Thanks to Márton Berki for some great praise and even greater critiques for moving forward!
(2020). Capitals of punk: DC, Paris, and circulation in the urban underground. Journal of Cultural Geography: Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 255-257.
Thanks to Márton Berki for some great praise and even greater critiques for moving forward!
(2020). Capitals of punk: DC, Paris, and circulation in the urban underground. Journal of Cultural Geography: Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 255-257.
I’m sorry for (actually/no excuses) missing Sonic Sunday this past Sunday. There has been a lot to digest, and lot of information (and counters to misinformation) to spread, and the existential crisis of TWA (Thinking While American) had me a bit overwhelmed.
I’ll have a full-on series of “amplify melanated voices” links for this coming Sunday, and I will also have a special post on some updates for the Ben Irving Postcard Project this week.
In the meantime, here’s a video of a bunch of kids in the Wirtz Elementary School after- school program in Paramount, CA singing “Minor Threat.”
The caption by Rich Jacobs:
Wirtz Elementary School 5th graders go off with their version of MINOR THREAT Tim Kerr, Mike Watt, Mark Waters, Ray Barbee, Alexis Fleisig, Randy Randall, Hagop and a host of other musical champions musically backed up the 5th graders at Wirtz Elementary school in Paramount, California. Last year they did a Sly and the Family Stone song and the year before they did 2 Big Boys songs. They also do a ten minute FREEDOM improv jam where the kids play an instrument they bring to the experience. It is really rad. Here they sing the song: Minor Threat, originally written by the band of the same name. The power and vitality of the youth was palpable, inspiring and intoxicating. Eric Caruso is their teacher. He brought an idea to his principle to have an after-school art project since they did not have an art program. He gives them art assignments based on living artists work and at the end of each year, there is an awards ceremony. The artists give the students a prize. It is a really positive experience, as many of the students are underserved and have never been given the chance to do stuff like that.
Well, I finally missed a Sunday post! I can only hope that it didn’t ruin any of your April 26th experiences, not letting me direct you to any random corners of the internet while (most of) you are still (mostly) stuck in your homes. The Sonic Sunday series (which will continue, don’t get me wrong) began as a form of New Years’ Resolution for 2020 in an effort to put a better foot forward digitally as far as my research and publication interests. Obviously, New Years’ Resolutions are made to be broken, and I’m not just saying that because my only other resolutions included “cool it with the parentheses” and “don’t get caught in a global pandemic.” Eggs on my face!
To make up for my irresponsibility, I’ve got a couple pieces of news to share here. I’m so happy to report that my 2019 book Capitals of Punk (Palgrave) is now available in paperback! I always pay tribute to the hard work of my editor and good friend, Joshua Pitt, but in this case, a lower price ($30, £30, €30, or something in that ballpark depending on where you are on Earth) was a priority we had been talking about since last summer.
Also, while we’re on the subject of the semi-lockdown many of us are still living under, anyone who orders a copy of the book from Palgrave’s website will immediately receive the digital version (a 20-dollar/pound/Euro/etc. value) for free with their order. Did I mention that the digital version price had also lowered, precipitously? Because it has! I’m grateful for this elevation of the accessibility of my book.
To anyone who’s checked out my Australia Megamix a couple weeks back (a tribute to Joshua and all of my friends Down Under) or enjoyed my France Vinyl Mix this past week (equal parts a tribute to my friends/collaborators in France as it is an audio experience of Capitals of Punk… save for my inability to find anything by Prohibition on vinyl), I’ve got an extra special mix going up this Wednesday. I won’t give away what it will be, but if you know me, it’s the kind of vinyl mix you’d make fun of me by saying I would make.
Happy Sunday. It’s a rainy and cold day here in Michigan, and I’m taking advantage of that to catch up on a few things I’ve neglected over the past couple of weeks. I don’t have time to write a proper entry (yet) about my Ben Irving Postcard searching in Detroit, but it was a successful start. In the meantime, I wanted to signal-boost a great article in Sports Illustrated and a great new documentary. I don’t know how valuable my endorsement here is, but I wanted to at least commend the respective producers for jobs well done from this geographer’s perspective.
