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DC Don't Dance

DC rock shows are famously un-dancey. But why? I saw this plausible theory at Charles' place:

The authority conundrum was quite graphically illustrated in D.C. during the early to mid-nineties when Fugazi started offering frat-guys their money back when mosh pits were created during their sets. Audience-members started seeing the disdain that violently thrashing about could elicit from an authoritative source (in this case, Ian). As time progressed, not only was violently moshing frowned upon, but so was dancing and later, any movement whatsoever-- to the point now at which the correct standard posture for a D.C. rock show is arms-folded, eyes straight ahead (I can't take credit for this thesis; this idea was first set forth in an excellent yet now-defunct online zine called the "Finley Breeze").
Could be. There certainly is a lot of lock-in associated with this sort of thing. I'm not an especially dancey person, such that it doesn't really bother me that people don't shake it at shows here. But I'm not rabidly opposed to dancing either. If that's what people were doing, I would do it. But it's not, so I don't, even though I don't have any particular Fugazi-derived views on the subject.

May 17, 2006 | Permalink


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They say that politics is show business for ugly people. Maybe also for people with no rhythm, hence dance-less DC concerts.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | May 17, 2006 2:52:15 PM

Nah. (White) DC people haven't danced at concerts since at least the 70s. Nothing to do with Fugazi. It's because (white) DC people are uptight.

Posted by: ostap | May 17, 2006 3:38:49 PM

Or because dancing to rock music is stupid.

Posted by: Duvall | May 17, 2006 4:04:38 PM


I think the best part of all this is the now-defunct Dismemberment Plan's song calling out their fans for not moving at all at shows. You can find the song on your own, but I will give some of the lyrics here. The song's called Do The Standing Still (and is frequently mistakenly referred to as Doing The Standing Still).

Well it's a sensation
across the entire nation.
A hundred million kids
all dancing in suspended animation.
And the feeling's all right,
we'll be standing still till the morning light, yeah!

and my favorite part:

In Fargo, six or seven kids
watch The Plan in a strip-mall.
I thought they were bored out of their skulls,
but it turns they were having a ball!
Well, I finally knew
they were doing the brand new
step that everybody isn't moving to!

Posted by: Alex | May 17, 2006 4:28:53 PM

"I saw this plausible theory at Charles' place"


Ostap is correct. It's just the tenor of the bulk of folks who get attracted to the District.


And FWIW, DC may not dance, but campaigns do.

Posted by: Petey | May 17, 2006 5:41:24 PM

Slam dancing is actually really fun. It just doesn't scale very well to the size of crowds that would go to see bands after Nirvana hit big.

There was always a lot of slam dancing at Marginal Man concerts.

Posted by: joe o | May 17, 2006 5:44:53 PM

DC/Dischord was probably the most a-rhythimc of the really big punk styles in the US. Flex Your Head is probably the worst really well known punk comp of all time. Don't look there for a backbeat. 1-2-3-4. It's kind of strange when you think about the black music that comes from DC...but maybe not...

Too, the really puritanical anti-meathead movement that Fugazi created was, of course, the descendent of the really puritanical meathead movement that Minor Threat created. The common thread is a joyless and anti-rock'n'roll sensibility and the mistaken belief that a root/flat-fifth interval is more intellectual than the 1-4-5. Not a dancing culture.

Posted by: spacetoast | May 17, 2006 7:25:23 PM

The Fugazi theory is dumb. How much overlap is there, even, between the Fugazi crowd and today's indie crowd?

People don't dance in Seattle at indie shows either. The thing is that indie kids are, despite their affectations, extraordinarily image conscious. God forbid they do something uncool -- spontaneous, heartfelt, perhaps even awkward. The horror. Standing still is lame, but at least it's safe.

Very few groups can break through that apathy, but for one prime example, I give you The Go! Team. If they come to D.C., don't miss them. You will dance. It's not optional.

