The Lotsa Pop Losers festival was held in Bethesda, Md., and Washington, D.C. on October 26 and 27, 1991. Jointly sponsored by local labels Simple Machines, Teen-Beat, and Slumberland, the event served as a showcase for some of the more pop-oriented indie-rock bands active on the East Coast, pulling together bands from New York, Boston, Providence, Hoboken, Baltimore, and D.C. for two days of noise pop and post-punk racket.
Looking back today, the lineup reads like a hit parade of some of the best bands of the ‘90s, with Velocity Girl, Versus, Unrest, Edsel, Lilys, Small Factory and others—-featuring an extremely high proportion of women in the early stages of the riot grrrl movement—-all convening for one exciting, noisy weekend. What follows are some memories and impressions from some of the people who organized, attended, and played at Lotsa Pop Losers.
Kristin Thomson (Tsunami, co-founder of the Simple Machines label): We had been to the International Pop Underground convention [organized by K Records] in Olympia, Washington, that summer. And it was such an inspiring event. It was positive, with people coming to Olympia to be all dirty and weird together.
Jenny Toomey (Tsunami, co-founder of the Simple Machines label): The International Pop Underground convention and a lot of that Olympia scene was inspiring to us, and exciting. And it was wonderful that at the same moment we were beginning to do Simple Machines at a level where we could actually tour and do other kinds of things, to realize that we had some peers in D.C., as well.
You didn’t really have national cachet unless you were into certain kinds of major mainstream markets, or you were an old rock ‘n’ roll star. So we wanted to represent D.C. [We were] reading those trading cards [at the International Pop Underground convention], and thinking that we needed trading cards for our favorite thrift store, or our favorite diner. It seems kind of silly in some ways, but in other ways it was very much like you couldn’t wait to show your rock ‘n’ roll friends that you met at other shows around the country your special D.C. things.
Sohrab Habibion (Edsel): That was a pretty interesting time in D.C. in terms of the relative variety of music the bands were making. There was a camaraderie between most groups regardless of the specific strain of rock ‘n’ roll they happened to play. The fact that Simple Machines, Slumberland, and Teen-Beat were behind lots of the bands at this event at the same time Dischord was releasing Nation of Ulysses and Autoclave, and VHF was putting out Rake and Wingtip Sloat, shows what a fruitful time it was.
Don Smith (co-founder of the Teenage Gang Debs fanzine): To a great extent, if you look at Positive Force shows of that era being a bit too domineering in style and content, this was a chance for people without a narrow point of view to stretch and create a two-day D.C. event that was every bit as interesting and DIY [as Positive Force]. I’d talk to Positive Force people about setting up shows, and they’d want to vote on them and essentially “vote them out.” Here the indie crowd could take what we had experienced already from Positive Force, but create an experience that was important and unique.
There wasn’t a manifesto that everyone could agree on like at the International Pop Underground convention. In fact, there was a lot of discussion and confusion about what it should even be called. I preferred the name “SimpleBeatLand,” which wasn’t a parody of Lollapalooza but something that stood on its own. Lotsa Pop Losers made it seem like it was a reaction to Lollapalooza. And of course, calling oneself “Loser” was a Sub Pop T-shirt.
Jim Spellman (Velocity Girl, High-Back Chairs): Toomey first mentioned [Lotsa Pop Losers] along with Kristin. We had been playing shows with Tsunami here and there in places like Morgantown, West Virginia, and having a lot of fun. We would go to swimming holes and play cards and do other pretty un-rock things, and I think the idea was sort to sort of capture some of that, the things that would seem out of place at, say, the 9:30 Club, no offense to that fine establishment.
It all seemed like a fun time. I don’t recall thinking it would be some sort of big deal. This was right around when Nevermind came out, so none of us really thought anyone outside of our little circle would even care.
Mike Schulman (founder of Slumberland Records): The other two labels did a lot of the logistical stuff with room selection and booking. Kristin and Jenny struck me as organizational geniuses way beyond what I could imagine, so it was best to stay out of the way and let them work their magic.
