Pump Me Up: The Corcoran Looks at the DC Underground Music Scene of the 1980′s

12 HARDCOREPUNK 7' records - ph Aaron Farley-crop

Pump Me Up – now through April 7 at the Corcoran Museum of Art

Punch Preview Correspondent Lindsey Clark 

Like many people who live and work in Washington, I did not grow up here.  In fact, I did not grow up anywhere near here, and so my knowledge of the history of the District of Columbia is somewhat limited to what I learned about it in school, and what I’ve learned about it since moving here over a decade ago.  And, while I can point out the spot on Capitol Hill where the boarding houses owned by George Washington used to be, or tell you about Teddy Roosevelt’s additions to the White House, I really don’t know that much about the cultural history of the place that I now call home.  As far as music and the arts, DC has a complex and rich story that isn’t often told in our local museums and although I can’t say I was around to witness the birth of Go-Go and punk, thanks to a current exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, I can say that I feel like I know a little more about it, and I can certainly appreciate what artists and musicians in DC went through to make their voices heard.

Pump Me Up looks at DC subculture of the 1980′s and the exhibit gives the era’s insuppressible spirit a visual presence.  Posters, personal photographs, street art and graffiti come together to reflect on the sound that defined what musician and DC local Dave Grohl, in his keynote at SXSW yesterday, referred to as a “prolific and influential” music scene.  As part of a series of events in conjunction with the exhibition, I recently attended a panel called “Bustin’ Lose: Stories from DC’s Underground Music Scene,” that gave me a chance to hear first hand stories about the rising movements from those that helped to shape them.

8 GO-GO Poster

Go-Go Poster included in the Corcoran’s “Pump Me Up” exibit

The panel, made up of DC legends Seth Hurwitz (9:30 Club owner), musician Alec Mackaye (Untouchables, The Faith, and Ignition), Go-Go/hip-hop figure DJ Kool and discographer Iley Brown II of Stride Records, shared stories with the packed auditorium about the emergence of Go-Go and punk in the District in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The sounds of both styles – though very different - were unique to DC and reflective of the times, and they eventually became the roots for a music scene that spread far beyond the beltway.  Moderated by Washington City Paper managing editor Jonathan L. Fischer, the panelists were questioned about the gritty, often dangerous, but highly creative times in which Go-Go and punk were started, and what about DC had allowed for the styles to flourish simultaneously without having many similarities.  Hurwitz, Mackaye, Kool and Brown all had interesting perspectives and different stories and memories of the movement they were all a part of, but my favorite quote of the evening came from Mackaye when Fischer asked how they felt the growth of Go-Go and punk had been organized and structured to gain the popularity that they did.  After several seconds of silence, Mackaye spoke up about what a disorganized mess things had actually been in the 80s, but, he said, ”if you don’t know what’s going on, then you’re doing it right.”  It seemed like a fitting way to echo the spirit of the exhibit.

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Moderator Jonathan L. Fischer with panelists DJ Kool, Alec Mackaye, Seth Hurwitz, and Iley Brown, II

Pump Me Up is at the Corcoran through April 7th, and there are a variety of events, discussions, and activities taking place throughout the run of the exhibition. If you were in DC in the 80s, go for the nostalgia – and if, like me, you didn’t get to grow up with it, go to get a chance to learn something about DC that they don’t teach you in school.

About Lindsey Clark:
As the Punch Premiere Correspondent, Lindsey covers all things music and theater related. When not writing for Pamela’s Punch, Lindsey has a seriously sweet gig as Executive Assistant at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov). Aside from writing and seeing as much live music as possible, you can usually find her on a running trail, in front of a painting, staring at her dog, Lincoln, or hanging out with her big sister and fellow Punch Correspondent Niki Clark. Follow her on twitter @lindseykayclark. Contact Lindsey at lindsey@pamelaspunch.com.
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