Arising from rotting buildings, friends’ basements and select venues, kids who were often underage raged against the machine in a scene that was unique not only for its small size, but for how it overcame its humble beginnings.

Naïve, energetic, youthful – these are words used to describe the punk scene in Washington, D.C. during the ‘70s.

James Schneider, creator of the documentary "Punk the Capital: Straight from Washington, D.C.,” said, “It's an affirmative and intelligent scene, with an international perspective. It is a city that is outsider by nature. We don't have a vote in Congress and have to scream louder to be heard.”

As a member of D.C.’s punk generation and author of “Banned in D.C.,” Cynthia Connolly described Washington’s punk scene as naturally occurring “almost like a cultural epiphany.”

In comparison to American punk scenes in cities like Los Angeles, Washington was smaller and more community-based. Every show and song that spread across the Capital was by word of mouth. And while small, its influence has continued to this day.

In the documentary, “Salad Days : The D.C. Punk Revolution,” by Scott Crawford, 9:30 Club.-influenced Dave Grohl of Nirvana and The Foo Fighters said, “You know, as a kid, you grow up looking at these posters and these album sleeves, and these images on TV, and it’s easy for a kid to forget that they’re human beings. So, when you get a real dose of that, it is intoxicating. You just think, ‘Oh, my God. I want to do it too.’”

Mentioning names like Ian Mackaye and Jello Biafra, he added, “Those f***ing people changed my life.”

Now, with multiple documentaries and books documenting this period in Washington, D.C.’s history, the D.C. Public Library is making efforts to archive materials from this time so it’s never forgotten.

It was “a mix of personal and professional interest” that got Michele Casto interested in working with a team of people to build a punk-rock archive.

As special collections librarian of the Washingtoniana Collection of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, she said, “Music was an area that was really important part of D.C.’s culture, but wasn’t very well-represented in our collection.”

Since understanding this, there have been two major efforts to archive Washington’s jazz and go-go scene. Now, with this third movement, there has been more of a push to involve the community.

Different events were hosted to raise more awareness and participation from the community, including a punk show in the basement of the MLK Library with the bands, Joy Buttons, Flamers and Hemlines.

Throughout October, up to 500 titles (e.g., CDs, vinyls, cassettes) were collected along with posters and flyers with bands like Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys.

Already, over 10 collections have been formed with books, photographs of local bands and videotapes of local punk shows through donations by public figures like Schneider and documentarians Kyle Brannon and Leena Jayaswal, as well as Grohl’s production company, Roswell Films.

“We’re casting a pretty large net as far as the scope of the project. We don’t think of it so much as a narrow, specific genre of music or sound of music as a tradition of local independent music in D.C.

The small labels, the local labels, the DIY spaces – there’s this continuity from the early days in the late ‘70s to the present where there is this theme of a "thriving independent scene,” Casto said.

It doesn’t matter if portions of the collections are damaged in any way; the D.C. Public Library accepts everything with open arms. “If a flyer has holes in it, or tears in it or tape on it, we accept it as it is,” Casto said.

Both Connolly and Schneider have influenced the making of the project. In an initial meeting to discuss the process of housing punk documents, Connelly noted the importance of maintaining details like tape marks on posters.

Schneider’s role has been much more progressive by actively approaching the library to assist by notifying them of collections he’s come across. He also helped them assemble a locally based advisory board to get the project going.

Schneider said, “You could say that myself and our film ‘Punk the Capital’ were catalysts.”

He added, “With the city changing so fast, on so many fronts, it's more important than ever now to insure that the city's identity is deeply understood before a remodeled city takes over.”

The D.C. Public Library is currently working on building an online music portal, called the D.C. Punk Archive Music Library. Funded by a $20,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the portal isn’t expected to be complete until summer of 2015.

Once it’s complete, even out-of-towners will be able to listen to what D.C.’s punk scene once was.

Casto said, “We hope the library to be a place where local musicians feel like their work has a home and will be preserved into the future ... but also to give the community a way to engage in local music and to discover local music they haven’t heard.”

If interested in donating to the punk-rock archive, contact Special Collections Librarian of the MLK Library Michele Casto at

About Michelle Goldchain

Michelle is a photojournalist who loves to live life by never sitting still. You can find her in art galleries in Dupont Circle, ethnic restaurants in Adams Morgan and comedy clubs in Arlington. In her spare time, when she's not typing away at a computer screen, she's probably listening to moody electronic music, watching cat videos or doodling.
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