DC’s Legendary Punk Label Dischord Records Makes Its Entire Music Catalog Free to Stream Online

Image of Fugazi by Brad Sigal, via Flickr Com­mons

Apart from what­ev­er polit­i­cal night­mare du jour we’re liv­ing in, it can be easy to dis­like Wash­ing­ton, DC. I say this as some­one who grew up out­side the city, called it home for many years, and gen­er­al­ly found its pub­lic face of mon­u­ments, tourists, politi­cos, and waves of lob­by­ists and bureau­crats pret­ty alien­at­ing. The “real” DC was else­where, in the city’s his­toric Black neigh­bor­hoods, many now heav­i­ly gen­tri­fied, which host­ed leg­endary jazz clubs and gave birth to the genius of go-go. And even in the priv­i­leged, mid­dle class neigh­bor­hoods and DMV sub­urbs. Among the skate punks and dis­af­fect­ed mil­i­tary brats who cre­at­ed the DC punk scene, a seething, furi­ous­ly pro­duc­tive punk econ­o­my cen­tered around Dischord Records. The small label has been as huge­ly influ­en­tial in the past few decades as Seat­tle’s Sub Pop or Long Beach’s SST.

Formed in 1980 by Minor Threat’s Ian MacK­aye and his band­mate Jeff Nel­son, Dischord is 6 years old­er than Sub Pop and in sev­er­al ways it inspired a tem­plate for the West Coast. Dave Grohl came from the DC Punk scene, as did Black Flag’s Hen­ry Rollins. Rollins and MacK­aye were child­hood friends and DC natives, and MacK­aye went on to form Fugazi, vir­tu­al­ly a DC insti­tu­tion for well over a decade.

MacKaye’s broth­er Alec was a mem­ber of Dischord band Faith—one of Kurt Cobain’s admit­ted influences—and of Igni­tion with Gray Matter’s Dante Fer­ran­do, who went on, with invest­ments from Dave Grohl, to found the club Black Cat, a cen­tral hub of punk and indie rock in DC for 27 years. The more you dig into the musi­cal fam­i­lies of Dischord, the more you see how embed­ded they are not only in their home city, but in the weft of mod­ern Amer­i­can rock.

Dischord has been cel­e­brat­ed in gallery exhi­bi­tions, the hip doc­u­men­tary Sal­ad Days, and the short An Impres­sion: Dischord Records (watch here). Now they’ve released their cat­a­log to stream for free at Band­camp. The slew of bands fea­tured offers a gallery of nos­tal­gia for a cer­tain brand and vin­tage of DC native. And it offers a pris­tine oppor­tu­ni­ty to get caught up if you don’t know Dischord bands.

Image of Hoover by Dischord Records, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

The com­mon fea­tures of its lineup—political urgency, earnest­ness, melod­ic exper­i­men­ta­tion, unpretentiousness—stand out. Dischord bands could be math‑y and tech­ni­cal, straight edge, veg­an, Bud­dhist, Hare Krish­na, fierce­ly fem­i­nist, anti-cap­i­tal­ist, and anti-war.… These may not sound like the mak­ings of a great par­ty scene, but they made for a com­mit­ted cadre of hard work­ing musi­cians and a wide cir­cle of ded­i­cat­ed fans around the coun­try who have kept the label thriv­ing in its way.

What dis­tin­guish­es Dischord from its more famous peers is the fact that it only releas­es bands from the DC area. Why? “Because this is the city where we live, work, and have the most under­stand­ing,” they write on their site. Still, giv­en the label’s height­ened pro­file in recent years, it’s sur­pris­ing that so much of its music remains unknown out­side of a spe­cif­ic audi­ence. Fugazi is the best-known band on the ros­ter, and for all their major crit­i­cal impor­tance, they have kept a fair­ly low pro­file. But this is the spir­it of the label, whose founders want­ed to make music, not make stars. Bands like Shud­der to Think and Jaw­box may have even­tu­al­ly moved to big­ger labels, but they did their best work with Dischord.

