It was an exciting, if startling, blast from the past when the name Dischord Records popped up in mid-July on my Twitter feed. The normally internet-averse old-school punk record label released an enormous chunk of its back catalog onto Bandcamp for the world to stream and download. For the first time, 30 years worth of amazing recordings from two dozen bands appeared in one place. The catalog runs the spectrum of punk sound, from the raw ferocity of Void and Dag Nasty to the trippy art rock made by Lungfish and Make-Up.
If you're not familiar with Dischord, it might seem weird as to why a small, independent label in Washington, D.C., matters so much to people who aren't from there. I'll never get to see any of Dischord's biggest bands live, unless Fugazi reunites by some crazy miracle. But to me and generations of punk kids, finding Dischord felt like being thrown a lifeline. I would be a very different person today without it. (I also instinctively misspell the word discord to this day.)
Dischord Records formed in 1980, when punk was fresh and truly provocative. Label founder Ian Mackaye, leader of such legendary bands as Minor Threat, Fugazi and Embrace, was a mere 18 years old at the time. Dischord took in volatile, short-lived bands and created many of the foundations of punk today. Mosh pits, which transform passive audiences into active participants, largely sprung out of the Dischord scene. As did the concept of "DIY" when it comes to do-it-yourself music promotion—making your own music, booking your own shows, printing your own flyers. Dischord also propagated "straight edge," a vow of sobriety that I strictly adhered to until I got to college.
It's jarring when a cherished part of your youth surfaces years later on the internet. Browsing through the albums, I became indignant. Surely, I thought, kids nowadays who grew up with Spotify, Pandora and YouTube won't appreciate what it means to have all of these remarkable recordings in one place. It seems less meaningful to scroll around a site, instead of poring over liner notes while sitting on a bedroom floor.
- Minor Threat photo courtesy of Malcolm Riviera • Fugazi photo courtesy of Molly Stevens
- Demos from Minor Threat, top, and Fugazi are among the rarities recently released on Dischord Record’s Bandcamp page.
I remember what it's like to grow up without the internet providing instant gratification. As a teenager in the mid-2000s, my only online access was dial-up, so downloading MP3s was inconceivable. But after church on Sunday, my family would stop by the Borders music and books store in Billings. While browsing the "punk" section, I encountered the Minor Threat discography, which fits on a single compact disc. I paid for it—probably with some of my hard-earned cash from my fast-food job—and popped it in the boom box in my bedroom. The brief, raw tracks, full of shouted vocals, immediately connected with me. At an age when I had very little control over my day-to-day life, I could choose to listen to punk rock and define myself by it. Clinging to that identity meant everything to me as a shy, lonely kid.
I'm not sure that experiencing Minor Threat for the first time through a free Bandcamp stream would have the same life-changing impact, or if the punk origin story of "and then I downloaded an MP3" is quite as memorable a moment. Then again, I'm sure people who grew up in the '80s digging through vinyl bins at record stores felt the same way about CDs. But as a kid playing song snippets through the bulky headphones at the Borders listening station, I didn't care how the music was getting to me. Nor should I have needed to.
Not all of Dischord's ethos stands the test of time—many of the older bands' political views come across as too simplistic and reactionary now. But what has stuck with me over the years is the Dischord message that nobody should discount you on the basis of your youth. These bands taught me to flip the bird at anyone who says a young person can't be smart, engaged or justifiably pissed off at the world.
In that vein, I flip the bird at anyone who says there's only one right way to discover music. Searching for CDs or vinyl is fun and all, but I ditched that as soon as high-speed internet gave me a new power to find all kinds of bands that speak to me. I'm not sure what even happened to my beloved Minor Threat CD; it's probably scratched up under a car seat somewhere. But Minor Threat's legacy is preserved on Bandcamp in a medium that can't fade in the sun or melt in high heat. Finding art that resonates doesn't feel less important because it's in a new or different format. Long may the Dischord Bandcamp reign.