Rites Of Spring: Six-Track Demos (Dischord Records)
It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of Rites Of Spring, both on the mid-80s hardcore scene and on the evolution of punk rock ever since. Dischord have just released some new (old) material by the band & Jules Boyle’s been listening to it for us – here’s his review.
Formed in 1984, the band were central to what came to be known as ‘Revolution Summer’, an explosive period of creativity and redefinition from the DC scene in 1985. Despite this, they were gone by the first weeks of 1986, after playing around only 15 shows in the DC area and with a solitary 7″ and a self-titled album (both on Ian Mackaye’s Dischord Records) as their legacy, but their impact was colossal, leaving ripples that continue to be felt to this day.
Made up of Guy Picciotto (vocals/guitar), Mike Fellows (bass), Brendan Canty (drums), and Eddie Janney (guitar), what made Rites of Spring so distinct was their unique spin on the intensely-macho hardcore sound so prevalent at the time. Every bit as frantic, intense and energetic as any of their peers, the four-piece were a much more nuanced proposition, bringing powerful, emotive melody into the hardcore racket, with crystal clear and impassioned vocals that brought Picciotto’s introspective lyrics firmly to the fore.
Listening to those records today, Rites Of Spring sound as if they arrived fully-formed, such is the confidence and craft that’s right there on vinyl for all to hear, so now that Dischord have finally seen fit to release the band’s original 6-track demos we have a fascinating opportunity to observe the band in their embryonic state.
Recorded before they’d even played a live show, these 6 tracks were actually the first time the band had heard Picciotto’s voice, as with no access to a PA system during practice, the volume of the other instruments tended to blot out his vocals.
On listening to them, the first thing that strikes you is how similar they are to the versions that eventually ended up on the album. The songs tend to be slightly slower, missing the velocity that live performance can sometimes bring out, but the differences, while noticable, are subtle.
Mastered from the original tapes that Â Mackaye recorded at his Inner Ear studios, the audio quality is first-rate and will sound even better if you know this release from one of the 20th gen bootleg tapes that have been kicking around for years. Each song is bookended with studio chaff, tapes rewinding and other looped noise that makes the record at time a hazy, almost-delirious experience.
Remainder and By Design are the most similar to their later versions, while opener End On End is notably different, pitched down, it gives the near-psychedelic chorus room to breathe.
Considering this was his first real attempt at singing, Picciotto doesn’t seem to have any doubts about holding back, with his vocals on All There Is and Persistent Vision sounding just as cathartic and borderline unhinged as they ever have.
If anything, the Rites Of Spring heard on these demos are even tighter than we’re used to, with their flurry of live shows perhaps loosening them up and adding that chaotic edge. The question is, do you need this release?
The truth is, these demos are certainly not essential, such is the similarity to the album versions, but what they are is exceptional takes on some of the most inspirational and vibrant punk rock you will ever hear. If you already own the Rites Of Spring records, you’ll want to pick over the subtle differences at play here and if you don’t? This is as good a place to start as any.
With the dissolution of the band, Picciotto and Canty went on to alt-stardom as frontmen of the always-essential Fugazi. Mike Fellows has worked with folk like Royal Trux and Silver Jews, while Janney joined with his RoS bandmates in the experimental outfit Happy Go Licky, but as great as these bands all are, none of them have ever come close to capturing the magic that, in only a few short months in the mid-eighties, left a mark forever.
You can listen to some of the tracks off the EP (and buy it) from Discord’s website here.
All words by Jules Boyle. More work on Louder Than War by Jules can be found here.