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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: Marie Coma, Paul Jickling, Caroline Hostetler, Leigh Smith
“At the time, it seemed like the best place in the world to play music,” says Paul Jickling. As scene regular at the time, Jickling considers D.C. circa 2000 to be a golden era. “Bands were friendly and approachable,” he says. “When Q And Not U started out, it was always the same people showing up. So over time strangers became good friends, you would see the same people at each others shows, people would get together for parties, and that sort of thing.”
That sense of familiarity spilled over into the band’s art. “That was part of the concept behind the album cover,” says Jickling. “Everyone featured in that cover was in a band, or booking shows, or was somehow contributing to the little community we had. It was an announcement of who we were. Chris Richards would sometimes say at shows how it was all about the community of people and friendships involved, and he was totally sincere.”
Marie Coma remembers the shoot fondly. “At the time, the album seemed huge to me. I thought the music was monumental—-smart, modern, weird. I loved it’s energy. I listened to it a lot, and was proud to be on the cover.” Of course, as a Pittsburgh, Pa., resident at the time, Coma didn’t expect to be there at all. “I wasn’t actually supposed to be in the photo,” she says. “My boyfriend at the time, Shawn Brackbill, was the photographer, and I went to D.C. with him that weekend to hang out and visit a friend. I remember the shoot seeming pretty huge—-a lot of planning went into it, and everyone was pretty excited, though stressed and busy, that day. The friend I was visiting, who I was having dinner with at an Indian restaurant in Georgetown, was hit with a migraine in the middle of dinner, so I went to the photo shoot to see if I could help or just watch. I hadn’t considered being in the photo because I thought it was supposed to be only people living in D.C., but the band had me get in on it anyway.”
When the album came out later that year, the band put on a particularly memorable show. “One of my favorite Q And Not U shows was the record release party for No Kill No Beep Beep,” says Jickling. “The power went out in the middle of the set, and there were a bunch of other technical problems too, but they played with a lot of intensity as a result, rather than let it beat them down.” Jickling felt like this was simply the way bands of the day dealt with difficulty. “That was my favorite thing about a lot of bands that were playing from that era, is that bands would often play with all this fucked up equipment, and still sound great.”
Out in Pennsylvania, Coma still connected to the music of the day. “I totally felt like I was a part of something exciting. It was as if the I was right up in the music that meant the world to me. I went to so many great shows back then, so often, and every one of them meant the world to me. I definitely felt like there was a great momentum to the scene then, at least in my little world in Pittsburgh. Most of the touring bands that played there seemed to feel the same thing.”
The beauty of the scene came partly from the overlap of varying styles and approaches, according to Jickling. “There was also a really great intermingling of musical ideas in the punk community at the time,” he says. “It didn’t really matter what subgenre you listened to, everyone was going to the same shows together, so any show you went to would have people into hardcore, art punk, avant-garde music, indie rock, etc., etc. All those people were hanging out together so all these different ideas kind of naturally started rubbing up against one another too.” (Coincidentally, NPR posted an article today about the intermingling of punk and free jazz in Q and Not U’s music.)
For Coma, the scene struck a chord internally, and the music resonated with her in a powerful way. “Punk rock opened up new worlds for me, whole new parts of myself,” she says. “Music, and specifically punk, was my primary artistic world then, therefore my main connection to, for lack of a better word, spirituality. That sounds silly, but really, it was like music, especially live music, was our connection to the universal creative consciousness. There was definitely a tremendous sense of group energy, of being a part of something bigger than myself.”
After 2000, Jickling headed to Chicago for college, and eventually he found himself on the other coast, along with former D.C scene kids like Leigh Smith,known as “Leigh Vega” at the time, and Caroline Hostetler, who helped run a D.C. zine library with Jacob Long back in the ’90s. Jickling says: “I live in San Francisco now, which seems like a common location for former D.C. residents to move to. Music is still as important to my life now as it was back then, and I play in a band called Body Swap.” Coma left her town too, and she settled down in Louisville, Ky., to work at Whole Foods. “It’s weird,” she says. “I never would have believed it ten years ago, but I’ve become so much more of a laid-back hippie. I teach yoga now, and I am so much more relaxed and comfortable with myself.”
In case you missed it, here’s the rest of the series.