TC29: Ian MacKaye

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The Curator Podcast: Episode 29 – Ian MacKaye

I’ve written, deleted and rewritten this post a number of times both in my head and on the page, but everything seems inadequate. Let’s start with the facts – on this episode I have founder of Dischord Records, activist, musician, producer, composer and archivist (among other things) Ian MacKaye.

If you’re reading this then there’s a really good chance that you’re a fan of or at least understand the influence Ian has had on music. Dischord Records and the Washington DC hardcore scene not only influenced punk music, but the effect it had on music at large is still apparent to this day. Some of the biggest and most well-known names in rock music that have emerged over the past 30 years were either involved with or inspired by what Ian and his friends created in Washington DC in the 1980s.

That’s really all the introduction I can give you because there is nothing more I can say or contribute that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. There are books, documentaries and films dedicated to that scene and its impact (and indeed to Ian himself). Anything I write in this tiny space is bound to miss out some important detail. The narrative of that scene has been relayed a thousand times, and will no doubt be relayed a thousand times more.

I hate to wheel out the old “once a lifetime opportunity” cliché but being able to chat with Ian MacKaye was certainly one of those. Ian has done his fair share of interviews over the years and in his own words, from the email correspondence we had before the interview, “the talking about the done has been interfering with the doing”. I’m still trying to figure out why he decided that it would be a worthwhile thing for him to talk to me, but I’m ever so glad that he did.

This interview is as close to unedited as it is possible for it to be. My aim was to find out more about Ian’s musical philosophy because given the monumental impact he’s had on music I was intrigued to see what powered that, and if he ever stopped for a moment to think about the impact his achievements have had on the world.

His intellect is stunning. He’s polite, quick, lively, opinionated, wise and he does not suffer fools lightly. There are even a couple of moments in the interview that he takes me to task for some of the things I said to him – the way I phrase a particular question, or if he disagrees with something I’ve said or some of the thoughts I have. I appreciate that. This is a man who has lived twice the life I have in years, but at least ten times the life I have in experience.

It was an absolute honour to talk to him.

Highlights include:

  • Learning how to say MacKaye properly when he was in Scotland
  • Coming from a family of writers and archivists
  • The foundation of punk being angry
  • The way that lead to violence at shows
  • Some cool Minor Threat and Fugazi stories
  • How he never really reflects on what he’s done
  • The role of Dischord being an archive label
  • The difficulty for musicians touring America these days
  • And much, much more that I don’t want to spoil for you

Needless to say, I was humbled by the experience of chatting to him. He’s like a wise punk rock sage. He said that if I’m ever in DC that I should swing by Dischord house and pop in for some tea.

I plan to do just that.

Towards the end of the interview my mic cuts out and it switches over to my voice recorded on his end. I’m sorry for that, but it’s still a great chat and you can still hear me.

I hope you enjoy this episode.

(Big thanks to Todd Jordan from The Bitter End for editing and producing the interview for me. He did a cracking job and you should check out his podcast because it’s awesome.)

Featured Music

Intro: Voodoo Puppets – Electric Chair Blues (used under CC licence, you can check it out here).

Minor Threat – In My Eyes
Fugazi – Bad Mouth
The Evens – Shelter Two

I make no claim to the copyright of any of the music in this episode.


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