Mark Robinson (Unrest, founder of the Teen-Beat label): Each label got to choose about one-third of the bands. Of course, for the most part, we chose bands that were on our respective labels.
I went to all the Slumberland shows, and had all the records and everything. I had met Jenny Toomey years before that, but then hadn’t really seen her since then, and essentially re-met her while we were doing the festival. I became close friends with [Toomey], and we started a band together, Grenadine. The Grenadine stuff was all split releases [between Teen-Beat and Simple Machines].
It was definitely well organized. Not to say that D.C. didn’t have its share of disorganized things, as well, but not when Kristin was involved, probably.
Kristin Thomson: The time between this idea, which probably germinated in late September 1991, and the event in late October, meant that we organized this thing in, like, seven weeks. I laugh about it, because, sure, we were always doing things, jumping in not only with both feet but with our entire bodies, and we would commit to crazy projects because it was so exciting. But as a person who has done other events in the last 20 years, I’m like, “Oh my God! How did we do that in seven weeks?” 20 bands, a T-shirt, trading cards, maps, two venues, volunteers… How did we do it? I don’t even know. We must have marshaled all the resources of the community to make it happen.
Jenny Toomey: And we were probably working day jobs, too. We had probably just come back from tour, and we had used, to the minute, the number of days off we could have. So I came back [from tour], went to work the next day, and after hours began to pull the whole thing together.
Henry Owings (concert promoter, founder of Chunklet magazine): Going up to D.C. was not uncommon for me in the ‘90s when I lived in Georgia, and I remember the Working Holiday festival [held at the Black cat in 1994], and it was the exact same way. I think in a lot of ways Simple Machines had a Midas touch for that kind of stuff. They just really nailed it. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve taken away a lot from how they operated.
Don Smith: In many ways, you saw three relatively distinct and separate groups of friends coming together in a big party while still maintaining a lot of individuality. The DIY bands on Simple Machines did not have the vast British record collections that the Slumberland kids had. None of the New York City “love rock” bands—-Kickstand, Sleepyhead, Flying Saucer—-seemed to have the same influences as the D.C. bands. I’m not sure we knew who [experimental composer] Alan Licht really was, which was an insane thing to say if you were from NYC.
Alex Kemp (Small Factory): We heard about Lotsa Pop Losers through Mike Schulman. He was into Small Factory, and was a huge supporter. I think we’d come down and played a couple of basement parties by that point, in Silver Spring.
We stood out no matter where the fuck we were, because we were just oddballs. But there was one other band that was doing something similar, which was Honeybunch. And there were a few other bands that popped up that started to venture into that lo-fi pop territory. But for the most part, the shadow of Boston rock loomed large [over Providence], so there was a lot of post-punk that was kind of the mainstay in the indie scene at that time. Six Finger Satellite, Medicine Ball, stuff like that.
Damon Tuntunjian (The Swirlies): In the early ‘90s, Boston felt pretty isolated from anything musically inventive. It was typical back then just to be a rock band—-just straight-up rock. That’s kind of what we were coming out of. The really interesting stuff—-The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr.—-were from the Amherst or Northampton area, and we never really thought of those bands as being part of the Boston scene—-it was totally different.
Boston around that time was, like, Cheater Slicks garage rock or just straight-up rock—-the kind of stuff you would hear on WBCN or read about in the Noise fanzine—-a real “Boston Rock” sound. We were really sloppy, really noisy, and sounded really different from the bands we were playing with at that point. I don’t think anybody really knew we were ripping off My Bloody Valentine or anything, because no one had heard of My Bloody Valentine, and maybe to some degree because we were completely failing at ripping them off, and just making a big mess of noise instead.
Archie Moore (Velocity Girl): Velocity Girl and Tsunami had met the folks from The Swirlies at a show in Providence, and they came to our Boston show the next night. We became good friends immediately. The first Sleepyhead single (“Too Much Fun”/”Play”) was a big hit with all the Slumberland folks, and I think it was Mike Schulman that invited them to play. We were big fans of [New York’s] Kicking Giant, too, and had played a gig or two with them. Pop-oriented bands were still pretty rare in the U.S., so I think we were all aware of each other.
