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On Oct. 24, 2000, Dischord Records released No Kill No Beep Beep, the debut album by Q and Not U. Ten years later, the album stands out as an apex of Washington, D.C.’s post-punk narrative. 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 a decade after recording it, and five years after the band broke up. Over the next two weeks on Arts Desk, we’ll catch up with some of the community Q and Not U immortalized.
Left to Right: Sarah Grady, Chris Grady, John Riley, Liz Cattaneo
Punk rock clearly shaped the lives of Sarah Grady (then Sarah Diehl) and Chris Grady, along with John Riley and Liz Cattaneo, even if they might not have been playing in bands when No Kill No Beep Beep came together. Aside from the fact that both couples, then dating, now married, might not have met if it weren’t for the DIY community, it also gave them philosophical direction. Says Sarah: “Punk rock gave me something to love and think about from middle school on. It became a solid, personal jumping-off point for how to approach everything—how to dress, what to read, who to befriend, what to value, what work to do, everything. I’m not saying it was a script to follow; I’m saying it made me ask myself the questions that brought me important answers and allowed me to screen out the influences that might have otherwise distracted me from what really matters. Plus, it was fun!”
The effects on Riley were no less profound, who was then and remains a straight-edge vegan. “I think it shaped a lot of my ideals,” he says. “I am an almost 38-year-old straight-edge kid. I think the positive punk and hardcore bands that inspired me helped me to ‘do the right thing’ and grow up to be a decent person. It allowed me to meet some great people too, most of my closest friends are ones I met through punk and hardcore music.”
It’s easy to take such an experience for granted. “At the time, it didn’t feel like anything special,” says Sarah. “It was just about having fun, seeing friends, supporting your friends’ bands, and enjoying music. It isn’t until now that you can look back and marvel at how easy it was to stay connected with people when you saw them ‘around’ all the time. You didn’t have to make an effort. Now, it requires careful planning just to leave the house (with a child), much less go to shows or stay in touch with friends and acquaintances.”
More than just rock shows, the scene brought its share of hanging out. “The weekly hockey games in Silver Spring are a fond memory,” says Riley, who had recently moved to D.C. from Ohio at the time. “They were a lot of fun—-I was nicknamed ‘Johnny Ohio’ by John ‘Johnny Elbows’ Davis. Being somewhat new to D.C., I met a lot of nice D.C. folks like Andrew Black (now of Title Tracks) and Darren Zentek (now of Office of Future Plans) there.”
As far as the photo shoot went, Sarah remembers talking to other girls in the bathroom beforehand about which color they decided to wear and why . “I remember thinking that we had been told to look ‘sad’ for the front cover because the band was not there,” she says. “But in actuality, the lack of smiles just looked like rock and roll attitude. Not really a bad effect, in retrospect.” Riley found the situation somewhat unnerving at the time. “There were many people I didn’t know, and it was a little odd to be dressed in bright colors gathered in a random classroom,” he said. “Maybe it seemed a little anti-climatic since there was no show or anything afterward; we took a few photos and went home. What was cool was that we got copies of the photos to keep a few weeks later.” Of course, as unusual as the experience may have felt, Riley admits, “It was pretty cool to be part of a Dischord release. I always joked… that since none of my bands got me anywhere close to being on Dischord, at least I could always say I was on a Dischord record.”
For Cattaneo, the album cover offered a more permanent record of events. She says: “It’s not a postcard, an e-mail, a jpeg, a tweet, an mp3 sample, a fleeting thought, or a reflection—-which is easily forgotten or moved on from. The album—-both the songs and the artwork—-provide me with real, lasting documentation of a community I was and am honored to be a part of, and music that I love and musicians I admired.” It recalls, for her, some very positive aspects of the D.C. scene at the time. “The artwork also reflects the participatory aspect of the shows that Q and Not U put on—-the music invited dancing, clapping, singing from the audience. Friendships were built! So many of the shows were benefits for important local groups, causes, and major political events (like the Iraq war!). This was not a band that embraced the standing on the sidelines, arms crossed, art criticism. It was a positive vehicle for change!”
Even though she wasn’t playing in bands, Cattaneo felt no less connected to what was happening. She says, “I don’t think I’m being overly nostalgic or glossing over the real story for me, though I can’t speak for others. When NKNBB was released, I was part of the fabric of the D.C. punk rock community. I wanted to see shows to support a cause, to support a band, to connect with friends, and to build new relationships. It was an inspiring part of my youth, and I definitely feel like I had the strongest connection to D.C. at the time because I was an active, constructive part of this community. I was excited by the positive reception the band received, the critical acclaim, and the crowds that grew and grew to see the band. Despite their growth, I never felt like I outgrew the band at the time either, but maybe that was due to their short existence!”
Cattaneo still remembers the first time she saw Q and Not U. It was “at a Positive Force benefit I had helped plan, at St. Stephens where they opened for The Rondelles. It was such a great treat to meet really, really nice guys who also performed amazing music, and to be able to be a part of their first shows. It’s more memorable to experience something for the first time unmediated—-I didn’t read a review, no one tipped me off.”
Of course, it all couldn’t last forever. Looking back at the photo, Cattaneo says, “I do think it’s sad that I didn’t recognize that the back cover artwork signaled the party was coming to an end—-there was a finite period to that part of time. Q and Not U would not be a band as long-lasting as Fugazi; independent spaces, clubs, and record stores would close; we would all have to leave the party too and grow up, grow apart, leave town, and change as people.”
These days, Riley lives in Takoma Park with Cattaneo; he feels like the music scene in the city is less close-knit than it once was, but he’s proud of his current band, Police & Thieves. Riley notes, “I still play in a hardcore band and play basements and DIY spaces.” Sarah now lives in Kensington, Md., with her husband Chris, who stands next to her in the photo. She’s busy with a child of her own now. The biggest change in the city? “It’s more expensive to live here,” she says.
In case you missed it, here’s the rest of the series.