While the rest of the nation may remember 1980s Washington, D.C., for its corrupt mayor, crack epidemic, and Ronald Reagan’s lapses in memory, for locals it was also a unique moment in time, as the city gave birth to two musical forms and a vibrant underground art and culture scene.
That scene will be on full display this weekend as the Corcoran Museum opens its Pump Me Up exhibit, celebrating go-go, D.C. hardcore, and street artists like Cool “Disco” Dan who helped define Washington for decades.
Go-go and D.C. hardcore have had a deep, long-lasting impact on popular music, even though neither genre ever saw much commercial success on the national stage. On Sunday, the legendary 9:30 Club is hosting a mini-festival celebrating both genres.
Here’s our beginner’s guide to the music of Washington.
3. Chuck Brown
It all starts with Chuck “The Godfather” Brown, Washington’s favorite son and the originator of go-go. After a stint in prison in the early ’70s, Brown started playing funk and soul in and around Washington. Frustrated that dancers would leave the floor between songs, he began experimenting with extended bridges to keep the beat bumping throughout the show. The result was a new musical genre that has defined D.C. for more than 30 years.
4. Minor Threat
Minor Threat was the seminal D.C. hardcore band, launching a new musical form in the late ’70s and early ’80s to international prominence. Their DIY ethic and aggressive defiance of social norms became a haven for generations of kids who never fit in.
5. Junkyard Band
With Washington plunging into the crack epidemic of abuse, violence, and death, JYB emerged in the early ’80s as one of the few bright spots in the nation’s capitol, mixing social commentary with infectious beats.
6. Bad Brains
Like Minor Threat, Bad Brains helped define the D.C. sound and brought national attention to the burgeoning punk scene of the 1980s.
7. Trouble Funk
One of the originators of go-go, Trouble Funk also was a bridge between the largely white hardcore and black go-go scenes in D.C. during the ’80s, playing with punk bands across the area. They even played with the Beastie Boys in their punk days.
8. Black Market Baby
Not nearly as well-known as Minor Threat or Bad Brains, Black Market Baby nevertheless was a critical part of D.C. hardcore’s early evolution, influencing bands not only in the district but across the country.
9. DJ Kool
While many go-go acts in the late ’80s and early ’90s were turning away from the upbeat dancehall vibe of the scene’s early days, DJ Kool was everything positive about Washington and the genre. Along with Chuck Brown, EU, and Trouble Funk, Kool was also one of the few go-go acts to have any major success on the national stage.
10. Youth Brigade
Though they were only around for a year, D.C.’s Youth Brigade remain a legend in the area’s punk scene.
11. Worlds Collide
Worlds Collide came about during one of the later waves of D.C. hardcore, emerging in the early ’90s as one of the Capitol’s best new acts to carry on the traditions of the “salad days” of the scene.