Richard Baluyut (Versus): We got a call out of the blue from one of the Simple Machines ladies asking us to play. We didn’t know them, nor had we heard of most of the bands. I found out later that Tae Yu [from Kicking Giant] had turned them onto us, but at the time we were sort of baffled, especially by the name of the festival. In New York, underground bands were “post-punk.” We didn’t consider ourselves “pop” or “losers,” and we had never heard the term “indie rock.”
I don’t remember when we showed up exactly, but it was instantly alien. The bands, especially the ultra-pop ones, seemed like they were from another planet. Their earnestness, especially, was a stark contrast to the cynical bands we were used to. We actually thought that inviting us had been some sort of mistake, and considered hightailing it back to New York!
Jeff Feuerzeig (Kickstand, filmmaker [Half-Japanese: The Band That Would Be King, The Devil and Daniel Johnston]): In the Hoboken faction, there were a lot of people who were into indie pop or pop. Some of it was called twee, a term I never liked, some of it was more Velvet Underground and Young Marble Giants-inspired. There were a lot of different things going on.
Mike Galinksy (Sleepyhead): I’m gonna guess that we were already talking with Mike Schulman about putting out a record, so I imagine he was involved [in Sleepyhead’s being invited to Lotsa Pop Losers]. We played a lot with Kicking Giant and Small Factory at the time, so it made sense that we would be on the bill.
Alex Kemp: It’s amazing how in that lineup, you can really see how people were experimenting all around this new idea of what music could be to people at that time. Eggs were a little more intellectual. Versus were a little more visceral and dark. Sleepyhead took cuteness and wrapped it in fuzz. Everybody was really finding their own ways through this really new territory. It hadn’t solidified so much that you’d wind up, like you ultimately did in Seattle, where there’s Nirvana, and 12 other bands that sound almost exactly like Nirvana. People were doing it in really different ways. And there were a lot more girls represented in the bands.
Henry Owings: There was a lot if stuff that by 1991 standards was pop, but by 2013 standards, a lot of it was just racket. To be fair, Eggs were poppy, but they weren’t what I would call a pop band. Kicking Giant wasn’t a pop band. Edsel. Some of them were more mathy, and less conventionally pop. I went from D.C. to Athens, Ga. And when all of my friends started bands, it was Elf Power and Olivia Tremor Control and all these other bands that were truly pop bands. When you look at Lotsa Pop Losers, there was definitely an early ‘80s D.C. sort of branch of pop. It was poppier, but I wouldn’t call it pop.
Jenny Toomey: [The American Legion Hall in Bethesda, MD] was right near the Tastee Diner, which is enshrined in the trading cards.
Kristin Thomson: It was cheap, and accessible by Metro, and it might have been that Mike Schulman or somebody recommended it, somebody who was in Silver Spring.
One thing about that venue: I think it was Positive Force show, and we got The Melvins to play [on September 30, 1991]. It was the only benefit they ever played! And they were really mad about it. The cops came to tell us to turn it down. And so The Melvins played at volume Level One. They were whispering into the microphones.
Erin Smith (Bratmobile, Cold Cold Hearts, co-founder of the Teenage Gang Debs fanzine): I’m from Bethesda, so I’m very pro-Bethesda, Bethesda history, and Bethesda punk history. It’s something that would blow people’s minds now, but there were punk venues in Bethesda. I remember being really proud that it was in Bethesda, and being able to introduce that to people from New York who had maybe never been to D.C. I remember Rachel [Carns] from Kicking Giant getting out of the car and just looking around and saying, “You have a lot of sky here.”
Jim Spellman: At that time there were still parts of Bethesda that weren’t so fancy. On some weekends the hall was the home of the Twist & Shout Club, a sort of honky-tonk where people like Mary Chapin Carpenter would play. She wrote a song about it called “Down at the Twist and Shout.” I had never been there before the Lotsa Pop Losers show and I don’t think I ever went back. It was cool, though. Sort of a rec-room vibe. It was fun being somewhere where we could just take over. You couldn’t do that at a regular rock club.