I’ll be honest; I subscribed to Sports Illustrated following the Caps’ Stanley Cup victory so I could get an Ovechkin print and a limited-edition Washington Capitals Collectors’ edition. I only care about a few sports, and my short list doesn’t include the gambling-heavy ones the magazine usually focuses on. All that being said, Sports Illustrated deserves a LOT of credit for elevating their topical writing and specialized coverage in an age when some magazines (which shall remain nameless) have turned into tabloids in an act of desperation to retain physical sales. For one thing, their 2019 swimsuit issue made a point to feature an ethnically and physically diverse set of models, focus on the models’ lives and thoughts, and address the elephant in the room about why the swimsuit edition even exists.
For another thing, the latest issue (October 7th, 2019) includes an excellent article about race, class, and baseball in Atlanta. Brian Burnsed takes a critical look at how the Braves’ move from Fulton County to Cobb County is not only a gigantic middle-finger to the team’s middle- and under-class African-American fans, but also microcosmic of Atlanta’s accelerating privatization and segmentation of population along racial and political lines in its unyielding sprawl. Though several of my best friends live there, I would never consider Atlanta among my favorite American cities, and I’m hardly familiar with the MLS stars Atlanta United, but Burnsed’s article makes me want nothing more than to go and hang out with the team’s fans in “the Gulch.” I had the “privilege” of going to a Braves game at Suntrust Park last season, and (to give the most insightful, academic analysis) it sucked. We parked in a lot adjacent to an office park, paraded over one mile with thousands through at least one or two other office parks, and sat in a sea of fans who, following a spirited video of Jason Aldean telling them to do so, did the tomahawk chop (in 2018). It’s all disenchanting, and a little dispiriting, particularly considering the angry letters I’m sure SI is receiving from “100% not racist” white Braves fans in the wealthy, season-ticket holding pockets of Cobb County upset that Sports Illustrated had to “make everything about politics.” I’d be interested in seeing what happens when Atlanta beefs up and privatizes the Gulch around Mercedes-Benz stadium.
Though I’m still processing the fact that it happened in the first place, on my way out of Detroit, I stumbled upon a screening of James June Schneider’s new Punk the Capital documentary at Third Man Records. I met James a few summers ago when I was in DC to do some zine research for my dissertation, so I wanted to say hi and congratulate him on completing the thing. I knew that the film’s release had been delayed for some years. On Friday night, I found out that he had been working on it for over 15 years, and it showed.
Punk the Capital is a MASTERPIECE, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I don’t think I had seen as much as five seconds of the footage, most of which came from Paul Bishow’s treasure-trove of Super 8 footage from the proverbial ‘back in the day.’ I can’t remember the last time a documentary made me smile and tap my foot this much, and in a strange way, it made me feel even more validated in devoting so much of my own life to studying and writing on how harDCore has seismically changed the world.
Also, the Q&A was a lot of fun, replete with stories from the handful of punk legends sitting on the stage. Tesco Vee mentioned the latest price tag he spotted on one of those /100 Necros Sex Drive EPs on eBay: $5,300. That’s not a typo. Five thousand and three hundred dollars. Good luck if you spot one for sale and have a 401k sitting around you can cash out.
James was joking with me after the screening that he and I would be competing on google now. I don’t imagine that will actually happen, but on the off chance somebody stumbles onto this website or Capitals of Punk, I’ll copy and paste the slew of upcoming Punk the Capital screenings here, in case you’re in one of these cities so you can drop whatever plans you have to go see the film (if isn’t already sold out).
Happy Almost-Summer, everyone! As you may have noticed, I added this to the sidebar widgets here, but I hadn’t taken a moment on this blog to properly announce… [drum-roll, fireworks, and elaborate Busby Berkeley-derived dance sequence] I have a book out!
It was released earlier this month on Palgrave MacMillan Press. Special thanks to my editor Josh Pitt in Melbourne (who should be no stranger to anybody who’s been on this site over the past month), as well as to Sophie Li in Shanghai for an awesome cover, as well as to Karthiga Ramu and the whole copy editing team in India. I never suspected the academic publication process would be that globetrotting, but that’s the 21st century for you and an added bonus to an already great experience.
