Bands in DC: an overview of Damaged City Fest and the DC Hardcore Scene

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Coke Bust at DCF 2016 (photo by Farrah Skeiky)

[Part of a recurring series Anna and I are doing, focusing on certain scenes in various parts of the country – let us know if you want to take part and share your scene’s stories]

All photos courtesy Farrah Skeiky.

DC has always kind of been a mecca for hardcore – I mean, Minor Threat, Void, Bad Brains, Government Issue, and tons more sprung from this scene in the 80s. The label started by Jeff Nelson and Ian MacKaye, Dischord Records, became an extremely prolific and pivotal aspect of DC hardcore and is still maintained today.  Now, DC is still producing copious amounts of punk bands, including but not limited to bands like Stand Off, Protester, Red Death, and Genocide Pact (3 of which include Connor Donegan, who somehow manages to be everywhere at once, and his resume includes Last Words, Double Negative, Line Of Sight, Soft Grip, Abuse., and probably a million others I’m forgetting. Like damn dude where do you get all this time?). The scene is definitely worth looking into, and one of the gems of DC is Damaged City Fest.

DCF has been an ongoing festival, based in Washington, DC, since 2013, run by Chris Moore and NickTape from Coke Bust. Some of the headliners include Negative Approach, Infest, Los Crudos, Culo, and other seminal bands. There’s also always an incredible lineup of smaller DIY bands that cover nearly every subgenre of punk and hardcore from all corners of the US [and even Europe and Japan] making it an extremely inclusive event. Bands like SHIT (Canada), Pure Disgust (DC), Chain Rank (Boston), Holder’s Scar (NC) and Youth Avoiders (France) have been some of my favorite I’ve seen in my two years of attendance. The lineup is also incredibly inclusive and is one of very few festivals that have such a strong female fronted (or female members) and queer band presence.When I first went to DCF in 2015, the headliners were Government Warning (a band I thought I’d never see, and I needed an inhaler after being front row for their set), The Mob, and Career Suicide. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced – it was one of the first times I’d ever felt welcomed at a punk show. Kenny from Government Warning even flung me on his shoulders when they played “Arrested” and he saw the crowd drop me after a fleeting attempt at crowd surfing. This year was no different, and it was incredible to scream along to songs by legends like Zero Boys and The Avengers, as well as see all my friends from all over the country. Chris and Nick are incredible dudes, and Chris allowed me to ask some questions about the festival for our website.

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Government Warning at DCF 2015 (Photo by Farrah Skeiky)

What made you want to do a festival like Damaged City Fest?
Playing and going to a bunch of different punk festivals and realizing DC didn’t have anything like that. It was an excuse to bring bands to DC that don’t normally come to DC. Honestly, 5 years ago, no one wanted to fucking go there. I had to beg bands to come there. They’d be like, “we’re playing Baltimore and Richmond, we don’t have time to go there.” The punk scene in DC sucked for a really long time. I was like, maybe if we do this big thing, we can show people that DC has a lot of cool punk bands and it’s a cool place  to play.

Is there a lot of community support?
For sure. A ton. There’s 15-20 punk kids from DC who help with various aspects of the fest. It’s a huge community effort. Aside from the punk kids, the people who let us use the churches and the bars. People at copy shops. People seem stoked on it. It’s cool. It seems to me that it’s a pretty positive thing.

Is there a core group of people behind the fest?
It’s mainly me and Nick who sings for Coke Bust, but there’s probably maybe 4 or 5 other people that do a lot of important things that make sure it runs smoothly.

What are your favorite DC bands?
Right now? Kombat is fucking great. Stuck Pigs. Those are newer bands. I really dig this band a lot people don’t talk about, they’re not necessarily hardcore. they’re called
Puff Pieces. When I first heard them I was like, this sounds like Big Boys meets early Talking Heads. They’re awesome and just put out an LP that’s totally sick. There are so many good DC punk bands. Sem Hastro, Iron Cages, Unknown Threat, Priests I fucking love. Gauche. Flasher. There’s so many good bands in DC and there’s an influx of younger kids.