Sohrab Habibion: It was weird. We’d definitely played our share of American Legion and VFW halls, Elks lodges and volunteer firehouses, so it wasn’t strange in an unknown way, but more like we had to get over a severe handicap to make it work. The thing about those places is that they are great for bingo and square dancing, but unflattering to rock music. The lighting is usually florescent and the acoustics are bizarre, at best. I think we played in the middle of the afternoon on a makeshift stage, surrounded by ‘70s rec-room wood paneling, to a crowd of folded arms who possibly had a slight sugar buzz from orange juice. I’ve seen and played some amazing shows in unusual venues, but this wasn’t one of them.
Archie Moore: I remember the crowd being very positive about all of the bands’ sets. Lots of people had come from out of town, so I think most people were pretty excited to see all or most of the bands. Again, the pop thing was fairly novel at the time, so it felt like a happening.
Damon Tuntunjian: I wrote down in my notes that the show started with a movie called Hippie Porn, but maybe they just showed some thing, and I was like, “This is hippie porn.” I don’t know what it was. It was either called Hippie Porn, or to me, it struck me as being hippie porn.
Mark Robinson: I screened the film Hippie Porn by Jon Moritsugu before the first show at the American Legion.
Jonny Cohen (Jonny Cohen’s Love Machine): The band was in a transition period, and a drummer who was supposed to play with us at the last second was not able to attend. The drummer who sat in with us I believe told me he was from the High-Back Chairs. He seemed like a nice fellow, and that was a nice thing for him to do.
Jim Spellman: I set up my drum kit for all the bands to play, so I was there from the beginning. Which put me in the sights of Johnny Cohen, who was looking for someone to sit in on drums for his set with The Love Machine. The band were these older guys, rock and roll veterans who played rockin’ blues and boogie woogie while Johnny did his thing. They made me wear a ridiculous yellow T-shirt about two sizes too small. I didn’t know any of their songs. One of the band dudes would look at me and call out, “Double shuffle boogie in E with a half time bridge and rock out on the chorus!” I had no idea what any of that meant, but I would do my best. It was awful. I’m pretty sure Mark Robinson was pretty amused by my predicament.
Jeff Feuerzeig: Jonny Cohen turned in the best set. Jonny Cohen was simply amazing.
Damon Tuntunjian: I remember everything sounded totally bizarre [for The Swirlies’ set]. I was playing through a tiny PA, in an echoey room, with not too many people. … At that point, both Seana [Carmody] and I were playing through Roland Jazz Chorus amps, I don’t know why—-they made us sound sounded brittle, thin. We didn’t really know what we were doing, and we were generally all over the place. It took some imagination to get what we were trying to sound like, I guess. Velocity Girl used Fender Twin Reverbs. I guess that must have inspired us to switch to Fender.
Jim Spellman: I remember The Swirlies were really good. Archie really found a kindred spirit in Damon. They both had very similar sensibilities, and I remember it being cool seeing a band doing similar things to what we were trying at the time.
Jeff Feuerzeig: Kickstand really shouldn’t have been playing live. We were scared shitless. We were just getting through the songs. I vaguely remember one of the more Velvet Underground-inspired songs, “Get Well Kiss,” going over really well, and that made me really happy. We also played a guitar/organ instrumental I wrote called “Crumble,” which was based on D.C./Maryland guitar hero Link Wray and his masterpiece “Rumble,” and I recall that getting a big reaction. Tammi and Torry made little miniature songbooks that we handed out, as they were both talented graphic designers, so these little songbooks were really cool. We had our music stands on stage, because we couldn’t remember the lyrics.
Alex Kemp: I was always a big fan of Kicking Giant. I just thought those guys, being just a duo, were really brave. I really admired them.
Jeff Feuerzeig: Kicking Giant was stand-up, Moe Tucker-style drums and Tae on guitar, [playing] pop songs-meets-Jonathan Richman-meets-Jackson Pollock splattering paint all over the walls. It was fantastic.
