By now you’ve heard about the new exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s, which is lighting up Twitter and Instagram and popping up everywhere in your Facebook feed. Finally, the culture critics say, Washington has an exhibit all its own, featuring the only musical form indigenous to the area — go-go — and attracting tastemakers from all over.
But here’s my advice, Borderstanis, don’t just go to the exhibit. Do the Washington thing and attend a lecture or panel discussion. This month, the Corcoran is offering a series of events to highlight the show, geared at all of the music geeks and amateur music historians out there. Each of these events is full of such cool information, it will no doubt figure prominently as your standard “Did you know…” conversation piece from here on.
The History of Go-Go
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a primer: in the aftermath of the riots of 1968 when neighborhoods across the city were destroyed, Chuck Brown emerged with a new funk sound (go-go), that was hyper-local to each DC neighborhood and “crew.” Around the same time, an underground punk scene was thriving with the 9:30 Club at its heart (it was downtown then).
Graffiti, street music, self-promotion and a do-it-yourself culture connected this local music scene, in a time where many people felt abandoned by a corrupt government and overwhelmed by violence. All of this resulted in something Washingtonians can now be proud of: a unique punk, hardcore, and go-go scene, now being studied by academics and historians the world over.
The Corcoran has collected (on loan from local institutions like the 9:30 Club and Globe printing press) an incredible display of memorabilia, including a huge selection of neon Globe concert posters; old music photos, flyers and record covers; DC political memorabilia (lots of stuff on Mayor-for-life Marion Barry); video footage of shows, riots, graffiti and violence; and newspaper clippings depicting the tragic murders and the rise of drugs in 1980s DC.
The exhibit was curated by Roger Gastman, a Bethesda native, publisher, filmmaker and graffiti connoisseur of “Exit Through the Gift Shop” fame, now also the guy behind the new film “Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan.” In fact, the king of DC graffiti, Cool “Disco” Dan, figures prominently in the storyline, shown tagging DC buses and making a name for himself – long before DC Donutz came around.
Events and Exhibit
Details on the events are below and the exhibit runs through April 7. All events are $10 for non-members, $8 for members, and $5 for students. Register early — you’re not the only academic in town.
- Bustin’ Loose: Stories from D.C.’s Underground Music Scenes, Tuesday, March 12, 7 pm Panel Discussion: Tomorrow, take in this panel featuring homegrown experts of the unique-to-D.C. underground youth culture of go-go and hardcore, just swapping stories: 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz; D.C. Go-Go and hip-hop artist DJ Kool; discographer, writer and DJ Iley Brown, II; and musician Alec MacKaye.
- Go-Go Music: The History and Evolution of DC’s Legendary Beat, Monday, March 18, 7 pm Lecture: Ever heard of ethnomusicology? Of course you have. Expert Kip Lornell, Adjunct Professor of American Music and Ethnomusicology at George Washington University and co-author of The Beat: Go Go Music from Washington, DC, will talk about go-go music’s development and ongoing popularity, including the births of bands such as Rare Essence (RE), Trouble Funk, and Junk Yard Band in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as more recent bands and their modern take.
- DIY DC, Thursday, March 28, 7 pm Panel Discussion: Do-It-Yourself was not invented by Martha Stewart, people. Both go-go and punk subcultures followed a DIY approach, often promoting their own music, making their own posters and creating their own scene outside of a mainstream record label or industry. Discussion will focus on the music and gangs of pre-gentrification DC and panelists include Trouble Funk’s “Big” Tony Fisher, Rare Essence’s Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson, Washington music writer Mark Jenkins, former D.C. Police detective Donald “Goose” Gossage and Gangster George, a former member of the Gangster Chronicles crew.