Early reviews I’ve read of the book have been humbling and flattering, both in the best way. I’m grateful that this project, which began in earnest ages ago, has finally coalesced and brought so many people together who factored into this story. As Palgrave enumerates on their website, the book includes exclusive new interviews with music legends like Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, Minor Threat, Dischord Records), Craig Wedren (Shudder to Think), and Cynthia Connolly (Banned in DC) as well as a number of key characters in the growth of French punk. It also features over thirty photos of this slice of punk history, many of which are exclusive, never-before-seen images.
You or your library (please tell your library!) can purchase Capitals of Punk in hardcover or as an ePub/Annotated PDF from Palgrave at their official marketplace here. Here is the synopsis via Palgrave’s website:
Capitals of Punk tells the story of Franco-American circulation of punk music, politics, and culture, focusing on the legendary Washington, DC hardcore punk scene and its less-heralded counterpart in Paris. This book tells the story of how the underground music scenes of two major world cities have influenced one another over the past fifty years. This book compiles exclusive accounts across multiple eras from a long list of iconic punk musicians, promoters, writers, and fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Through understanding how and why punk culture circulated, it tells a greater story of (sub)urban blight, the nature of counterculture, and the street-level dynamics of that centuries-old relationship between France and the United States.
If you would like to review the book or have me as a guest on your radio show or podcast, I’d be happy to do it. Please get in touch at SONICGEOGRAPHY [AT] GMAIL or (+1) 865 974 6033. You can contact Palgrave via the page linked above.
Better late than never, as promised, here are some additional photos from AAG DC, taken and shared with me by several generous walking tour participants.
As I posted about a couple weeks ago, I hosted a Q&A with Ian MacKaye at the Wardman Park Hotel on Friday afternoon. The full audio of that conversation, along with some photos taken by Josh Pitt of Palgrave and Emily Fekete of the AAG, are available on that previous entry.
As I mentioned last month in a post leading up to the meeting, the first (and probably only) AAG DC Punk walking tour got a shocking amount of interest. I wound up taking a good handful of folks who registered at the last minute on-site after the inevitable few registrants dropped out. I didn’t get a proper headcount when we set off from the hotel, but the photos below should be a good indication.
I look like I’m proselytizing, and in a way, I am. I took a chance to talk about the role DC’s physical geography played in events that punctuated punk history like the late-80’s percussion protests at the South African Embassy. Standing on the bridge named after the man gave us a chance to give Duke some love, too, being as how he’s easily in the conversation about the most vital American musicians of the 20th century. The way he wrote short, punchy songs so prolifically and so well invariably laid the early groundwork for rock n’ roll, and what was punk rock except a return to rock n’ roll’s roots?
While I was trying to recall the bands Ian MacKaye told me were on the bill for Minor Threat’s first show in this house, an older gentleman stepped out onto the porch of the house next door. He apologized for interrupting, and I said no worries and asked him how long he’d been living there. “1980,” he said. He verified the story I was relating, citing the great parties his neighbors at 1929 would throw back in the day. He also said the house had sold for $2,000,000, which was more than I recalled reading. Given the turnover in that neighborhood over the past few decades, it was an amazing stroke of luck.
Once a Yippie watering hole for Corcoran Art students and more recently the home of Crooked Beat Records (when I moved to DC in 2005), the building that built harDCore currently houses an Insomnia Cookie shop upstairs and a grow shop downstairs (keeping in the spirit of DIY, I suppose). Neither business could withstand a crush of almost 30 people and the grow shop, per DC law, needed to check every entrant’s ID, so I stood on the staircase to Insomnia to deliver my spiel.
Immediately after our stop at the original Madam’s Organ house, we crammed into Smash! Records next door. I introduced the group to my old friend Matt Moffatt, who gave the group a brief history of the shop, which started in Georgetown in a different era and moved to Adams-Morgan in the mid-2000’s.