Damon Tuntunjian: Velocity Girl live, back then, was a sonic onslaught. I learned a bunch of guitar tips from Archie, even though he might not realize it. … They were doing all kinds of guitar acrobatics back then. They were loud, and really intense … I can’t really remember if they were pulling all those tricks then, but they sounded loud and tight, and they had a much better stage presence than us, much better showmen. The pictures I have of them playing that show, they’re all moving around—-it was exciting.
Jim Spellman: In the earlier days of Velocity Girl, the band sort of stood around on stage doing the shoegazer thing. But after playing with Superchunk, we were inspired to rock out, so I remember this being one of the first shows where we just went nuts rocking out and jumping around.
There were two foxy librarians in the crowd, Cynthia and Lisa. I recall Velocity Girl meeting Lisa for the first time on Day Two of the festival at DC Space, and Archie being pretty smitten with Lisa. A short time later he wrote the Velocity Girl song “Lisa Librarian.”
Sohrab Habibion: Nobody actively heckled [Edsel], but it wasn’t exactly enthusiastic, either. They had already seen four bands or so and were probably counting down until Tsunami and Velocity Girl were going to play. It was a dud. We felt ugly and abrasive in this context. As much as I liked many of the people in the other bands, the audience that came and the interest they showed in us was lackluster.
Damon Tuntunjian: We were all really excited to see High-Back Chairs, with Jeff Nelson. And when we watched them, we were like, “They’re kind of just rock.” And back then, I was pretty averse to just straight-up rock, because I was so sick of it from Boston. Andy [Bernick] pointed out to me (in retrospect) that they aren’t just straight-up rock.
Jeff Feuerzeig: Jeff Nelson, I had his first Minor Threat records, and there he is at Lotsa Pop Losers playing pop music. Everybody loved that sound. He wasn’t confined to one sound, and I remember thinking that was really cool.
Andrew Beaujon (Eggs): DC Space was a venue that I remember fondly, but if I’m being honest with myself, it was a very strange place to have a show. The room was a rectangle with bands smack in the middle, playing to a wall not very far away. So people crammed in on the sides to watch. That said, I’ve seen some of the best shows of my life there. [Disclosure: Beaujon is a former Washington City Paper staffer.]
Brian Nelson (Velocity Girl): It actually felt much more strange to be at DC Space during daylight hours the second day. I remember Alex Kemp from Small Factory walking straight to the bar at noon or whenever we got there and ordering a beer. I realized this is how you tour. [Disclosure: Nelson is a current Washington City Paper staffer.]
Jim Spellman: Since I played in 33 percent of the bands that played Day One, I couldn’t relax much. But Day Two at DC Space was better for me, and just about all the bands were amazing. Small Factory was one of the best live bands ever. They gave everything every time. Incredible.
Richard Baluyut: We asked Tae [from Kicking Giant] to sing one of [Versus’] songs, since he seemed to know everybody and might make us more “likeable.” I don’t remember much about our set except that we played everything furiously fast and people were jumping around. We were surprised at the positive reception, and it was the most exciting show we had played up to that point.
Mark Robinson: I remember liking Versus a lot. And the Sexual Milkshake performance was unusual—-and incredible—-as usual, and was probably not fitting in with whatever everyone else wanted to see. They were more of an avant-garde noise kind of thing. With costumes.
Archie Moore: Before [Sexual Milkshake] played any music, they went through an elaborate ritual in which a bunch of empty cans were balanced on the rod on top of a projector screen. One of the members—-Chris Callahan, I think—-then used a pellet gun to shoot them all down.
Andrew Beaujon: [Eggs’ set] was well-attended, but not because of us, I’m afraid; we benefitted from a great surge of interest among pasty D.C. types in the first mid-Atlantic appearance of Small Factory, who killed.
Archie Moore: I played in the Lilys for their set at DC Space. My one memory of playing at Lotsa Pop Losers is of my left hand fatiguing shortly after the beginning of the Lilys song “Any Several Sundays.” My part was this circular guitar riff that repeats through most of the song, but my fingers just froze up and I couldn’t move them. I tried to sorta move my wrist and force my knuckles on to the frets, but it just wasn’t happening. I was fine by the start of the next song, and it never happened again, but I was completely freaked out at the time.
