Dissident Dissonance: The Rites of Springs Demos

Photo by Cynthia Connolly

The scrappy demos of Rites of Spring reveal the passion, fury, and profundity of an entire genre recasted and re-imagined.

Rites of Spring

Six Song Demo

Label: Dischord
US Release Date: 2012-10-23

Looking back at the heady days of the “Revolution Summer” of 1985 in Washington D.C., when punks bands like Gray Matter and Marginal Man tried to merge the deep furrows of their conscience and dissidence with the sonic battering ram of distortion and dissonance, Rites of Spring became the emblem of punk undergoing reconstruction.

Just as punk grew more taut and by-the-numbers in the post-1982 time warp, Rites of Spring felt ad-lib and stretched-out; vital, not humdrum; and convincingly urgent, not merely unctuous, like a depressingly reinforced hard’n’fast template borrowed from others.

Formed in the aftermath of broken bands as a roiling amalgam of Faith and Insurrection (two local iconic teenage hardcore bands), they catalyzed a whole new breed of punk armed with raspy, pummeling, and poetic visions and dogged, anything-goes, slightly ratty musicianship. Akin to a loose-knit version of mid-period Hüsker Dü, their songs feel doggedly literate. Exploring isolation, woe, and the bitter flux of relationships, Guy Picciotto’s verses betray a severe sense of intellect that outmaneuvers the mere muscled flex of hardcore punk music.

No, Rites of Spring did not erupt with trademark emo-core elements, that loathed catch-all phrase. They were biting, tenderly vituperative, and stubborn-sounding, not makers of myopic pop. More importantly to some fans, Rites of Spring featured key future members of Fugazi -- singer-guitarist Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty.

In Fugazi, Picciotto remained the slinky, nimble, and pathos-dripping counterpoint to Ian MacKaye; meanwhile, Canty forged an alchemical beat that remained one part funk’n’jazz, one part punk-in-the-present-tense thrust. Those dynamics don’t exhibit their pure genesis in Rites of Spring per se.

If a listener scours these songs, he or she won’t find a nascent “Waiting Room” and “Repeater”. The long, ambling dub leanings (with gaps, silences, and skipped beats) and the fecund, post-punk arthouse vibe of Fugazi are mostly differed. As this demo evidences, Rites of Spring were garage-punks (one can even detect a wee bit of bands like the Pagans in the mix) that remained tethered to mid-tempo horsepower but eschewed lame rock ’n’ roll clichés for freeform wordplay (“thoughts collide without a sound”) and a soundscape that was messy, trigger-happy, and dense. If Fugazi seemed studied at times, Rites of Spring were shambolic.

Admittedly, all of these songs can be found in higher-fidelity, crystalline forms on their full-length record End on End for Dischord, the cornerstone label that has released similar previously unavailable demos and unused tracks material from the likes of Dag Nasty, Lungfish, and Government Issue. Dischord not only made history, it preserves it all very well via repackaged masters and collected demos like this. In doing so, though, they dim down celebratory modes and instead attend to spare design detail and ecology. For instance, this EP minimizes graphic fare, while the gatefold cardboard packaging features zero plastic.

On first inspection, the audio is a bit murky and muddied (not unlike the Faith EP), the tempos a bit draggy or plodding in places, and the recordings keep the “audio graffiti” intact. Hence, one witness hears the voices (“Are you going to sing ‘Arbor Day’ with me Eddie?” asks a mellow voice), blustered bits, and weird pieces of audio leftovers from the sessions, all intact, which makes this document feel like an audio-verite document. Such qualities might even vouch for the offhanded nature of the project. The recording was not meant to rise to the top echelons of rumors, tape trading, and bootlegging. It was a way to capture the fleeting presence of a band before members drifted apart.

Still, the recordings evoke character, passion, and presence, especially since Picciotto’s voice is raspy, shredded, unbridled, and even more strident than the more familiar mature LP sessions. Listening to his bitter shrieks on “All There Is” might make one’s ear curl back while encountering the raw histrionics. Instead of the often tuneless drudgery of by-the-book hardcore, these songs, even in their embryonic forms, feel like incantations that were honest to the moment when desperate young men wanted to free themselves from “prisons of the mind”, as Picciotto breathlessly intones on “Remainder”. They seemed determined to re-set the clocks from the past to the future, to find introspective prose in garageland. “We try to feel our way”, Picciotto exhales in a tense soliloquy, foretelling the band's experimentation.

And that navigation is deep and profound, even in nascent forms.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.