Dag Nasty, Embrace, Gov­ern­ment Issue, Make-Up, Q and Not U, Rites of Spring, Soul­side, Void, Untouch­ables, Slant 6, the Nation of Ulysses.… these are bands, if you don’t know them, you should hear, and already have, in some way, through their enor­mous influ­ence on so many oth­ers: not only Nir­vana, but also a con­tin­gent of deriv­a­tive emo bands some of us might pre­fer to for­get. Still the label’s his­to­ry should not be tak­en as the gospel canon of DC punk. One of the most influ­en­tial of DC punk bands, Bad Brains, came out of the jazz scene, invent­ed a blis­ter­ing mashup of punk and reg­gae, and get cred­it for cre­at­ing hard­core and inspir­ing Rollins, MacK­aye, and their friends. But Bad Brains was “Banned in DC” in 1979, shut out of the clubs. They moved to New York and even­tu­al­ly signed with SST.

Oth­er parts of the scene scorned the clean-liv­ing moral­ism of Dischord, and the label’s sober founders lat­er found them­selves “alien­at­ed by the vio­lent, sub­ur­ban, teenage machis­mo they now saw at their shows,” writes Jil­lian Mapes at Fla­vor­wire. Dischord became known for cham­pi­oning caus­es on the left, a lega­cy that is insep­a­ra­ble from its leg­end. Not every­one loved their pol­i­tics, as you might imag­ine in a city with as many con­ser­v­a­tive activists and polit­i­cal aspi­rants as DC. “Great polit­i­cal punk bands—like Priests—still exist in DC,” writes Mapes—and Dischord con­tin­ues to release great records—“but the ‘80s scene retains its place in his­to­ry as the pin­na­cle of polit­i­cal Amer­i­can hard­core music.” And Dischord remains a some­times unac­knowl­edged leg­is­la­tor of Amer­i­can punk rock in the ‘80s and ’90s. Stream their whole cat­a­log at Band­camp. You can also down­load tracks for a fee.

via @wfmu

Relat­ed Con­tent:

33 Songs That Doc­u­ment the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk (1975–2015): A Playlist Curat­ed by Pitch­fork

The His­to­ry of Punk Rock in 200 Tracks: An 11-Hour Playlist Takes You From 1965 to 2016

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (24)
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  • Leena says:

    Thanks for link­ing to our film- An Impression:Dischord Records!Best, Leena

  • B. says:

    The entire cat­a­log isn’t avail­able for down­load and what IS avail­able has been since 2008.

  • ben says:

    it says for stream­ing idiot

  • Patrick Clark says:

    It’s fun­ny that a guy (Ian Mck­aye) with a net worth of $25 mil­lion says that detach­ing mon­ey from every­thing is lib­er­at­ing. I can’t fig­ure out how he made so much mon­ey since his record label sells records for cheap and Fugazi has­n’t played a pay­ing gig since the 80’s?

  • Andy says:

    True idio­cy is the com­plete­ly unfound­ed and bizarre com­ment, “Not every­one loved their pol­i­tics, as you might imag­ine in a city with as many con­ser­v­a­tive activists and polit­i­cal aspi­rants as D.C.” Con­ser­v­a­tive activists? I don’t know if I’d rec­og­nize one if there is such a thing but there weren’t any protest­ing at Dischord shows. And I don’t think any fla­vor of polit­i­cal aspi­rant was tak­ing issue with punk. Some peo­ple com­plained that the bands could be a bit preachy at times but that was more the mosh­Ing fools who went run­ning amok. Get it togeth­er, Mr. Jones. You can’t weave a report on DC’s home­grown integri­ty with its bet­ter know fla­vors of spu­ri­ous bull­shit with­out get­ting called a pos­er. Pos­er.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Thanks Andy, it would­n’t be a com­ment thread on a punk arti­cle with­out some­one yelling “pos­er.” I had the dubi­ous for­tune of grow­ing up around a pret­ty large, well-con­nect­ed net­work of con­ser­v­a­tive activists with polit­i­cal aspi­ra­tions. They did­n’t protest Dischord shows (but they some­times got punk shows shut down). They did protest abor­tion clin­ics and LGBTQ orgs Dischord bands and fans worked for and sup­port­ed and they sure as hell took issue with punk. A few of those peo­ple now work for or advise the cur­rent gov­ern­ment.