After Smash!, we took a break to get empanadas and shop, reconvening to head down to the star-intersection at 18th and Florida and U to discuss the role of immigrants in the growth of underground music in DC. Two sites of interest there were the (now closed) Eritrean restaurant Dahlak, where I saw friends perform a number of times in the late 2000’s, as well as the neighboring building, now a young-professionals’ gym, which regularly hosted Go Go shows in the 80’s as an African-owned club. Two very pleasant English women on the tour, who admitted to me in the end they went in knowing very little about punk, told me how much they liked how I incorporated migration into the tour. It was one of the best compliments I received all day. DC Punk, just like so many pieces of any city’s “real” culture, owes so much to immigrants who opened up their restaurants for live entertainment. The city’s punk scene has included so many sons and daughters of immigrants, as well.
The next stretch was the longest walk of the tour, a haul up Ontario Street back to Columbia Road. The sun was so powerful and the heat was so strong, I worried that half of the tour would drop off, but everyone who was with us at the bottom of the hill was in great spirits when we reached the top for:
Unlike anywhere else we stopped, the building that once housed the Ontario Theater (the predecessor, at least in the Seth Hurwitz sense, to the 9:30 Club) actually had a historical marker of sorts. As this photo by Martón Berki details, U2 once played there in 1981, right on the cusp of breaking. Prior to it’s period as a music club, the Ontario had been a movie theater kept open through the 1970’s by the local Central American population. Further history of the building is available on Cinema Treasures and Streets of Washington.
The end of the tour was a real treat, literally and figuratively. Josh Pitt, my good friend and editor at Palgrave, treated the whole tour to ice cream. Given the heat, this generosity could not have come at a better time. It just so happened that Mt. Desert Island was not only a couple blocks away from the site of the legendary Wilson Center, but it’s also owned and operated by Melissa Quinley and Brian Lowit, a pair of great Dischord Records vets. Brian’s own label, Lovitt, released some solid gold by the likes of Frodus, Engine Down, Sleepytime Trio, and many more. Melissa and Brian came outside to talk about the finer points of underground music, ice cream, and how community ties those two together.
As my delicious ice cream was melting and running down my hand, I spoke for a couple more minutes to the group outside, thanked them, and we headed back to the hotel. It seemed like everybody enjoyed themselves and learned a lot. I’m grateful it all went off catastrophe-free.
Thanks again to everyone who took part in the DC Punk Walking Tour, and special thanks to everyone who shared the above pictures. You may notice that a bulk of them were taken by the multi-talented and immensely supportive Steven Donnelly, from Belfast. Keep tabs on him and his work via Instagram at mralligator7.
“[Geographers] are good people. They’re really f–kin’ good people.”
My Conversation with Ian MacKaye
Audience Questions for Ian
One of the highlights of this year’s AAG meeting came on Friday afternoon, when punk legend Ian MacKaye stopped by the Wardman Park hotel to share some stories about his career as an underground musician and touring artist (Fugazi, Minor Threat, The Evens, and more), as well as Dischord Records captain. As numerous participants reflected afterward, it could easily have gone on for another hour. Though it was not intentional, the bulk of the conversation focused on how much geography can learn from the network and influence of early harDCore, which we realized worked well for the Media and Communication Geography group’s focus.
This was such a privilege. Special thanks to Emily Fekete (Chair of the MACGSG and AAG mainstay) for helping coordinate this event, as well as to Joshua Pitt (Palgrave MacMillan) for recording the session. Joshua, Steven Donnelly, and other participants took some great photos, as well as of the DC Punk walking tour on Saturday, which I’ll post here soon.
The long wait is almost over: AAG DC starts this week! Because the meeting’s in the AAG’s (and my former, for a while) home base this year, I’ve been working to arrange a few special events that I’ll be announcing here, on twitter, and via the AAG’s social media as well. It’s going to be a busy but good time. You can find me at one of the following three events (or of course by just hitting me up).
I’m excited to announce that I’ll be moderating a discussion with Ian MacKaye for the keynote session of the Media and Communication Geography Specialty Group. Thank you to Ian for his interest as well as to my friend Emily Fekete at the AAG for making this happen. We’ll be talking about the relationship between the city and punk history, as well as the history of Dischord Records and his own musical career (Minor Threat, Fugazi, Embrace, The Evens, and more). Get there early to get a good seat!
