Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)
Director: Scott Crawford
Release Date: September 18, 2015
There are certain areas that are associated with particular genres and times in the history of music. When you think of Seattle the first thing that comes to mind is either Starbucks or grunge. The thriving music scene in Athens, GA gave us the B-52s and REM, among others, in the early 80s. Among many cultural centers that are important to the development of punk rock, Washington, DC was the birthplace of a scene that created many of the trends and sound that have influenced punk and alternative music for the past 3 decades. Director Scott Crawford set out to document those fertile years between 1980 and 1990 that saw a punk rock go from a handful of misfits, to a burgeoning scene, to a political force in the span of about a decade.
If you have any familiarity with punk during the 1980s you will find it as no surprise that much of this documentary focuses on Dischord Records, and the scene that grew around the label. Originally formed as a way for Ian MacKaye to put out records by his bands (Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Embrace, Fugazi, Evens…), Dischord soon became MacKaye’s vehicle for chronicling the growing scene around the Washington, DC area. In the early 1980s the label released records by not only Ian’s bands, but SOA (featuring a young Henry Rollins on vocals), Void, Faith, and Government Issue, and in doing so turned a handful of hardcore bands into a movement with widespread influence beyond the isolation of their community. Dischord remains a bastion of DIY integrity and great music to this day.
While hardcore and Dischord are the most familiar elements of the DC scene, There were bands outside of this realm that had a major impact on music . Certainly, the punk and reggae sound of Bad Brains has left an enduring influence on heavy music. Bands like Soulside and Shudder To Think were years ahead of the mainstream alt rock that shook the late nineties. While many think of straight edge as the primary social movement within this period (despite its divisive impact on the scene), Positive Force became a political and social revolution in the DC scene, leading punks to become both politically aware and socially active. Even the go-go scene gets a nod in this documentary, which focuses on many elements of the creative burst of energy that occurred in the nation’s capital during this time.
I have never seen a documentary that covers this musical era as well as Salad Days does. Interviews with a number of musicians and concert promoters give the viewer a very personal look into that period of time. MacKaye, Rollins, J. Robbins (Government Issue, Jawbox, Burning Airlines), Dave Grohl (Scream, Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Bad Religion) are but a few of the notable names that offer their insight into both the good and bad that came with the growth, development, and shifts of this iconic time in the musical landscape. Grohl, a member of DC band Scream before joining Nirvana, offers some interesting insight on both the influence of 1980s DC punk, and the insular nature of the scene. In the end, Ian MacKaye sums it up best, stating that Washington DC is a “…Petri dish of great ideas.” Those ideas have spilled over to infect hard rock, punk, alternative and heavy metal in a way that will be felt for generations to come. Salad Days is an engrossing look at the inside of scene most of us only know by clichés and assumptions, and is, in many ways, the oral history of a movement.
Reviewed by Jim 1340