Get in the van with a Blu-ray

Emily Thompson

Minor Theat, Ian MacKaye, 930 Club 1983

In 2011, a video was posted online called “Shit People in DC Say”. One of the scenes shows a guy casually remarking, “Do you know who I saw at Target? Ian MacKaye. I would kill for a Fugazi reunion.” The video is a parody but the sentiment is real. If you live in or around the District, you can still feel the legacy of the legendary eighties hardcore and punk scene that unfolded in the nation’s capital. When I first got to college at the University of Maryland, I had heard maybe one Fugazi song. But during my four years of living on the outskirts of the District, it was impossible to avoid the history that the D.I.Y scene had left behind for the last twenty years. I attended shows at St. Stephen’s church, covered the social activist group Positive Force, and yes, arranged a speaking event with Ian MacKaye for a music club at my school.

At the time, I felt like an anomaly in not knowing a lot about the 80s and 90s D.C. D.I.Y. scene that spawned Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, Void, Nation of Ulysses and others. It was a movement that inspired countless others to create their own D.I.Y. scenes even after the bands disbanded. But realistically, little is physically recorded of this period – there’s a chapter of “Our Band Could Be Your Life” about Minor Threat and a book called “Dance of Days” and not much else. In 2012, D.C. scene veteran and journalist Scott Crawford had the idea to create a documentary about the time period. So he brought on friend and photographer Jim Saah on board and posted a Kickstarter for Salad Days: The Birth of Punk Rock in the Nation’s Capital with a goal of $32,000. The goal was surpassed within a week.

In college, I interviewed him for my school’s newspaper at the very end of 2012. At that point, Salad Days was barely past its infancy and had only been funded a few months prior. Since then, Crawford and Saah have dedicated their lives to conducting interviews and digging up old zines, flyers, photos and more so they could put together a comprehensive history of D.C. D.I.Y. The film finally premiered at the end of 2014, almost exactly two years after I first interviewed Crawford. Salad Days is currently “on tour” and has reached almost every corner of the world, from South America to Europe, proving the universal impact of the D.C. D.I.Y movement. I spoke to Crawford again about the film’s premiere, going on tour with the film, and his favorite thing in D.C. right now.

The first time I spoke to you was in 2012 and the Kickstarter had just been funded. What’s happened in the last three years for Salad Days?

We were very lucky because the film was funded in the first six days and then we received additional funds through Kickstarter. Basically it’s been full speed ahead ever since. I interviewed a ton of people for the film and recorded hundreds of hours of interviews and footage and things like that. We finally wrapped it up over the summer. We had a few little test screenings and tweaked some things and we premiered it. Our “world premiere” was at the DOC NYC film festival in New York City In November. And then our D.C. premiere was in the end of December at the American Film Institute. We had four screenings and they all sold out so that was pretty amazing. Since then the film has been touring the country.

What was it like having the film premiere in D.C. versus New York?

The response in New York was pretty amazing. It was the first time we’ve shown it at all to an audience so it was a little nerve-wracking but the response was incredible. But D.C. was the one that i was most anxious about, but it ended up being great. Every night was a great crowd and it was a very positive response to the film. Every night was a little surreal for me.

Where has the film been so far on its tour? Is this typical for the release of a documentary?

I’d have to look at everything to tell you but we’ve been essentially criss-crossing the country, there’s no logic to it, but we’ve been to most of the major cities. L.A., Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Boston, DC, Baltimore, Philly, Chicago. By the end of the tour we’ll hopefully have been everywhere in between. I haven’t been to all of the shows, if I could clone myself I would! We’ve done Europe and we’re doing three screenings in Buenos Ares as part of a film festival and i just found out it sold out all three screenings already. We also sold out Austria, Berlin, and Germany.

What has the reception been like in different countries, which are so far off geographically from the original scene? Are people still able to connect with the film?

I’ve gotten amazing emails from people that I don’t know telling me and letting me know what they thought of the film. It’s really been, the experience so far has been really humbling. I knew that I was part of something really special and that for me, it was a life-altering experience and that it formed my life in ways that I wasn’t even aware of. You hope to have that effect on other people but you don’t know if it will. So it’s been cool to see it resonate with other people.

I basically booked the whole thing myself so I saw it as 1980s style like, get in a van and just fucking bring a Blu-ray with you and show it. It didn’t exactly work that way but that’s how I approached it.

Has anything especially surprising happened since you released the film? 

Other than people just liking it? Not really, just again, you know that you witnessed something really special and it’s just really cool to know that I guess that we did the film in a way that I experienced … Personally, in making this, what I wanted more than anything was that the people who weren’t there, or even people who just had a cursory knowledge of it, to walk away going like, “Oh wow, that was something pretty special”, and so far, at least for a few folks, it’s definitely done that. That’s the biggest success.

