Various Artists : 20 Years Of Dischord

This box isn't a tombstone

As statements of intent go, it’s a pretty good one. “I can truly say”, bawled Dischord records co-founder Ian MacKaye with his band Embrace in 1987, “that I don’t give a fuck about your money”. What MacKaye did give a fuck about – and remember this was at the height of the me-centric Reagan/Thatcher era, when Gordon Gekko and Patrick Bateman held the keys to the world’s executive washroom – was community, self-determination, solidarity and creativity for its own sake. This box is the proof.

Because Dischord is a label unlike other labels. Run by MacKaye and partner Jeff Nelson, they only sign bands from Washington DC, are dedicated to selling records at the lowest price possible and spurn crass lunchbox ‘n’ sticker set marketing opportunities, instead organising benefits for local charities. In 1982, Dischord were pioneers, marshalling a punker infrastructure of bands, labels, ‘zines, and distribution that allowed the US underground to survive. Nirvana put out their early records on an American indie label. So did The White Stripes and The Hives. This wouldn’t have happened without Dischord.

What we get here is The Motherlode: two CD’s of music by every band to have released a record on the label in the last two decades – some were only together for a matter of months – one CD of unreleased stuff and videos, plus a lush book of pictures and band bios. Excitingly, unlike other legendary labels (Trojan, Motown, Stax), there’s no such thing as The Dischord Sound. Spread across these 74 tracks, there’s straightahead hardcore, funky punk, dubby punk and a whole mess of squally noise: what’s most remarkable is how much of 2002 has its roots here. In Rites Of Spring and One Last Wish you can hear the birth of emo. Fire Party were precursors to riot grrrl, while Slant 6 kept the fire burning. The Hives, The (International) Noise Conspiracy and the literate end of the nu-rock ‘n’ roll brigade stole so much from gospel-garage avatars The Make-Up it’s almost criminal, while Fugazi‘s inspired blend of stop-start dynamics, dub, MC5-type guitar tumult and melodic breakdowns has been pillaged by everyone from Lostprophets to Limp Bizkit.

And, most importantly, it’s all still going on. This box isn’t a tombstone: MacKaye and Nelson might be greying, but they’re still putting out records, still inspiring bands, still mattering. Money be damned.

Pat Long