Thursday, May 20th, 2021
Punk the Capital
Studio: Passion River
Directed by James June Schneider and Paul Bishow
May 20, 2021
By Austin Trunick
This documentary takes a look back to the late Seventies and early Eighties, when the punk rock scene in the nation’s capital went from a few kids skateboarding outside of Bad Brains and Slickee Boys shows, to a thriving movement that would be recognized by the other scenes popping up in cities all around the world. Punk the Capital tracks the rise of the city’s best-known (and often short-lived) punk acts, its most essential venues, the founding of Dischord Records, and the beginnings of the straight-edge movement that would eventually extend beyond the D.C. suburbs and across the world.
Punk the Capital follows a very rigid, chronological format to tell its story, but it’s an effective way of recounting a scene where bands would often form, break up, swap members, or change names in just a matter of months. (Rosters are visualized in the style of a family tree, also helpful.) It’s full of interviews with most of the scene’s biggest names, from Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, and HR, to people who were involved more on the fringes, and have perhaps a wider perspective on how things escalated and evolved. Some of these stories have been told before, particularly in books and articles, but some of Punk the Capital’s most endearing moments are the more intimate (or odd) details its subjects share—from Rollins and MacKaye bonding over bike tricks and Led Zeppelin as kids, to the “witch” that lived in the basement of the prototypical punk venue, Madam’s Organ.
Of course, most music docs must be measured by their performance footage, and Punk the Capital has plenty of that; again, not only from the most famous bands, but many of the lesser-known members of the D.C. punk and hardcore scenes. Those already indoctrinated in the music and its players will get a lot out of this documentary for obvious reasons, but its attention to the setting and era’s acts that didn’t break out nationally makes this an opportunity to discover some great, under heard punk.
Author rating: 7/10
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