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November 15, 2020 59 min

Alan Parkes is a PhD student in US history at the University of Delaware. He studies the impact of neo-liberalization on late-twentieth-century youth cultures. He is a member of California’s hardcore punk band Empty Eyes.

In the early 1980s, Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye, two young Washington DC punks, heard a song that, as Rollins recalls, “was so good that we pulled over just so we could listen to it without having to deal with traffic.” They waited to hear the radio DJ announce the song title after it ended. Rollins remembers, “the lady said that was ‘‘Pump Me Up’ by Trouble Funk,’ and Ian and I looked at each other and instantly came to the same conclusion: that is the beat we’ve been waiting to hear for our entire lives.” The go-go sounds of Trouble Funk and the hardcore punk created by Rollins, as a member of DC band SOA, and MacKaye as a singer of Minor Threat, while at seemingly opposite ends of musical taste, expose a distinctiveness in DC music-making that marked the 1980s and, more significantly, provide a basis for understanding the complexities of community formation in the teeth of rising neoliberal cultural influence.  Alan argues that as a consequence of their emphasis on a localized do-it-yourself ethos, go-go and hardcore punk fostered an alternative to neoliberal cultural structures through music-centred community formation. He says, while go-go scene members constructed a community in response to DC’s postindustrial and political climate as well as a history of black suppression in the US, Washington hardcore punk scene members created a community informed largely by its counterparts in cities across the US and abroad but that nonetheless became distinctly identified with DC. Alan expresses that the beat that Rollins and MacKaye had waited to hear and the subculture they helped form exposes both the weaknesses and entrenched influence of prevailing neoliberal thought that defined the 1980s. 

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