Iconic photos recall first days of D.C. punk scene

WASHINGTON – The images were gripping more than 30 years ago.

Viewed now, they serve as a history lesson for some and a vivid flashback for those who remember the early days of Washington, D,C.’s hardcore punk scene.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Lucian Perkins, whose photos are featured in a new book “Hard Art, DC 1979.” The book has a narrative by Alec MacKaye and an essay from Henry Rollins.

Perkins remembers when he first witnessed the energy of the young punk scene.

“It was 1979. I was a summer intern at The Washington Post. There was a small nightclub called d.c. space on 7th and E streets, Northwest,” Perkins recalls.

“I was at the bar, having a drink, when upstairs the ceiling began to shake,” Perkins says.

Upstairs, in a large room, he saw approximately 150 young people, seemingly between the ages of 14 and 18, dancing wildly to Bad Brains.

“The lead singer was H.R., who reminded me of James Brown, in terms of his stage presence,” says Perkins.

“He told me afterward his group and others were going to play the following weekend in Anacostia, in a housing project called Valley Green — at the time, one of the worst housing projects in Washington,” Perkins says.

“I said to myself, ‘This is a great story,’ and started documenting it,” says Perkins.

The book contains many images from the 1979 Valley Green show, and other performances in art studios and communes before nightclubs began booking punk shows.

Perkins photographs of Teen Idles in 1980 capture the young founders of Dischord Records.

“Teen Idles was Ian MacKaye’s first band. They were just learning to play their instruments,” says Perkins. MacKaye and drummer Jeff Nelson own Dischord.

The band’s singer, Nathan Strejeck, notes the irony that many of the book’s images are featured on Spin’s website.

“The Teen Idles finally made it to Spin Magazine, 33 years later,” jokes Strejeck.

“I look at the picture and I see four kids. I was the oldest in the band. I’d just turned 18,” Strejeck says.

Today, Perkins acknowledges he didn’t think D.C.’s nascent hardcore scene measured up to what he’d witnessed growing up near Haight-Ashbury, in San Francisco.

“Years later, I would learn these bands I was photographing had a huge impact, not only on the kids who were there, but internationally, to a lot of kids,” Perkins says.

“This small, little movement, that frankly on some levels I dismissed as I was photographing it, turned out to be a huge movement.”

The Making of the Book: Hard Art DC 1979 from Lucian Perkins on Vimeo.

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