Posted by: realish | May 17, 2006 7:34:43 PM

I don't think either Minor Threat or Fugazi really cared about the intellectual justification for their intervallic structure.

Seriously, though, the Fugazi theory is really dumb, at least from where I sit. They tell people not to bounce around violently because people *do* get hurt, but they don't discourage dancing. I was at a show once where Ian, in between songs, pointed towards the center of the moshing section and said "Up and down is cool, but please not side to side." I find up and down a lot more fun anyway, even though I'm big enough to take a few hits without really hurting. Honestly, the meatheads - guys my height and twice my width, say - who showed up at all the punk shows I went to in high school and deliberately looked for contact were douchebags and ruined the fun for most of the rest of us. Half the time me and a couple of buddies ended up being designated screeners for our smaller female friends, so they could get close to the stage without some lunk inadvertently knocking them to the ground after he bounced off some 260 lb. behemoth.

Posted by: Quarterican | May 17, 2006 7:45:38 PM

"I don't think either Minor Threat or Fugazi really cared about the intellectual justification for their intervallic structure."


Posted by: spacetoast | May 17, 2006 7:57:58 PM

I really am laughing out loud at this one:

" I was at a show once where Ian, in between songs, pointed towards the center of the moshing section and said "Up and down is cool, but please not side to side." I find up and down a lot more fun anyway..."

Posted by: spacetoast | May 17, 2006 7:59:57 PM

The Go! Team is much better live than they have any right to be.

Posted by: joe o | May 17, 2006 8:33:05 PM

Slamming was always fun to the Ramones. I saw them 8 times from '79 to '82. Always had a blast.

Um, Cavs win. Leading De-triot 3-2 in the series. Back in Cleveland Friday night...

Posted by: Cleveland Bob | May 17, 2006 9:57:17 PM

spacetoast -

If I'm wrong about Ian MacKaye's passion for music theory, you could tell me about it instead of pointing and laughing (and while we're at it there's tons of straightforward rock chord progressions in Fugazi songs, especially on the first few records, which are mostly what I've listened to). Not everybody likes the point where an energetic crowd becomes a violent one. Not everybody wants to get beat up at a show. I understand the appeal for the people who do it, but I think it's inconsiderate, and not something I could ever participate in (from personal experience, I know my violence-meter isn't a dimmer, it's an on/off switch; I'm the guy who can't roughhouse without getting angry and taking it too far).

Posted by: Quarterican | May 18, 2006 12:25:38 AM


I guess you've read things into my comment. I don't advocate the coolness of violence. Period. I advocate the coolness of the Dickies covering Sabath and the uncoolness of Fugazi doing anything. But here's a question: do you think Ian Mackaye needs an explicit theory about what he's doing in order to satisfy my characterization. Clue: no. Clue2: NO. I don't know what's going on with your "violence meter," but it sounds gay-tarded. I hope this helps. Please don't roughhouse me!

Posted by: spacetoast | May 18, 2006 1:33:11 AM

spacetoast -

fair enough; I didn't take your first comment as hostile until I read the second one; I had a bad day, so maybe I'm extra touchy. Not liking Fugazi is fine with me; what I was responding to re: the intervals is that I thought we were, in fact, saying that MacKaye had some sort of polemical stance, or at least had asserted something like I've seen in interviews w/various metal guitarists ("the flatted fifth just sounds heavier and MORE EVIL, man!"); if there's in fact some sort of predisposition there (and I haven't noticed one, but it's been a while since I was listening) I don't think it's got the motivations implied by your first post. My violence meter is indeed gay-tarded; it apparently doesn't work right. I couldn't partake in a pit without actually starting a fight, which is probably why I'm extra touchy about when people start involving me in a pit against my will.

Posted by: Quarterican | May 18, 2006 1:56:47 AM

Dude, I'm %89 trolling, and you shouldn't take it seriously. That said, I've played various instruments in it seems like 3000 or so bands that thought Sebadoh type guitars were very profound. I think this is a truth of Fugazi too. It's kiind of like people who can't hear sitar music but think it's very cool, for the wrong reasons. Lame-O. I have no thoughts on your comment about the pit, etc.

