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A New Generation of Punk at Dischord Records

In the short list of world capitals of punk rock music, there's London, New York City and Los Angeles -- but that list wouldn't be complete without Washington, D.C.

In the late 1970s, teens in the nation's capital were building their own punk scene, complete with spiked leather and dyed hair, that was as bold and electric as the music they made.

Many of those earliest D.C. bands recorded for an independent record label called Dischord, founded 25 years ago by Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson. That pioneering label is still alive today, and a new generation of bands are finding a home for their socially conscious, harder-edged style of rock 'n' roll.

Dischord put out its first record in 1980, a 45 rpm recording by the MacKaye/Nelson group Teen Idles called "Minor Disturbance." The band cut, folded and glued each of the thousands of record jackets by hand. That sense of communal mission, says MacKaye, is what drove the label.

"We had a slogan: 'Putting D.C. on the map.' Our initial mission was to document the punk scene," he says. Another long-standing tradition at Dischord has been political activism. Groups like Mackaye's own disbanded Fugazi have routinely written songs and joined protests against homelessness, apartheid and U.S.-led conflicts around the world.

Today, the label may be a modern business, but it's still driven by the straightforward communalism that first defined it. "We don't use contracts, lawyers, any of those kinds of things," MacKaye says. "We are partners -- they make the music, and we make the records."

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Christopher Johnson