On Oct. 24, 2000, Dischord Records released No Kill No Beep Beep, the classic debut by Q and Not U. The cover is an arresting, whimsical snapshot of the punk-rock community that spawned the record—the band asked its friends and peers, most of them under 25 at the time, to pose for a portrait that would show D.C. wasn’t just a town of old punks. In this week’s Washington City Paper, Q and Not U’s members reflect on their rookie achievement. On Arts Desk, we’re catching up with some of the community Q and Not U immortalized.
Left to Right: Mike Peterson, Ian Whitmore, Sadie Peterson, Ryan Hicks
Like any proper punk band, Q and Not U lived in group houses and accrued its fair share of roommates. Among them: Mike and Sadie Peterson. Despite living with the the band, Mike never got sick of the music. “I went to most of their shows in the early days, especially,” he says. “It didn’t really get old because there was always a lot of energy. It was good music, it was fun, and it was exciting because I knew that it would be appreciated well beyond D.C.” He and his wife Sadie, who sang in Neptune’s Daughter with John Davis briefly, were both housemates of Davis, though they were living in Takoma Park a few doors down from him at the time of the photo shoot.
Visual artist Ian Whitmore moved to D.C. after being drawn to GWU by “dim memories of childhood visits involving colossal imperialist architecture and free museums that you could casually walk in and out of like you would a park.” In 2000, he recalls, “I was sharing an apartment with Chris [Richards] in Foggy Bottom, a few blocks from Smith Hall, the GWU Art Department building where the photo was taken. We were both about to enter our senior years there studying art and I was 21.”
Harris Klahr and Matt Borlik both lived with Ryan Hicks at one time or another, who played in D.C. bands like Panoply Academy Glee Club(from Bloomington, IN) and the highly danceable Measles Mumps Rubella.
Thinking about the peculiar look of the LP jacket, Whitmore says: “At the time, [Richards] had an aesthetic fixation with drab, impersonal spaces that had that cold, flickering lighting and busily-patterned carpet. I think it was still summer vacation and early in the evening, so the building would officially have been closed, but Chris was lightly abusing the access that his job afforded in order to help arrange the photo shoot with Shawn [Brackbill]. On-campus security must have been fairly lax then because I was sneaking into the art department studios regularly throughout that summer to paint. The shoot felt like seeing a house show—-most of it was spent milling around outside a repurposed venue, chatting with the same tightly knit group of enthusiasts, waiting for equipment to be set up or taken down, and then a brief burst of excitement.”
Not everyone was entirely pleased with the result. “I thought everyone had the same look and I didn’t like that,” says Sadie. “I thought it would have looked better with some variety in the facial expressions. But then, what do I know?” Still, she admits thinking the photo would turn out to be “a cool keepsake for what was going on at the time, both in my life and in D.C.” Whitmore adds: “At the time I may have been a bit embarrassed being on the cover, but I love going into a random music store nowadays and seeing my gawky, barely adult face suddenly staring sullenly back as I flip through records.”
Photography aside, punk philosophy seems to have influenced everyone involved with the band. “For me,” says Mike, “punk rock, for better or for worse, attacks and breaks down preconceived notions or generally accepted assumptions regarding different institutions. In some cases this can be degenerative and lead to self-destructive behavior, however D.C. punk rock seems to also have a constructive or positive emphasis. For D.C. punk, rejection of the general knee-jerk acceptance of institutions extends to things like substance abuse and violence. Starting from ground zero once the deconstruction was finished, I was able to accept certain institutions or ideas in a deliberate intellectual manner while still rejecting other institutions or ideas that were devoid of any merits. So, bottom line—-punk was a means to begin a deliberate and intellectual formation of identity and philosophy.”
For Sadie, punk had more specifically pragmatic applications. “The DIY thing changed the way I look at my goals,” she says. “If I want something done or I want to create something, I don’t need anyone to give me permission, I just do it—even if no one will end up seeing or hearing or wearing whatever it is I’m creating.” As an artist, punk challenged Whitmore’s concept of success. “I stopped thinking that wide-scale recognition was the only benchmark for artistic validation,” he says. “The idea that a small circle of fellow-travelers whose opinion mattered to you was more important suddenly took precedence.”
Regarding the music of the era, Whitmore notes: “What seems most remarkable about that time was how easily and naturally a little scene could coalesce that had its own genuinely distinct flavor. There’s something to be said for that period of geographically-induced isolation and incubation that used to nurture underground bands through their early years. It’s not that far back, but at the time the Qs started you might still conceivably be mail-ordering 7-inches from across the country of songs you’d never heard after reading reviews in the back of fanzines. There’s no such thing as a ‘local band; now that music is so readily available over the Iinternet, and I think that results in a greater homogeneity in the character of music overall, even if the musicians themselves have a wider stylistic palette to draw from.” As a long-time resident of the area, Mike says: “D.C. is a unique place in that music has been available to people of all ages for decades—it’s the norm. Even when people get older, the place grows on you, so people seem to stick around (unless they move to Brooklyn or San Francisco).”
The music of Q and Not U in specific was certainly a product of the area from which it sprung, and it hasn’t left those that were around while it was happening. “Having heard those songs come together over the two years that preceded the record, and having heard them evolve afterward, I don’t think I have the same relationship with that music and that of Different Damage that I do with nearly any other album I own,” Whitmore says. Those songs are more like distinct creatures to me, their recorded forms just one possible version, a compelling but not necessarily authoritative document.”
“The worst show (I also fondly recall) was in Philadelphia,” says Mike. “It was a Voices In The Wilderness benefit (an anti-Iraq-sanctions group during Clinton presidency). The organizers had to shut down the show at a certain time, and the ‘headliner’ was World/Inferno Friendship Society, who are undeniably the worst band ever. Time was running out, so they moved W.I.F.S. ahead of Q and Not U and Black Dice. W.I.F.S. proceeded to play a full set with all of their stupid theatrics. They kept going, so I took John’s snare drum and started banging on it to protest (we had been there for like five or six hours at least). The Black Dice drummer joined me, and finally they stopped playing. Black Dice then got to play for 15 minutes (they were really good), then Q and Not U hurried and set up. They played one song, then I think Harris blew out a tube in his amp. So that was that.”
These days, Whitmore is living in Brooklyn, and while his paintings are doing quite well, he still feels as broke as ever. Hicks lives in D.C. and plays music; he rocked the drums on the first Edie Sedgwick record, and he now works at Saint Ex. Mike and Sadie live in Silver Spring. Regarding her current activities, Sadie says, “I have five kids now. I’m lucky if I remember to wear pants.” Mike still misses the post-punk of yore. “Rather than getting back together at some point to tour playing No Kill No Beep Beep (seems like this sort of thing is a trend nowadays), Q and Not U should just get back together and make some more records,” Mike says.
In case you missed it, here’s the rest of the series.