Since the film has been touring the country, do you attend most of the screenings? The way you described it makes it sound like you’re a band going on tour across America.

Yeah, well that’s kind of the way I approached it! I basically booked the whole thing myself so I saw it as 1980s style like, get in a van and just fucking bring a Blu-ray with you and show it. It didn’t exactly work that way but that’s how I approached it. We’ve done tons of theaters but I’ve also shown it at art galleries, halls, whatever there is. This is a film that says “you can do this too” so I’ve gotten calls from people, kids from all around the country saying like, “This film is really important to me and I want to show it to my community but I’m not a promoter and I don’t have any connections but I feel like this would be great for my community to see.” So we kind of figure out a way to find a hall or a theater or whatever and show it. I’ve been doing a lot of that in smaller towns around the country. For me, I just want everyone to see the film no matter what the venue.

That connects so much to the original message of D.C. D.I.Y. I know when I was going to school around D.C. that I didn’t know much about the scene but the legacy is so present that it’s easy to quickly learn about it. Are you worried that this could die out as time goes on? Do you think the film helps preserve the history? 

I’d like to think so but realistically I also know that there’s enough going on in D.C. now, and not just D.C. but in every major city and everything in between, that it doesn’t really need a film like this to keep it alive. I can only speak for D.C. since it’s the only city I’ve ever lived in, but I think that what happened in the eighties was certainly part of the fabric or DNA of the independent, D.I.Y culture of D.C. I think it’ll always be there. So I don’t think that the independent punk rock scene in D.C. needs this film at all to sustain itself. I think they’re doing just fine.

If anything, hopefully the film will just serve as a reminder to kids that we were able to do this shit thirty years ago with no infrastructure, no radio support, no record label industry whatsoever, no internet, no cellphones, and they were able, God I sound old, but they were able to make something pretty special. It’s something that still affects the scene today, and having said that a lot of the people that are interviewed in the film are still active participants in what’s going on in D.C. today in music, whether they’re playing it or behind the scenes or recording it or producing it or working the door. I think as much as I want people to see the film, I’m just saying that I don’t think, the point of the film for me personally is that, “This happened then, it was pretty fucking cool, but it’s still happening now in this town and dozens of others.” It should be a reminder to people that it happened, and if it’s not happening for you now, you can make it happen. I didn’t want it to come off as people in their forties and fifties looking back and thinking about the glory days.

Salad Days Poster

What’s your favorite musical thing happening in D.C. right now?

Priests are so fucking good, that’s probably my number one right now. After seeing them live I was like, speechless. It reminded me, I don’t want to make comparisons, but they reminded me of Bikini Kill with that kind of raw energy. It reminded me of everything that I fell in love with as a kid. That’s what it felt when I saw them for the first time. But there’s a ton of stuff. The great thing about D.C. now is that there’s never been, there’s certainly ebbs and flows just like any music scene but even at its low points there was always great stuff coming out of the city.

You were researching for this move for four years – was there anything you discovered during your research that you weren’t aware of before?

Not really, since I was such a geek about all this stuff. I did find, I talked to most of the members of Minor Threat about when they broke up and it was really fascinating for me to get a different perspective on the details of the break up. I had heard about some of the things but had never heard it in that detail before so to me that was interesting. But that’s just because I’m a nerd about this stuff. Nothing really shocking happened but there were a few twists and turns in the narrative along the away. There were a few people that weren’t really interested in talking about the past, which is fine but I would have liked to have them in the film. For the most part though, people were very forthcoming, very honest, very real about their experience and open, whether it was with their personal experiences or sharing their scrapbook or flyer collection.

This is the first documentary you’ve made – do you plan on further pursuing this medium?

Absolutely, I have two different projects that I’m working on so we’ll see where that goes. The whole experience for me has been really life-altering and humbling and therapeutic and amazing so I’m looking forward to tackling the next project. In the meantime, this was something that I felt like … well, the one takeaway I had from this whole experience, I just can’t creatively do a project like this that takes three and a half years of your life, literally every day of your life, on a subject that you’re just not passionate about. I hope that shows in the film. I may have a very short-lived career because I can only do something that I’m emotionally invested in.

Do you think this is the last time you’ll cover the D.C. music scene?

No, I would love to still do it. I started writing about this stuff when I was twelve, then I quit doing fanzines and started playing in a band and played music for a few years. Then I quit that, started another magazine, and a few years later I started an online magazine. Basically I spent more than half of my life either writing about or playing music. The happiest times of my life are when I’m doing this stuff on my own or doing something on my own terms. Whether it was the magazine or the documentary. This is pretty much my curse. This is what I’ll be doing.

 
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