Bad Brains. Teen Idles. Void. Minor Threat. Youth Brigade. Iron Cross. S.O.A. Government Issue. What do these bands have in common? They are all from Washington, D.C., and part of one of the first Do It Yourself movements in American music. The nation’s capital produced some of the most influential hardcore punk bands in the first wave of American Hardcore: punk rock that was much more aggressive, speedy, snotty, and to the point than most of the genre’s forefathers. From the same scene came Dischord Records, formed by Minor Threat bandmates/best-friends-since-they-were-kids Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson. Dischord has shaped the way independent music is produced, distributed, and sold since 1980, keeping all costs at a bare minimum for the bands and the consumers. Many punk rockers would agree that without Dischord Records, “D.I.Y.” wouldn’t exist. They were one of the first independent punk labels to do it all themselves, including signing, recording, package designing, distributing, and tour booking and management.
The D.C. scene has been analyzed and discussed in documentaries like Paul Rachman’s American Hardcore (2006) and Jem Cohen’s Fugazi paean Instrument (2003), but it has been a long time coming for a feature-length work specifically about the diverse city and its talented, dedicated inhabitants. That feature has arrived in the form of 2014’s Salad Days (named after one of the last Minor Threat songs ever written), directed by the D.C.-based music journalist, musician, and graphic designer Scott Crawford. A brief discussion of the earliest bands, including Bad Brains and MacKaye’s Teen Idles, kick the film off with much respect. But then Minor Threat was born, and Dischord Records came shortly thereafter (because the band wanted to put its own records out and not have to deal with the major labels that usually wanted nothing to do with them), and the city exploded with the pent-up rage and frustration that can only come from the offspring of government workers. The storytelling does not give up until the 80s have concluded with Fugazi taking over what Bad Brains and Teen Idles began. Salad Days interviews many of the mainstays of the D.C. scene: Ian MacKaye, Jeff Nelson, Brian Baker, Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl, and many more. Even people that were playing music in other cities at the time, including Thurston Moore and Fred Armisen, talk to the cameras to give their perspective of what was witnessed from the outside. Still photographs, including several by the celebrated photographer Glen Friedman, play a crucial role in the narrative as well.
True to the spirit of doing it yourself, Crawford and his crew raised over $50,000 (in less than a week!) on Kickstarter to fund production. Crawford and a few of his interview subjects have been traveling the United States this winter and spring with the film, screening it in various cities and often presenting Q&A sessions with the audience. Touring the country with a film in hand, one city at a time, is not that different from touring the country with a punk rock band crammed into a stinky van.
TUBE. had the opportunity to catch up with Crawford and discuss his film before a recent full-house screening at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
Besides the music, what inspired this film to be made? Where and how did Salad Days begin?
I started working on the film during a crossroads period in my life. It was a story that I’d been wanting to tell for decades, but it felt like the timing was right—and I needed something new creatively to focus on. I’d been writing about music for much of my life as well being an art director, so I felt like I could tell the story best visually in a film format.
Who were some of the movie’s most important resources?
I approached Jim Saah (Director of Photography, Editor) with the idea of the film when all I had was a story outline. His photos were such an important part of documenting that period that they were essential to the film. We scoured his archives for shots that had never been seen before. We were also lucky enough to have friends donate their flyer collections and personal scrapbook photos to the cause. Ian MacKaye provided things from his personal collection that really helped in certain key scenes of the film as well.
The film’s subtitle is A Decade of Punk in Washington, D.C. Besides the musicians, who else impacted the scene? Are many of those people involved in the film?
DC was a community full of artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, and activists that all helped create a scene that was always looking to evolve and question the status quo in creative ways. I think there was a certain expectation that if you were going to be a part of the scene by going to see the bands, that you would participate in other ways as well. That’s one of the reasons I started a fanzine as a kid—I wanted to be a part of it all.
Your project successfully raised over $50,000 on Kickstarter. What can you say about this economic resource for artists and creators?
Kickstarter is an incredible resource for creators—the experience for me was overwhelmingly positive. I knew I wanted the film to be crowd-sourced from the get-go. It fits so perfectly with the spirit of the project. When we reached our initial goal in 6 days, I knew that I’d struck a nerve. I’d certainly recommend the experience—though it requires a lot of work and commitment.
What were some of the most insightful lessons learned from the interview subjects?
It was fascinating for me to get so many different perspectives on the subject from people that I’d either grown up with watching on stage or others that were central to the community at that point. It was interesting to hear others’ take on different events that I was witness to as well—sometimes teen angst can cloud your judgment and it certainly did mine at times.
IMDB lists this film as your very first credit. Are you formally trained in filmmaking? What lessons did you learn about how to make a movie while making Salad Days? What advice would you give to new filmmakers?
I’m not formally trained in filmmaking—but much like everything else I’ve done professionally, I took the DIY approach to it all and learned along the way. It’s the way I’ve always worked. Coming from the DC punk scene in the 80s gave me that kind of license or confidence to try it. It’s been a life-altering experience.
The movie is being screened one town at a time throughout the United States this winter and spring. Will you be at each screening, like a band on tour, or will you attend select screenings? Do the musicians attending SF’s Q&A join you in other towns?
Unfortunately I won’t be able to make all of the screenings, but I’m attending as many as I can. I’ll be joined by various musicians from the film in a number of different towns around the country.
Independent filmmakers have traveled the country with their films since the beginning of the medium. What does touring with a movie take these days?
It takes some patience and some creative travel arrangements. It’s not unlike touring in a van—you sleep on people’s floors and eat Ramen noodles. But like performing, the payoff is the audience reaction. It’s taken me a while to get used to sitting in a theater with strangers sharing this thing that you created in such a personal way. But I’m squirming in my seat less and less.
This film is quite an accomplishment that a lot of people around the world want to see. What’s next?
Thank you for that. I have a number of projects I’m thinking about and starting to work on. “Salad Days” is something really special—I’m not sure how anything after this will compare. But I’m looking forward to finding out.
Learn more about the film at saladdaysdc.com.
It will be screening in Baltimore, MD on March 19; Columbia, SC on March 20; Houston, TX and Austin, TX on March 22; Boston, MA on March 27; and again at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco on March 27.
Words: Morgan Giles