That’s a great thing about DC – the support from younger kids. I don’t think New York has a ton of younger kids coming to shows.
It’s hard when you don’t have a lot of all ages venues. That’s a weird concept, but when I think of New York, I don’t think a lot of young kids come to punk shows up here so it
doesn’t feel needed. I think there would be more if it was more accessible.

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Stand Off at DCF 2015 (Photo by Farrah Skeiky)

What bands are you in?
Tonight, I’m playing in the Rememberables. I play drums in Coke Bust, Sick Fix, DOC and Repulsion.

What bands would you like to have in the future?
Every year I ask the Marked Men and Limp Wrist so I’ll probably try and ask them again next year regardless of what they say. I really really wanted The Kids to play this year. We were pretty close but they got into some immigration trouble on their last tour, which wasn’t their fault. If we could figure that out I  would love to get them. Repulsion
played Ieperfest and there were some bands that canceled and The Kids got added. but it couldn’t be [The Kids], because there were a lot of hardcore bands playing, but I guess didn’t really make sense for Repulsion either. But then these old dudes get onstage, don’t say a word. Just play. It was song, song, song. No stopping, Ramones style. Quick break, song, song, break. And then it was 20-25 minuets and they were done. And it was so sick.

What band would you have play that isn’t necessarily around? Like, for a dream lineup.
Gauze, Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen.

I think Van Halen still play.
They do. They did a tour last year. When they first got back together with David Lee Roth I went to see them with my mom.

What’s your favorite set you’ve seen at DCF?
I don’t know what my favorite was, but the most intense feeling I got watching a band was the first year and watching Negative Approach play. They were the last band of the
fest. I was so stressed out the whole time, I was like, “I hope people come, I hope the church doesn’t get destroyed, I hope Negative Approach aren’t bummed.” And so they start to play, and I got chills down my back. I was like, cool, there’s a lot of people here, they’re fucking sick, it’s going well.

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Dame at DCF 2016 (Photo by Farrah Skeiky)

So would you say the stress is the biggest challenge?
Yeah, I think that’s something I struggle with every year. I always think I’m one step ahead of the game, that things aren’t gonna slip through the cracks. But then the shit
this year, with the dude who came on the stage, when you’re playing a DIY show in a borrowed space you’re at the mercy of that space and the legalities of what you’re doing. At any moment, the fire marshall could come, and be like, “hey you don’t have a permit for this or that.”

That situation was diffused, right?
Yeah, but he called the cops every hour for the rest of the day so I was outside a bunch of times talking to the cops. It was even more frustrating because he was so hysterical
and inconsolable but when the cops came, the neighbor was being really nice and I was like, “fuck you man.” He was so fucking two faced. He had that “I’m not doing anything wrong” face.

What do you think helps DC retain its cohesion?
I think DC has a good energy to it. I think when it’s bad, its really bad, but that makes you want to do something cool, makes you wanna be productive. And then when it’s
good, it’s really fucking good, and even more driving. You’re like, “oh fuck, all my friends are doing cool productive things, I wanna do that too.” And it’s like, even though
it’s like a major city, the punk scene is very bare bones. We don’t have any consistencies. We’re constantly losing spaces and trying to find a new restaurant to convince that they’ll get more business if they do shows there, however true it may be. In a way it’s frustrating but it keeps things exciting. People being relatively approachable and supportive of each other makes you wanna continue to do things.

What’s the most rewarding part of the fest for you?
Just hearing people say that they had a good time. Even it’s just one person. But alternately, the most gut wrenching thing is someone saying they didn’t have a good time, even if it’s just one person. It’s stupid because even if you do a regular show there’s no way everyone is gonna be pumped. but it’s something I’m struggling with, trying to
realize I can’t make everyone happy.

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Pure Disgust at DCF 2015 (Photo by Farrah Skeiky)

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