What Did D.C.’s Punk and Go-Go Scenes Mean to Each Other in the 1980s?
Sunday’s “D.C. Funk-Punk Throwback Jam” at the 9:30 Club rounds out a trifecta of events looking back at D.C.’s cultural underground in the '80s, along with the Corcoran’s Pump Me Up exhibit and the debut of the documentary film The Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan. Appropriately, its mixed bill showcases D.C.’s two best known musical styles, go-go and punk, with sets by Shady Groove, Black Market Baby, DJ Kool, Junkyard, Youth Brigade, Static Disruptors, Worlds Collide, Stinky Dink, DJ Tommy B, DC Scorpio and host Henry Rollins.
In separate interviews, Arts Desk contributors Mike Paarlberg and Steve Kiviat spoke with three of the show’s headliners—Big Tony Fisher of Trouble Funk, Pete Stahl of Scream, and Youth Brigade's Danny Ingram—about their memories of the era.
Responses have been edited for clarity.
Washington City Paper: When you think of D.C. in the 1980s, what comes to mind?
Pete Stahl: Washington [Pigskins], crack cocaine, punk rock. Some of the best times of my life, when we started the band and were touring. D.C. was a divided city, and the way people from different backgrounds worked and interacted with one another was different then. But music was one thing that everyone could get into.
Big Tony: Things were definitely not as easy in the '80s. The crime rate was up, and though we’ve always had a crime problem, it’s not what it used to be. But I think in the '80s it was also more diverse, and people were more open to different genres of music. We played with Minor Threat and other bands whose style was totally different from ours, but we always felt welcome.
WCP: How have things changed for bands? Has anything been lost since that time?
BT: I think the originality, creativity isn’t what it used to be. Back in the '80s, look at Chuck Brown, E.U., Rare Essence. Everyone had their own style, and what they were doing was totally different. Everyone sounds alike now, you don’t have so much a sense of identity. I mean, I know you have to change with the times, but whatever style you try, it’s important to always maintain your own identity.
PS: It’s a lot different for me today. I’m working all the time [as a tour manager] and getting my own music in between work. We’re all older, have families, so it’s great whenever we have the opportunities to get together and play. Back then we were young, everyone was so close, it was almost like we had a little gang.
WCP: What did the Minor Threat/Trouble Funk show in 1983—and go-go in general—mean to you back then? Were you and your bandmates into go-go?
Danny Ingram: I think the punk/funk shows always meant more to us punk kids than to the go-go bands or audience—and there was often tension in the crowds … but that was present whether it was a straight up go-go show, or a D.C. hardcore show... so most of us were used to it. ... I never really had the chops to play go-go well, but I’ve always played around with it, ever since I got my first Trouble Funk 12-inch in 1981 when I was working at Orpheus Records in Georgetown. ... Youth Brigade members Nathan Strejcek, Bert Quieroz, and I were huge fans of the nascent go-go scene. Bert and I were also avid collectors of all the records (Junk Yard Band, Rare Essence, Trouble Funk, E.U., etc.)—and I’d wager that he, like me, still owns most of them.
Go-go and punk rock don’t obviously go together, except that both are popular in this town and many bands have played together. What is it that brings these two distinct styles together?
BT: What I do know about these two styles of music is that we both have that raw edge. Both are very free and open styles, and have a lot of room to allow the audience to take part fully in the live show.
PS: Both genres have a lot of energy to them, and maybe also some juvenile stuff in the lyrics. But when you’re young, you sing about what you know, like the city. Maybe in punk, politics creeps in more. But there are a lot more similarities than you might think.
The D.C. Funk-Punk Throwback Jam begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24 at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $25.