July 03, 2005

930 F Street

On May 30, 1980, music history was made with the opening of the 930 Club in the Atlantis building. Post-punk jazz Lounge Lizards and local new wave band Tiny Desk Unit headlined the opening show, then located at the downtown address that gave it its name, 930 F Street, NW. Since then, the club has moved locations and has become one of the top ticket-selling venues in the country, but local filmmakers Tarik Dahir and Jeff Gaul have set out to pay tribute to the club's roots.

At 87 minutes long, the documentary details the original 930 Club's role in fostering punk, new wave, reggae and roots rock, "alternative" genres that more established clubs were slow to recognize. Original owner Dody DiSanto operated the club and booked innovative acts such as Clutch, Minor Threat, Fugazi, and R.E.M. with the help of promoters like the now famed I.M.P. (It's My Party), to whom she sold the club in 1986.

Dahir and Gaul tell the story of the 930 Club through interviews with the artists, promoters, and staff who made up the vibrant subculture surrounding it. They spoke with over two dozen people, including Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Embrace/Fugazi/Dischord), HR of Bad Brains, Peter Buck of R.E.M. (which played the club 18 times), and members of Rollins Band, Clutch, Lucy Brown, Beefeater, and other less well-known local artists who were just as important to the club's artistic direction, such as Hurwitz and Heinecke.

MacKaye discusses the importance of the 930 Club to the straight-edge movement, which took its name from one of his songs. In MacKaye's own words, the straight-edge philosophy was simple: "don't drink/don't smoke/don't do drugs." The straight-edgers wore black X's on their hands, signifying that they were not there to drink; they were there to hear the music. Simultaneously, the 930 Club became one of the first venues in the country to provide concerts open to all ages.

One segment is devoted to discussing the venue's pungent stench, which was universally known by the interviewees, but largely undetermined. However, one of the staff members reveals that she led an odor specialist around the building, and he determined that the smell was a combination of tobacco, sweat, cleaner, and rat urine. This revelation leads to a discussion of the club's infamous rat infestation, which marked the demise of the old Atlantic building.

The film is an honest portrayal of the people who experienced the club, in all its glory and shame. It is a memorial to legendary graphic designer Mark Holmes, who created the gritty and haphazard promotional art that carried over into the new club at 815 V Street, NW. It commemorates the fans, the artists, and all of the people who made it happen, but even more so, the unique spirit of the venue.


930 F Street debuted at the SilverDocs Festival in Silver Spring, Md. on Jun. 19. Dahir and Gaul are currently searching for a distribution deal.

Click here to buy Dance of Days:Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital (Paperback)
Click here to buy 20 Years of Dischord, the 2002 boxed set featuring songs by Embrace, Fugazi, Minor Threat and more

This article was also posted to Blogcritics, and was selected as a Pick of the Week by Music Editor Temple Stark.