex Your Head compilation, which featured the contributions of groups like Minor Threat, Void, Government Issue, and State of Alert. (The title was derived from MacKayes unwanted reputation as a musclehead.) Even today, this hardcore relic stands as one of the labels best releases and an irrefutable document of Americas early hardcore scene.
As the Eighties began to come to a close, and underground attention shifted from rigid hardcore to oblique indie rock, a new Dischord era dawned with the formation of Fugazi, which also featured label allies Brendan Canty (of emo forefathers Rites of Spring), Joe Lally, and soon after, Guy Picciotto (also of Rites). The bands ever-evolving sound, that owed debts to influences as varied as King Tubby, James Brown, Black Flag, and The Stooges, signaled a more experimental turn in hardcore, and led to releases by groups like the unforgettable Nation of Ulysses, Jawbox, and Shudder To Think, the latter two of which eventually joined the major label ranks, where their most memorable albums would be released. This wide musical scope paved the way for records by the bizarre Lungfish and arty Smart Went Crazy in the mid- 1990s.
As the decade wore on, Dischord releases came few and far between (with varying quality), and many critics foresaw its demise. At one point, the labels active roster dwindled to less than six groups. The 1999 release of Instrument, a ten year Fugazi retrospective film by Jem Cohen gave new life to the bands career and foreshadowed the labels fierce comeback, which arrived in the form of Q And Not Us sensational 2000 debut No Kill No Beep Beep, and Fugazis eighth album, 2001s The Argument, perhaps their strongest collection yet.
With recent additions like El Guapo and Capitol City Dusters gaining acclaim, Q And Not U preparing their sophomore album (due October 21,) and Fugazi still performing at the top of their game, things are looking bright as ever for Dischord Records. (A long-since proposed box set is still in the works.)
As stated on their web page: We will continue our work as long as this community continues to create music that speaks to us. If the past twenty-two years are any indication, we should have nothing to worry about.
Label Roster Highlights: Autoclave, Bluetip, Capitol City Dusters, Circus Lupus, the Crownhate Ruin, Dag Nasty, El Guapo, Embrace, Faith, Faraquet, Fugazi, Gray Matter, Hoover, Jawbox, Lungfish, Make-Up, Minor Threat, Nation of Ulysses, The Pupils, Q And Not U, Rites of Spring, Shudder To Think, Slant 6, Smart Went Crazy, Teen Idles, Youth Brigade.
Ten Essential Releases:
Various Artists - Flex Your Head
Fugazi - Red Medicine
Minor Threat - The Complete Discography
Nation of Ulysses - 13 Point Program To Destroy America
Gray Matter - Food For Thought
Smart Went Crazy - Con Art
Rites of Spring - self-titled
Hoover - Lurid Traversal of Route 7
Bluetip - Dischord 101
Q And Not U - No Kill No Beep Beep
By: Colin McElligatt
Published on: 2003-09-01