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DC Public Library Kicks Off “Punk Rocktober” With a Basement Concert

With a little help from the man, a portrait of DC punk will soon be available to the masses.

DC Public Library hosts an exploration of the District's punk music scene—and will also stencil T-shirts for you. Image via DC Punk Archive's Twitter feed.

Washington is often considered an establishment town, but for those who experienced the city’s punk heyday in the ’80s, the music was as essential to DC as the Lincoln Memorial. As part of its mission to document the District, the DC Public Library has worked for the past year on amassing its local punk archive—and is celebrating that effort with a full-blown punk show October 2 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

The show features local bands Joy Buttons, Flamers, and Hemlines, and while a library is generally thought of as a quiet place, special-collections librarian Michele Casto says the grungy basement of MLK is the perfect place to honor the archive. “If you’ve ever been in the A level of MLK Library, you know it’s a pretty horrible place to have a program—but it’s a pretty awesome place to have a punk show,” she says. “We’re getting renovated, so it’s only going to be awesome for punk shows for so long.”

Casto is among the librarians heading the addition to the locally focused Washingtoniana Collection. She worked with Mount Pleasant librarian Bobbie Dougherty (who’s behind DC Showspace, an online listing for DIY punk shows throughout the city) and digital librarian Lauren Algee to collect and digitize videos, posters, and ephemera from DC’s peak punk days. 

Though the District focus made the theme a fit for the Washingtoniana collection, some punk-rockers were surprised a government institution would take interest in what has thus far been a DIY history. To build confidence, Casto, Dougherty, and Algee focused on involving DC residents and former scene members in the project. “From the beginning, it was a priority for us to reach out to the community and make sure the way we were going about this was right, that it was inclusive, and that we weren’t missing any important stories,” Casto says. 

The library has received a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to carry out the project, which continues throughout October with various programming and symposia in conjunction with the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood library. Events include a Punk Farm Family Fun Day on October 12, with a reading from Mount Pleasant’s children’s librarian; a screening of Jem Cohen’s Fugazi documentary Instrument on October 22; and a Punk Rock Swap Meet on October 28 with cocktails by Derek Brown and deejay sets from Minor Threat’s Brian Baker, Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, and Q and Not U’s John Davis. Entrance fee? Just drop off a vinyl record or vintage punk button at the door. If you’re not a collector, a $5 donation to support the archive will also be accepted.

Two documentaries on the subject, Punk the Capital and Salad Days, are also planned for release this year, which provided the library with other sources of memorabilia from DC’s punk past. Punk the Capital co-creators James Schneider and Paul Bishow contacted Casto in hopes of preserving the pieces of history they had collected, thus beginning the collaboration that resulted in the archive-in-progress. 

Eventually the library hopes the collection will expand to a whole “encyclopedia of DC music,” as Algee calls it. “We’d like this project to eventually represent the whole city and all of the different kinds of music that have come out of DC”—including go-go, the next DC-centric music scene the library has set its sights on. 

Concert attendees may begin lining up outside MLK Library at 4 PM on October 2. First come, first served tickets will be distributed at 5 PM; doors are at 6 PM. The show is free. For more details, visit the DC Public Library website