Most people acknowledge important anniversaries with some sort of celebration or fanfare. Ian MacKaye, formerly of Teen Idles, Minor Threat, and Fugazi, is not one of those people, letting the 40th anniversary of the label he co-founded in 1980, Dischord Records, go by last year with neither pomp nor circumstance. October 1, 2021, marked the 40th anniversary of Dischord House, the building that is the home base for the record label. MacKaye, while still not into fanfare, agreed to tell us the story of how it came to be.
While one might think the house was part of a grand plan to promote D.C.’s punk scene, the house was a result of parental pressure on his first band, Teen Idles. “Jeff [Nelson], Nathan [Strejcek] and I graduated from high school in 1980 and then we attended ‘punk university,’” says MacKaye. “We didn’t go to college. We all lived at home. Summer of ’81, our parents are like, ‘OK, what’s the plan?’ and the plan was to be in bands.” Needing a place of their own to live, rehearse, and operate their burgeoning label, they established three criteria for finding a space: It had to be cheap, detached (so the neighbors wouldn’t complain when bands rehearsed), and in a safe neighborhood for their younger friends when they visited. “It was already hard enough, the abuse that punks were getting on the streets,” MacKaye recalls. Kismet, in the form of a real estate ad, brought the band to its current location—the first house they looked at. “It was fortuitous. The landlord was great. Just didn’t give a fuck,” says MacKaye.
The house served its purpose. Its basement, with a ceiling that’s less than 6 feet tall, has hosted rehearsals for bands including Rites of Spring, the Faith, and Fugazi (“It’s either sitting down or putting your head up in the rafters,” says MacKaye) and it has a small galley area that served as the first Dischord office. As a bonus, it was located near Inner Ear Studios (both the first and second locations), where 90 percent of Dischord releases have been recorded, and served as a way station in the ’80s for touring American hardcore punk bands to get a break from sleeping in vans. When the house came up for sale in 1994, MacKaye was in the “throes of Fugazi” and constantly on the road. “I couldn’t possibly imagine moving out at that point because this was the base of operation [for Dischord], so I bought the house,” says MacKaye. Now 40 years on from establishing the label and moving into the house (please don’t show up seeking a tour), MacKaye understands the interest in the anniversary, but like any punk with a DIY work ethic, wants to get on to the next thing. “I just wanna do my work.”