Posted by: spacetoast | May 18, 2006 2:40:55 AM

Wow, people didn't even dance to the Dismemberment Plan? Those dudes make me want to dance while I'm doing the dishes.

As for mosh pits, Gwar is unparrelled in my experience, plus it's hilarious with the fake blood and violence.

And thanks for another reason to think of Fugazi the way the Romans thought of chastity.

Posted by: witless chum | May 18, 2006 7:39:04 AM

i think it was fugazi/dischord disdain for its roots. even the white kids in DC grew up dancing to gogo, and all the alternative kids in the early 80s danced at poseur among other places, everyone went to trax on college nite and danced, people danced to the slicky boys and other alt bands from early 80s. but dischord came to dominate the scene and, seemingly in trying to distance themselves from their early, somewhat immature mosh pit hardcore roots, the music changed and the way people responded at shows changed too. i think it helps that ian's onstage demeanor is a little dour (not knocking ian, he's a nice guy, etc.), there were occasional statements about not having a pit which got (mis)translated to people just standing around. not that there was ever tons of dancing at DC rocks shows where that might have been appropriate. but things did noticeably change in mid to late 80s. though i with whoever said who really dances to rock (other than t. cruise)? the most people tend to do is sway a bit, unless you're in the south, people have been drinking bourbon. then you dance to anything and everything.

Posted by: dj superflat | May 18, 2006 11:53:43 AM


The flatted fifth DOES sound more evil. That's why those bands use it, no? Why is saying so ridiculous? It's about as ridiculous as saying minor chords sound kinda sad.

And I suspect if you stopped thinking of yourself as a person who can't "roughhouse" without flipping a switch and beating someone up, you'd be less likely to go nuts and beat someone up. (Assuming what you say is true.) Seriously, let go of that romantic view of your own dark side. I know it sort of sounds James Dean-y, but it's also kind of f--ed up. If true.

Posted by: Cthomas | May 18, 2006 12:33:19 PM

I wasn't denying the evilness of the tritone, I was questioning whether Fugazi thought about it. Although, really, it's contextual; jazz is full of chords with non-evil flatted fifths, "Maria" from West Side story uses it to great romantic effect, and lots of metal bands use the sound as a crutch to the extent that it loses the effectiveness it might've originally had. Re: moshing...I like bouncing around, which is what I tend to do at rock shows when the band is playing something uptempo. (At rock shows where the band actually grooves, you might catch a glimpse of me attempting to actually dance, or at least swivel in a rhythmic fashion, but it's best that people not pay much attention to it.) I don't have a romantic view of my dark side; I don't think I'm, like, the Hulk or something, where everything's cool and then someone runs into me and I rip my clothes while shouting "Quarterican Smash!" There've just been a lot of situations where I unthinkingly used more force than I should've and didn't realize it until the moment after it happened. Part of the fun of the pit, from the times I've really participated, is that there's something freeing about it, but it doesn't feel very freeing to be monitoring your own behavior.

Posted by: Quarterican | May 18, 2006 1:25:44 PM

I go crazy when no one dances at shows of dance-able music. I can't imagine being in the band, and playing a rockin' song, and looking out on a crowd that is staring blankly ahead. How disconcerting!

Posted by: news lady | May 18, 2006 1:47:30 PM

What's the difference between a flatted fifth and a diminished fifth?

Posted by: Wade | May 18, 2006 2:21:43 PM

Wade: I'm no musicologist, but they're the same thing, I think.

Posted by: Cthomas | May 18, 2006 3:15:34 PM

Thanks. I'd seen a website that said they're different, but it turns out they were talking about barbershop singing, which uses Just Intonation.

Posted by: Wade | May 18, 2006 4:07:03 PM

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