Punk-Funk D.C.

Corcoran presents an exhibit paying homage to D.C.'s musical subcultures

Did you know? Washington, D.C., circa the 1980s was a hotbed of pop music, helping germinate two very distinct strands of sound. There was hardcore punk rock, led by Ian MacKaye and his bands, from Minor Threat to Fugazi, and the funk variant known as go-go, popularized by Chuck Brown and including bands E.U. and Rare Essence.

12 Hardcore 7'' records

12 Hardcore 7” records

(Photo by Aaron Farley)

”Both of those cultures were booking their own shows, finding their own practice spaces, doing everything themselves,” Roger Gastman says. ”And both of them were surviving completely separate of each other” – one appealing to mostly white, mostly suburban youth, the other, black, urban young adults. But Gastman, a Bethesda native who now lives in Los Angeles, has conjoined these cultural threads for a new exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, ”Pump Me Up,” which takes its name from a song by go-go band Trouble Funk. ”The show is really a huge celebration of do-it-yourself culture,” says Gastman, who built the exhibit around the many artifacts and ephemera he started collecting soon after he caught his first punk show in 1991 at the 9:30 Club. It should be noted that the club, in its original F Street location downtown, was a hub for both funk and punk scenes.

The exhibit includes work by the infamous D.C. graffiti artist known as Cool Disco Dan, also the subject of a new documentary Gastman has produced, The Legend of Cool Disco Dan. There is nothing in the show that you could call specifically gay, however. ”I know the [original] 9:30 Club, and especially before it was the 9:30 Club, when it was the Atlantis building, there were a lot of artists squatting there that came out of the gay community, or were very gay friendly,” Gastman explains. ”But as far as pinpointing anything specific, no.”

Yet there was a general outsider-vibe and a sense of rebellion in both subcultures that gays can identify with. Both, says Gastman, appeal ”to so many different scenes and so many different people and feelings. Which is so great.” ‘

Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s is on exhibit until April 7 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. Tickets are $10. Call 202-639-1700 or visit corcoran.org.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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