Meet at 12pm
Marriott 24th St Entrance
I’ll be honest: I wrote a long, fun draft entry to publish closer to the event for a last-minute push in case it didn’t fill up, but it did. I’m grateful and humbled that this tour has generated as much interest as it has. I’m sorry if you missed a chance to register for a spot, but as with any walking tour, there’s a reasonable chance for a few no-shows. If any spots do open up, I’ll make sure to announce it on twitter and contact those registered.
For now, here is the gist of what I wrote originally. I’ll wait to divulge more details until we’re closer to the event, but there will be surprises, some brought to you by our good friends at Palgrave Publishing, and others brought to you by our tour sites. You’re probably wondering, “AAG members offer plenty of great walking tours every year; why should I, a person of [indeterminate] interest in punk rock, be looking forward to this one?”
Let me know if you have any questions [sonicgeography at gmail]. We will take off from Marriott Wardman Park’s 24th St Entrance on Saturday 4/6 at Noon. See you there!
3:55 – 5:05 PM
Contemporary Issues in Human Geography
Washington 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level
You read that right: I’m engaging with some research on the Florida Man. This is a topic that, as a cultural geographer with a soft spot for Florida (that I catch heat for, no pun intended), I’ve been interested in for some time. It seems that every six months or so, the internet breathes new life into this apocryphal character. Recently, a meme went around imploring people to google “Florida Man” and their birthday. Much of my research focuses on circulation, and internet-mediated phenomena like these work wonders(?) to perpetuate (inter)national perspectives on what makes Florida assume the mantel of “our weirdest state.”
I understand many of you may have skipped town by Sunday afternoon, but this session looks like it will be amazing: talks on Kingston, Cincinnati, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), Climate security, and Uttarakhand.
Anyway, see you in DC. If you’re not going, you’ll be missed and I’ll be happy to give you all a rundown of the highlights from this year’s meeting on this site sometime after I get back to Knoxville. I’m still reeling as I write this from a great time in Memphis at the Balancing the Mix conference, in fact. Thanks to Mark Duffett and Amanda Nell Edgar for putting it together. If I have time this week (that’s a big ‘if’), I’ll post an update or two about the conference as well as the West Tennessee chapter of the Ben Irving Postcard Project.
Happy 2018! I’m excited to announce I’ve just published a new article in the UK journal Punk and Post-Punk. Read the abstract, order it, or find citation info here. It overviews the geographic history of Paris hardcore, focusing on the three or four years of the mid-1980s when the underground style first attempted circulation in the Ile-de-France region. I based this off of a range of accounts I gathered during my fieldwork in France in 2015 and through follow-up correspondence since then.
As far as I know, this story has never been told formally before, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to give progenitors like Heimat-Los and Kromozom 4 their rightful place in the greater global post-punk timeline. Hopefully somebody who was there at the time can take the baton and publish a more authoritative and comprehensive history of that era someday. In the meantime, there is plenty of great material archived and linked via Euthanasie Records.
Thank you to Russ Bestley and all of his colleagues at this fantastic journal. You can look into the index of Punk & Post-Punk back issues and learn how to submit on the Intellect Ltd. page here.
Just a quick announcement that I have a new article out this week! I wrote a piece about the idea of the vinyl record as a souvenir for the Emerald Publishing journal Arts and the Market. Thanks to the editorial staff for helping me sculpt this one, which originated as a research paper for a seminar on tourism. I drew equally on some older MA thesis research on the marketplace around vinyl as well as some PhD research on the seismic legend around harDCore.
Sonnichsen, T. (2017). Vinyl tourism: records as souvenirs of underground musical landscapes. Arts and the Market 7 (2), 235-248.
You can check out this issue as well as prior issues of Arts and the Market on the Emerald Insight page here. Depending on your institutional access, you may be able to find the HTML or PDF version of the article directly from there. If not, then don’t hesitate to contact me and I can help get you a copy.