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From late-’70s hardcore-show fliers to the latest ad for Five, the D.C. flag has long been a rallying—and marketing—symbol for local music. In fact, three new labels with area ties have made the District’s insignia their calling cards. But only two of them are using it to sell music from Washington.
Henry Rollins’ District Line and the self-described “punk-techno and synth-rock” imprint District of Corruption both release their first flag-decorated discs this month. And then there’s D.C. Flag—the label recently started by Waldorf, Md., natives Benji and Joel Madden of pop-punk outfit Good Charlotte.
Rollins, 42, doesn’t take his flag-raising too seriously, even though he was born in Washington and cut his musical teeth in the early-’80s D.C. hardcore band State of Alert. “I just thought it was a cool logo, a simple graphic,” the Los Angeles resident says. “It’s not like I have the flag tattooed on my face in an Auslander kind of thing. It’s a friendly project—it’s not lines drawn in the sand.”
The label, which will rerelease classic local albums such as Trouble Funk’s Live and Early Singles and the Limp Records compilation :30 Over DC—Here Comes The New Wave!, uses the straight-no-chaser version of the flag: three simple stars above two solid bars. District of Corruption, the brainchild of 25-year-old Washington DJ Aaron Hedges, swaps in dollar signs for the stars—recalling the original D.C. hardcore crowd, which marked the flag with Xs.
“There’s a lot of issues and politics in this town, but people in the electronic scene don’t address it and incorporate it,” says Hedges, whose own Watching Me EP is District of Corruption’s first release. “A lot of electronic music is very escapist, and I’m hoping to change that.”
To that end, Hedges and fellow District of Corruption artist Petrie La Mode have been spinning at local venues under such themes as “Ashcroft & the 4th Reich.” Not to mention pushing merch: T-shirts bearing the label’s dollar-sign logo, Hedges notes, have been selling well at Commander Salamander.
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Whereas both District Line and District of Corruption are traditional indies, run at a grass-roots level and aimed at niche audiences, D.C. Flag can function as either an indie or an imprint of Epic, Good Charlotte’s label.
The Maddens told MTV News in November that the label’s name is a tribute to Minor Threat and the other D.C. hardcore bands they grew up listening to. Yet Benji says that they settled on the moniker only after they’d found out that others higher on their list had already been taken. The Maddens also decided to use brass knuckles as the label’s logo after their lawyers told them they couldn’t legally use the flag—even though it’s in the public domain.
So far, the only bands D.C. Flag has signed, modern rockers Lola Ray and hardcore supergroup Hazen Street, are both from New York. “We’ve been on tour for the last four years,” says Benji, 24, who’ll be returning to the area in March. “We’re really looking forward to finding a band from D.C.”
If Joel has his way, though, Dischord has nothing to fear. As he told MTV: “My dream is to put out a Morrissey album.”
OK, so their efforts at developing Heavy Metal Parking Lot into comic books, skateboards, T-shirts, a feature film, and a light opera haven’t gone anywhere. But now that they have their own TV series based on the classic flick, local filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn finally smell gold. Maybe.
“What we got out of [the deal] was not much compensation, really, but the ability to get on the radar screen,” says the 46-year-old Heyn of the new six-episode Trio cable series Parking Lot, which he and Krulik co-produced and helped shoot. “That’s essentially what we’re taking to the bank.”
HMPL, which captured the amusing ravings of Judas Priest fans before a 1986 Capital Centre concert, has been one of the most bootlegged music films ever made. But outside of two sequels—Neil Diamond Parking Lot and Harry Potter Parking Lot—and a 15th-anniversary HMPL tour, Krulik and Heyn’s glory has been fleeting. Krulik, a 42-year-old freelance TV and video producer who lives in Cleveland Park, says he’s even stopped bringing up the film with strangers. “In some constituencies,” he says, “not a single person has heard of it.”
They brought the TV idea two years ago to Radical Media, a firm that had produced Errol Morris’ recent Fog of War and the ESPN series The Life. “We saw it as an omnibus for all types of pop-culture events,” says Gaithersburg resident Heyn, who produces training videos for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Radical Media took it to Trio, Trio greenlighted it, and by February 2003, Krulik and Heyn were freezing their asses off before a Phish concert in Philly. They also had input into postproduction. “We just said yea or nay [to each episode],” Krulik explains. “Like the big shots eatin’ doughnuts in the back of the screening room.”
Parking Lot, which documents not just concert zanies but Civil War re-enactors and a cat show, just finished its initial run last week and goes into heavy rotation on Trio in March. Krulik and Heyn are in talks with Trio and Radical Media about more episodes. “I hope we do [it], because we’ll never run out of material,” says Jack Lechner, the series’ executive producer at Radical. “There are so many parking lots to explore.”
“2004 may be the year for Heavy Metal Parking Lot to break through to the mainstream,” says Heyn, pointing out that a reunited Judas Priest will be touring this spring. “We’ve always been pigeonholed as underground filmmakers, but I think we’re permanently on the cultural zeitgeist now.”
PLUS CA CHANGE…
The hot D.C. painter who “needs to leave town,” according to Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik, is now…leaving town.
Jason Gubbiotti, the 28-year-old Corcoran College of Art & Design grad whose solo show two years ago at 14th Street NW’s Fusebox prompted admiration, envy, and more than a little backbiting in the local visual-arts community, plans to pull up stakes in late March to move to the French city of Metz.
But it’s for love as much as inspiration: Gubbiotti is moving into a 17th-century apartment with his girlfriend, Corinne Charpentier, whom he met on a train platform four years ago in Italy and who runs an arts center in the nearby town of Delme.
“I know,” says Gubbiotti. “It’s almost unbearably romantic.”
It might also be a great career move. Gopnik’s review of Gubbiotti’s Fusebox show ran under the headline “Go Somewhere, Young Man: A Talent in Need of a Shove.” And Gopnik still thinks that’s the case for Gubbiotti, who is often seen as a descendent of the Washington Color School’s abstract masters.
“It’s interesting and a problem that [Gubbiotti] is so tightly connected to the history of abstraction in Washington,” says Gopnik. “In Europe, where abstraction isn’t so big a force, he’ll get a new set of influences.”
Fusebox co-owner Sarah Finlay says that Gubbiotti will continue to show at the gallery, where his second solo show opens Feb. 7. But Gubbiotti says he knows now that Gopnik was right to give him a push.
“There’s only so much you can do here,” he says, “I’ve seen it happen with five artists here: They get a number of shows, a piece at the Corcoran or the Hirshhorn, and that’s it. You don’t realize it right away—it’s kind of like putting a frog in water and then turning it up gradually to boiling.”
Even if Gubbiotti doesn’t benefit from the move, someone else Gopnik has an interest in probably will: Gubbiotti is currently talking with painter Lucy Hogg about taking over his studio at the Millennium Arts Center. That’s Lucy Hogg—wife of Blake Gopnik. —Robert Lalasz
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