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End on End: RITES OF SPRING

Highlights from The DC Issue

Photography by Cynthia Connolly

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Monday, November 03, 2008


The following piece appears in Issue 37: The DC Issue. For more on this issue, click here


END ON END
: RITES OF SPRING

By John Dugan


In the mid-Eighties, Rites of Spring took hardcore punk music to glorious, ecstatic heights and infused the DC punk scene with a spirit of personal revolution. The band’s music captured the fleeting precious nature of youth and left the lucky few fans who managed to catch them live with an almost religious experience. Rites of Spring only played 15 shows during their lifetime, but fans remember those gigs like they happened yesterday. Two of the band’s members, Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty, would go on to join DC post-punk legends Fugazi.

Although Rites of Spring’s sole album has probably only sold around 60,000 copies, it remains a touchstone for the period. The band is sometimes regarded as the originator of “emo,” but the quartet’s output bears little resemblance to the whiny, commercial indie pop of the last decade. For one, ROS possesses a fiercely organic feel and a timeless romanticism that’s the antithesis of mall culture; as recorded work, their songs remain fresh, explosive and affecting almost a quarter century after they were originally released.

Guy Picciotto, Mike Fellows, Brendan Canty and Eddie Janney were a group of friends before they were an official band, according to Picciotto, who sang and played guitar in ROS. Picciotto and Fellows, who played bass, were born days apart at the same hospital, and wound up hanging out together at punk shows in the early Eighties. “Mike and I were sort of barnacled to Brendan’s first band, Deadline,” says Picciotto. “The group of us who were affiliated with Deadline were known as D.O.D., which as a subset in DC punk, had its own dance moves and way of dressing. Mike and I would bum-rush the tail end of Deadline shows, grab their instruments and improvise chaotically until the plug got pulled.

After Deadline broke up, the D.O.D. strain got more formalized when Brendan, Mike and I formed Insurrection with Terry [Deadline’s bassist] as the vocalist. That band, which was the product of listening almost exclusively to “Discharge,” Rudimentary Peni’s first 7” and Venom, played throughout 1983, recorded a [now lost] tape at Inner Ear and then fell apart.” Afterward, Janney whose band Faith had split up, joined the foursome. “Playing music together was just a logical outcome of us hanging out with each other almost constantly. It was very tight,” says Picciotto.

Except for Janney, who had moved into the Dischord house in Arlington around that time, everyone else was still in high school and living at home with their parents when they formed the band. “We drove out to the record shops to buy records, lots of singles,” Canty remembers. “I collected Buzzcocks and Wire singles and early Scritti Politti.” The four hung out at Georgetown arcades and pizza joints, and found jobs at the famed Yesterday and Today Records and a movie theater in Georgetown. As Fellows recounts, “There was a lot of aimless teenage shit that we encoded and mythologized. There was a strict system of pacts, where if something was declared, and then seconded, it then had to be executed without resistance, like watching Nena’s ‘99 Red Balloons’ video 99 times without leaving the room, or crawling home from miles away.” Canty claims the ROS spent every Monday duckpin bowling for years.

By 1983, the hardcore music explosion in the States had attracted attention from the mainstream media — most of it negative.

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