DC punk progeny take the stage: ‘I want to diverge from the path that was set out for me’

Singer/bassist Sam Ingram fronts TORO. (Courtesy Danny Ingram)

A lot has changed in the 44 years since four teenagers in a D.C. punk band called Teen Idles recorded their unpolished and eponymous song, with the lyrics: “Hours in front of a TV set / We’re as idle as teens can get.”

In 2024, young people are more likely to spend time engrossed in their phones than watching television shows in the family room. And, many of the original members of D.C.’s hardcore punk scene, which spawned Dischord Records in 1980, now have children who are playing and recording the next generation of music in the nation’s capital.

This Friday, Black Cat hosts the “Yesterday and Today: DC Does Dischord Compilation Release Party.” It marks a rarity: A once-young “Georgetown Punk” is sharing the stage with his or her child.

For 21-year-old Sam Ingram, the son of drummer Danny Ingram, whose earliest bands included The Untouchables and Youth Brigade, growing up meant always being surrounded by music.

This Friday, Sam’s band TORO will share the stage at Black Cat with Danny’s band, Dot Dash.

“Technically, we’re opening for them,” texted Danny, with a smiley face emoji.

Full disclosure: I’ve been friends, and occasionally bandmates, with Danny Ingram since the 1980s. In fact, Sam was Danny’s roadie during Modest Proposal’s 2021 reunion show at Pearl Street Warehouse.

Yet, I’ve never had the occasion to ask Sam whether Danny’s ongoing musical career — Danny estimates it’s been 16 or 17 bands over the years — influenced Sam’s decision to form a band, until now.

When he was younger, Sam recalls, “I was listening to The Beatles and Ramones, and (singer-songwriter) Nick Drake was being played for me. I would see (Danny) watching documentaries of bands like The Clash, so it was just kind of part of my life.”

Over time, he realized his father had been involved at the beginning of D.C.’s hardcore punk scene.

“As I got older, I started to understand his place in music history and sort of the moment he occupied,” said Sam. “It inspired me, but it also inspired me to do my own thing, something totally different from what he does, you know?

Sam plays bass and sings in TORO, “named after the Jordan 4 Colorway, and the most expensive cut of tuna,” he said.

While I understood the sushi reference, after the interview, I needed Danny to explain to me that there’s a Nike Air Jordan 4 design called TORO.

I mentioned I’d never heard Danny sing, and asked Sam why he didn’t play drums, like his father.

“Well, it’s probably better that you haven’t heard him sing,” said Sam, with his father chuckling in the background.

Sam said he looks up to guitarists like George Harrison and didn’t want to follow directly in his drumming father’s footsteps.

“I always had that streak about me, where I kind of want to diverge from the path that was set out for me,” Sam said.

Still, Sam realizes it was his upbringing with Danny and his mother, Sally, that presented the opportunity to make his own kind of music.

He said, “I owe that to growing up surrounded by a huge wall of CDs and records, and just being able to pull stuff out, and say, ‘Dad, who’s Ornette Coleman?'” — a reference to the late jazz saxophonist, trumpeter, violinist, and composer.

Sam and Danny’s bands each have a track on the “Yesterday & Today: DC Does Dischord” double album, which is available on vinyl and downloads. The project, coordinated by Celebration Summer bassist Greg Raelson, includes 27 local music artists performing cover versions of songs from the Dischord catalog.

On the album, Sam’s band performs a cover of a song Danny recorded in 1981 on Dischord with Youth Brigade called “It’s About Time We Had a Change,” from the “Possible EP” release.

“Some people wanted to do a more straightforward cover, but I was always against that,” said Sam. “But I didn’t really know where I wanted to take it.”

Eventually, while listening to the “Tinderbox” album from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sam found the direction.

“I wanted to make it less of a straightforward tribute to what Youth Brigade did, but more so pay tribute to what they were listening to at the time,” said Sam.

Danny became a founding member of Madhouse in 1983, which morphed into Strange Boutique. That band’s gothic, ethereal sounds were in stark contrast to the 200-300 beats per minute tempos he’d been playing in hardcore punk.

TORO’s five-song “Honor the Bull” EP, available on Spotify and Apple Music, is guitar-driven, aggressively swirling, and melodic.

“I’ve been teaching myself how to play the keys, and the drums,” said Sam. “I’m taking audio technology at American University, so I’m able to use that,” to explore his creativity.

Even before the term “hardcore punk” was coined, my recollections from the early 1980s include Danny and fellow Georgetown Punks in leather jackets and bondage wear, traipsing near Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. The teenage and young-20s punk rockers could be found slam dancing at shows that were booked in alternative venues since club owners were usually unwilling to host underage customers.

“I was 21 (his son’s current age) during Youth Brigade,” Danny said. “I think always, in the back of my mind, I was one of those guys who thought I’d like to have a family, someday.”

Danny isn’t the only original D.C. punk to have musical offspring.

Alec MacKaye, Danny’s former bandmate in The Untouchables, and Brendan Canty, drummer in Fugazi, have daughters in the alt-rock band Birthday Girl DC. Mabel Canty is the singer/songwriter/guitarist, Isabella MacKaye plays bass and Tess Kontarinis plays drums.

As their children take the stage, these fathers are far from passing the baton and continue to stretch their musical boundaries. MacKaye sings in Hammered Hulls, while Canty drums in Messthetics.

“I am happy for her!” said MacKaye of his daughter Isabella in an email. “Proud beyond words and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Canty said it’s been “amazing” to watch Birthday Girl play to this generation of D.C. punks.

“It really reminds me of the love and support that Rites of Spring got when we started playing,” he said.

Now, Danny Ingram is looking forward to sharing the stage with his son.

“For me, the greatest thrill about this show on July 5 is getting a chance to play with his band, and watching his evolution, since he started playing guitar at 10 years old,” Danny said, giving thanks to Raelson for including TORO and Dot Dash in the show.

“I don’t know how long it would have taken for Sam and I to actually get on a bill together, but Greg made it possible,” said Danny.

Like his father, Sam realizes the specialness of the moment: “This show, it feels beautiful, y’know?”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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