Linda Smith: I recall a good crowd being there and a warm response, though I’m not sure how familiar people were with my music since I seldom played live and wasn’t part of the D.C. music scene…. I lived in Baltimore (and still do). I didn’t feel my music fit in with the general style of the D.C. scene. Most of the bands were louder and the tempos faster! But, I should add, I don’t feel like my music fit into any of the scenes at the time.
Mike Schulman: There was a really great New York label called Justine that we were all into, that was at least co-run by some of the folks in Crash, who were a really good New York pop band that we all liked. One single on Justine that we LOVED was by a band called The Woods, which included someone named Linda Smith, so I think I wrote to her to tell her I liked her stuff and see if she wanted to work with Slumberland, and she confirmed the connection with The Woods. The one Woods single is quite something, kind of folk but odd and atmospheric in a really unique way. Learning about the connection with Linda Smith made perfect sense… I don’t think most people had any idea who she was, but she was politely received. She didn’t really “rock” enough to fit in, which I guess is something you could say about a lot of Slumberland bands. We were always a bit different: more pop, more noise, more Anglo, less ROCK, not PUNK enough. Which made it hard for people to get their heads around.
Alex Kemp: It was tremendous moment for [Small Factory], as a band. Whatever we had done at [previous D.C.-area shows] had left a positive impression on people, so when we got up to play, I remember people being really excited. And I was shocked! Totally shocked that anyone was excited to see us play.
For some reason, we had a really warm reception. And we were very polite, friendly people. A very approachable band. And for the most part we played really happy songs about being friends. And I remember thinking, “Oh my God, we’re playing before Unrest. They’re so cool, and we’re such losers!” We had no cool factor whatsoever.
But it was really great that, somehow, what we were trying to do was connecting in D.C., which to me was crazy, because that’s Ian MacKaye territory! It’s not about happy fun songs about being friends – it’s about, “I’m a tough motherfucker!” So that was shocking to me that there was this sort of anticipation.
Jeff Feuerzeig: Small Factory had quite a few songs that we thought were going to be real, on-the-radio hits. There was no doubt that they were going to break. But they didn’t.
Chris O’Rourke (Sleepyhead): I believe that was the first time Sleepyhead played D.C., though we played there quite a bit after that, mostly at the 9:30 Club…. We were familiar with most if not all of the bands on the bill by that time, including the D.C. bands. We had actually already played with many of the New York bands such as Versus, Kicking Giant, and Flying Saucer. We had also played with Small Factory, who we knew because Sleepyhead lived in Providence for the summer of 1990, and we were hanging out with them, Velvet Crush, Six Finger Satellite, etc. I loved a lot of D.C. bands, and we felt good about our New York “scene” connecting with D.C. in this way. It led to many great D.C. shows for us over the years, which ultimately led to our first record coming out on Slumberland in 1993.
Erin Smith: They wanted [Bratmobile] to [play], so the poster was probably made way in advance. But Molly [Neuman] and Allison [Wolfe] were still at Evergreen State University in Washington State. And at that time, they wouldn’t have been paying for our plane tickets. I was at the University of Maryland, so I was in town, and they probably put us on the poster to get us to play.
I did play in Unrest at Lotsa Pop Losers. I was second guitar for them. And I played with them also in Chapel Hill. So I only did two shows with them, but I learned probably three or four songs. I don’t think they ever did two guitars after that, live.
Henry Owings: I think [Unrest] had just changed their sound. I think Bridget [Cross] had just joined the band. I was on the outside looking in. But I remember going to shows at DC Space in like ’89 and ’90, where they were a fucking noise band. Just utter racket. And then when Bridget joined the band they became the Unrest that people love. And I think that was the first time I had ever seen that sort of iteration of Unrest, which had a more shimmery, almost krautrock-y kind of vibe to it.
Andrew Beaujon: I have a spurious memory of Mark Robinson playing the Unrest show shirtless in high-heel silver boots.
