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DC Punk Archive Celebrates Anniversary, Proves Punk Is Very Much Alive

Materials from the DC Punk Archive, courtesy DC Punk Archive.

Punk’s not dead. That’s what librarians Michele Casto and Bobbie Dougherty set out to prove when they created the DC Punk Archive last October. The project commemorates a time when bands like Fugazi and Bad Brains dominated the Washington music scene, while also proving that the DIY spirit of those days is still very much alive.

Today the archive is thriving on two fronts. It has a growing catalogue of donated records, zines, fliers, posters, tapes, set lists, and clothing, dating back to the city’s hardcore heyday in the 1980s. It also hosts a series of events that inform and engage the punk community. “Punk and independent music are still very vibrant today,” Casto says. “There’s a lot of continuity between the past and present.”

Now that they’ve amassed decades worth of memorabilia, though, the librarians must face the daunting task of digitizing it all. The archive received a $20,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to build a website with a timeline stretching from 1976 to the present. Slated to debut in a few months, the website will document the printed material in an organized, searchable way.

“You see connections with the bands and the music that’s been happening in the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and beyond,” Dougherty says. “The website will show how these communities have connected with each other through activism, through politics, through the war, the economy, different things people have been responding to creatively. The issues may have changed, the sound of the music may have changed, but there are connective ties.”

The DC Punk Archive has attracted longtime pillars of the local hardcore scene like Positive Force DC co-founder Mark Andersen and former d.c. space booker Cynthia Connolly, both of whom have contributed to the collection. But fans also include teens and Millennials who weren’t around when Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson founded Dischord Records in 1980.

The archive has even carried on the ultimate DC punk tradition: the cheap all-ages basement show. The series takes place every other month in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. (The physical collection lives in the branch’s Washingtoniana local history room.) “The basement shows have been one of our most attention grabbing things,” Casto says. “It makes it feel contemporary, it makes it feel alive.”

To celebrate its one year anniversary, the DC Punk Archive is hosting a lineup of programs focused on Washington’s punk legacy. “We’ve used this marker to amp up the program so we can get the word out,” Dougherty says. If you want to learn more about DC Punk Archive, or see it for yourself, these are the upcoming anniversary events:

October 22, 7 PM: Screening of the documentary Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC 1980-1990, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. Mount Pleasant Library.

October 25, 2 PM: Conversation with photographer Glen E. Friedman, moderated by Alec MacKaye. Great Hall, MLK Library

October 29, 6 PM: DC Punk Archive Open House in Washingtoniana at MLK Library