Note: this article was originally published elsewhere in 2015.
The DC Punk Archive officially launched in the nation’s capital a little over a year ago to some international notice and local fanfare. The archive’s home, the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library, has hosted shows featuring DC-based bands since October of 2014. Last week, on a balmy early summer Thursday, The Maneuvers, Puff Pieces, and Give became the lastest local bands who’ve gigged at the venue, playing a short, emphatic, deeply pleasing free show in support of the archive and its mission.
The Maneuvers were on first and allowed their vocals to disappear almost entirely beneath the wash of guitar and drums. Puff Pieces played into the idea of slightly malfunctioning melody lines and rhythms, like a bearable, punk-borne version of Primus. Give passed around a box of homemade pancakes for the audience to share and jumped around the stage and whipped their hair, working their way through numbers such as Fuck Me Blind (self-censored into Eff Me Blind for the all-ages crowd.)
Before Give played, Michele Casto of the DC public library addressed the crowd and made an appeal for contributions and donations to the archive. It didn’t matter if it was “someone’s brother’s CDs they made in high school — we want it all”. A colleague of hers reminded the crowd that “this is your government at work. These are your tax dollars at work.”
By phone the following Monday, Casto told me that the show is part of a series designed to highlight the launch of the archive, once a grant had come through. After the shows’ success there are tentative plans being sketched out for a day-long concert this coming October, to coincide with the beta launch of the website and an archive dedicated to Go-Go music as well.
The punk archive’s origins partly stemmed from James Schneider’s documentary, Punk the Capital. While Schneider was filming, he kept coming across private collection after private collection, one old show flyer after the other. But Michele and Bobby “Dougherty [had]” — in their words — “dreamt of building an archival collection focused on DC’s influential punk scene for years. We felt that developing such a collection would not only meet traditional archival goals of preserving materials as a resource for students, researchers, and fans of local music culture, but would also help position DC Public Library as an institution supportive of local music past and present, a space for local music discovery, and an innovator in community engagement in collection building and preservation.” Schneider’s documentary served as something of a situational catalyst, and the archive was born.
People involved in the scene “were always self-documenting because they didn’t think the city valued this. There was no expectation that DC as a whole would support what they were doing.” They had had 80s stuff donated to them, in addition to 90s stuff, and now — with the shows — they have material from last year and this year.
They also had material from Thursday night, where everyone left through a tiny elevator that could only hold about six people. “There’s something wonderfully dainty about leaving through an elevator this small,” I said. The passengers laughed, some politely. “It’s to give us a minute before returning to the real world,” a young woman replied, and the doors opened, and we left.
“People knew they were involved in something special,” Casto told me, “so why not collect it while it’s happening?” When “people from the [scene in the] 80’s take a look at the archive,” she said, they’ll realize — “it never stopped.”