Alex Kemp: The stakes were really fucking high! People worked really fucking hard. It was so fucking hard to be in a band then. Making music? There were no studios in people’s basements. That didn’t exist. You had to work some shitty job to save up money to go into a studio to work with some asshole with a ponytail. Putting out seven inches was fucking hard, and you had to mail them everywhere. … People weren’t doing it because it was easy and it was fun. There was a huge recession. There was a war. There wasn’t any music that was anything like what people felt. We were trying really fucking hard to figure out a way to make something that mattered.
Jenny Toomey: We always tried to add a lot of little showy components [to our events]. Things like giving people scorecards and letting them come up and get a star at the end of each performance that proved that they had seen everything, and giving them an opportunity to win a prize. Things like that.
I remember a lot of pride. It felt like this new, magical community of all your new best friends.
Jim Spellman: They came up with a Lotas Pop Loser cocktail. Vodka with some mixer and an atomic fireball. We were really into atomic fireballs. You can see them on the cover of the Velocity Girl/Tsunami split single on Sub Pop.
Don Smith: I think it’s important to note how essentially unpopular Lotsa Pop Losers was. On Saturday only a few people came to the shows in Bethesda. It was more like a big party with a lot of the New York love rock crowd and our friends in attendance. … On Sunday at DC Space a lot more Dischord people showed up. But this wasn’t an explosion that meant D.C. suddenly took notice of these bands. Tsunami went back to playing Positive Force shows. Velocity Girl, Unrest, and Versus got bigger and more important, but “most” people didn’t pay attention to this insider-y event. In fact, many Vietnam-era members of the Bethesda American Legion Hall came by that Saturday night to stand at the bar and drink!
Jonny Cohen: I think one of the themes of the festival was having rock and solo performers with a lot of individuality and character who were not always fully appreciated in the club and music world. It was an important thing for audiences to witness. I also think it had a theme of continuing or increasing the participation of rock and solo words and music. There were many bands with females and males, as well as a number of solo female performers.
I think Lotsa Pop Losers partly tried to keep the spirit of DC Space alive, where Jonny Cohen’s Love Machine played a number of shows. I think the end of new releases on the Simple Machines label kind of marked the start of a diminishing of some aspects of progress in this kind of music in the D.C. area.
Sohrab Habibion: It’s funny, but it was a time when groups like Edsel, in distinguishing ourselves from local metal shredders or generic cover bands, also had to find an audience of like-minded people and places where we could gather and have shows. In this case, what seemed like a cool, disparate collection of people on the rock ‘n’ roll fringe actually turned out to be just as stratified as all the things we were trying to avoid. Most of the bands were open to all kinds of things, but fans drew strong lines between Chickfactor and Amphetamine Reptile, Sarah Records and Forced Exposure. We liked what we liked and felt somewhat marginalized for not being strict adherents to any particular scene. But the poster for that festival is great and on paper it seems much grander than it really was.
Jeff Feuerzeig: In retrospect, a lot of the indie pop and twee pop records became like one sound, and I never believed in that at all. That just felt very narrow to me, and not at all where myself or someone like Calvin Johnson [of Beat Happening and founder of K Records] or a lot of the people I was hanging with were coming from. There was room for a lot more experimentalism than Sarah Records twee pop.
Kristin Thomson: It was such a strong time for Dischord at that point, and Positive Force was very busy organizing benefit shows frequently, and we were part of that community, too. But it was taking those skills and taking that interest in honoring your community and standing together to get stuff done, and we just moved it over to a genre that wasn’t so well known yet.
I remember everybody being so happy to be a part of it, and excited to be meeting other bands. I don’t remember anybody being grumpy, or, “When’s my set time? I can’t go on then,” or whatever. All the politics of festivals just weren’t happening at all. It was just a really fun time.
Andrew Beaujon: It’s weird to see something you participated in be referred to as “legendary,” so I wish I’d taken better notes. But Jenny and Kristin intended it to be a big deal, and it was. What more can you ask for in indie rock?
Brandon Gentry is the author of the recent book Capitol Contingency: Post-Punk, Indie Rock, and Noise Pop in Washington, D.C., 1991-1999.
Images, top to bottom: Poster by Peter Hayes; the official Lotsa Pop Losers scorecard; Lotsa Pop Losers trading cards; a Lotsa Pop Losers T-shirt design