  • Keli says:

    It seems cool. But how do they pay their bands? That’s my ques­tion.

  • Jessie says:

    Maybe they’re doing the same thing that the rap label bmf did. Using the com­pa­ny as a front for drug traf­fick­ing?

  • Sean Deloatche says:

    This is why you always have been and always will be the best Record Label, because you’re all about get­ting the music out there to the fans that want to hear it! Thank you once again!!!

  • Mark Havaniceday says:

    Good read. Enjoy­ing the back­ground music too. The com­ment sec­tion reads like lyrics to a Dischord song; seem­ing­ly some­what intel­li­gent in it’s own way, pushy, delib­er­ate, scathing and pun­gent.

  • timothy m. stern says:

    this label,like fat wreck chords or hell­cat, make it a point to find epic bands like hoover, jaw­box, embrace, etc. a lot of the folks who work at the labels work very hard & sell records for super cheap rel­a­tive to major labels. they make their own poli­cies and also play in some epic bands. a lot of mon­ey was on the table in the 1990’s. if you give music to the peo­ple to stream for free, it cre­ates loy­al­ty and even­tu­al­ly mon­ey. most bands have to tour con­stant­ly to sup­port the life. dig­i­tal vs ana­log has changed every­thing but if you are intel­li­gent and not a mon­ey grub­bing pig, peo­ple like ian, fat mike, tim arm­stong, etc., make great mon­ey from their labels. they all make amaz­ing music as well so it is no sur­prise. cheers!!

  • Laura says:

    Patrick Clark, how do you know what Ian’s net worth is? Just curi­ous.

  • Colin says:

    Patrick Clark… I saw Fugazi at the Cas­tro­ville Rec cen­ter in ’98… Nice try though…

  • Johannas says:

    Music has val­ue and should nev­er be streamed or giv­en away for free.

  • Move zine says:

    Hey inter­est­ing arti­cle. One point to clar­i­fy if you don’t mind 1) Who was ever Hare Krish­na on Dischord? I have nev­er per­son­al­ly heard of any­one — but I sup­pose any­thing is pos­si­ble ? Was Tomas from Beefeater ever? They were great and super under­rat­ed. I think he was the only white mem­ber of a black mus­lim group once pos­si­bly? The label itself though was nev­er known for that ever — cer­tain­ly not like say straight edge was, or like being will­ing to play polit­i­cal ben­e­fits etc… That is obvi­ous­ly more in line . I have nev­er heard of that though. Kin­da seems a bit mis­lead­ing even if like one per­son was ever at one time or some­thing in the whole his­to­ry of the label… There was nev­er a band like for instance Shel­ter, or 108 or what­ev­er oth­er bands like that which for sure exist­ed more in the gen­er­al gener­ic straight edge realm.

  • Lukas Müller says:

    The “Com­ment” ist the stu­pid­est inven­tion since the inven­tion of “The Barstool”.

  • Lukas Müller says:

    He did’nt rape, he did not kill, he made very good music. what’s a net worth.

  • Phil says:

    It’s fun­ny how they don’t men­tion Iron cross .….….

  • Double D says:

    Great band seen them in Oma­ha in 86–87 at the Fire­man’s Legion Hall. There was a ditch behind there to skate­board. Great day best times. Still are

  • Guilherme Caldas says:

    tocou no brasil nos anos 90

  • Matthew Langley says:

    He prob­a­bly means Tomas. I nev­er knew him as a Krish­na but peo­ple very often didn’t know what to make of him. I always found him real­ly open and gen­uine.

  • Rob says:

    Where do you a stream it from. All it comes up with when I click lis­ten to dischord records is tik tok music app . So I down­loaded it and still can’t find a link to all back cat­a­logue.

  • RJB says:

    I don’t see any option for stream­ing on that page.

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