First Click: Start your day with the most influential punk label


Seminal Washington, DC punk label Dischord made its entire back catalog available on Bandcamp this week, in the short gap between the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Most, if not all, of the tracks were available on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, but in making them totally free to listen to for anyone, it feels a little like Dischord was performing a public service — after two weeks of hectoring by presidential hopefuls, their peers, and their underlings, now's a perfect time to listen to the kind of angry, political punk that the label made its name putting out.

Dischord was founded by friends Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson in 1980, originally to release a record by their band, the Teen Idles. The label grew from there, putting out albums from Minor Threat — the hugely influential band MacKaye founded in the same year as Dischord — as well as early hardcore groups like Government Issue and Faith. Dischord broadened its musical spectrum in the following years as MacKaye formed post-hardcore forefathers Fugazi, bringing in emo pioneers like Rites of Spring and Embrace in the mid-to-late '80s. The label evolved as punk did over the next decades, driving an angular, electronic sound in the '90s and 2000s with groups like Q and Not U, Medications, and El Guapo.

It's a good time to be listening to political punk

It's easy to see how Dischord's bands have influenced punk — and music as a whole — in 2016, but it's not always simple for users of Spotify and similar services to actually find them unless they're actively looking. Streaming services still have problems with discovery, but Dischord's Bandcamp makes that easy: they're all jammed on a page, and there aren't many bad choices.

While it may not have the slick UI of Spotify or (to a lesser extent) Apple Music, Dischord's Bandcamp page is a free musical education, an unguided tour through a living museum. The label's had a high success rate with the bands it's signed, many of them creating classic albums with their peers, and sticking around when they start new projects. That means there are clear links between Dischord bands — Minor Threat begat Fugazi, from the Untouchables were born Youth Brigade — that illuminate the history of punk. Dig deep and you'll also find subgenres and sub-subgenres invented and nurtured by the bands on the label's roster over the years: mathcore, powerviolence, youth crew hardcore, emo.

You could spend a very happy Thursday clicking around these pages, finding old favorites or new interests, but if you'd like a few pointers, I've collated some of the best places to start — in my estimation — below. Why not tell me how wrong I am and leave your favorites in the comments below?

Faraquet are sometimes overlooked against Dischord's bigger groups like Rites of Spring or Fugazi, but the band's 2000 release The View From This Tower is one of the label's greatest albums. The first track takes the driving, repetitive riffs from post-hardcore bands like Drive Like Jehu and extrapolates on them, creating a lazy funk-ish bassline that sounds like it's half a second behind the lyrics — in a good way. Post-hardcore and screamo bands of the 2000s owe a debt of gratitude to Faraquet: both borrowed this kind of noodly fret work in their own output.

Yeah, this one is a bit obvious, but Fugazi's biggest "hit" is a good way to start the day. With 13 Songs, Ian MacKaye went from Minor Threat's comparatively simplistic message to Fugazi's dense punk, making a song both sarcastic and singsong.

Refused borrowed a lot from Nation of Ulysses, not least their swagger, their focus on style, and their song naming conventions. The Sound of Jazz to Come shaped The Shape of Punk to Come — Refused's 1999 album even borrowed the Nation of Ulysses' spoken word sections, even if the Swedish group toned down some of NoU's political philosophies.

Washington DC's "Revolution Summer" in 1983 tweaked the hardcore formula, as show goers and band members grew tired of simpler songs and experimented with their sound, trading anger for introspection and three chords for many more. Rites of Spring and another MacKaye project — Embrace — are credited with helping to create the genre that would eventually be called emo, but don't let later associations with screaming teenagers in studded belts and too-tight jeans put you off that label.

While some bands delved into post-hardcore, emo, and less abrasive punk subgenres, Youth Brigade stayed true to hardcore, making short, loud, and fast songs that were finished in under 90 seconds. The group also had a part in kickstarting the youth crew subculture, whose adherents often followed Ian MacKaye's accidentally invented straight edge lifestyle, avoiding animal products, and enjoying walking on each others' heads.

I'd like to say my music taste was primarily influenced by Dag Nasty, but that's not true — it was primarily influenced by Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 on the PlayStation. I can say, however, that the favorite band of my favorite bands growing up was almost definitely Dag Nasty, who produced a four-chord punk sound that led indirectly to the pop-punk explosion of the late 1990s. Dag Nasty took Hüsker Dü's sound and made it punkier, with the band's 1986 release Can I Say standing out as a stone-cold classic.

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True punk of the day

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