Politics as Unusual: Washington, DC Hardcore Punk 1979-1983 and the Politics of Sound

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During the creative and influential years between 1979 and 1983, hardcore punk was not only born -- a mutated sonic stepchild of rock n' roll, British and American punk -- but also evolved into a uncompromising and resounding paradigm of and for DC youth. Through the revelatory music of DC hardcore bands like Bad Brains, Teen Idles, Minor Threat, State of Alert, Government Issue and Faith a new formulation of sound, and a new articulation of youth, arose: one that was angry, loud, fast, and minimalistic. With a total of only ten albums between all five bands in a mere five years, DC hardcore cemented a small yet significant subculture and scene.

This project considers two major components of this music: aesthetics and the social politics that stem from those aesthetics. By examining the way music communicates -- facets like timbre, melody, rhythm, pitch, volume and dissonance -- while simultaneously incorporating an analysis of hardcore's social context -- including the history of music's cultural canons, as well as the specific socioeconomic, racial and gendered milieu in which music is generated, communicated and responded to --this dissertation attempts to understand how hardcore punk conveys messages of social and cultural politics, expressly representations of race, class and gender. In doing so, this project looks at how DC hardcore (re)contextualizes and (re)imagines the social and political meanings created by and from sound.