Dischord Records was founded in Washington D.C by Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson. It’s an independent label that focuses primarily on independent punk music in the D.C area.
During the late summer of 1980 the group the Teen Idles which consisted of Nathan Strejcek, Geordie Grindle, Ian MacKaye, and Jeff Nelson decided to disband but they all decided to put the money they made together to good use. With the money from the 35 concerts they performed they put out a record. They decided to release their own record because they knew no label would take their project on especially since the band was no longer together. Therefore they sought guidance from Skip Groff, a friend who ran a record store called Yesterday and Today. He had his own label Limp Records where he had put out a few small releases. He basically explained to the guys what it took to put a record out. They came up with the name for the label, designed the cover, and sent off copies to a pressing plant. In December 1980 “Minor Disturbance” became the first release off of Dischord.
By this time other bands were starting to emerge. Some of the bands included Minor Threat which was a new band started by Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson, S.O.A, Government Issue, Youth Brigade, and the Untouchables. It was decided that more records would be released from Dischord if enough Teen Idle records were sold to make any money back. Henry Rollins from S.O.A paid for the recording and manufacturing of the second Dischord release called “No Policy” which was released in 1981. Since money was being made from both releases singles were released from Minor Threat, Government Issue, and Youth Brigade.
Later that same year Dischord moved their operations to the “Dischord House” which was a bungalow style house in Arlington, Virginia. There really wasn’t an idea of how long they would be able to operate out of Dischord House so they used Ian MacKaye’s parents’ address as the official mailing address of Dischord. The house became a major hangout for the punk rock scene. The basement was basically a practice room and people usually ended up putting record sleeves together and folding lyric sheets since they frequented the house so much.
By 1983 Dischord was having money problems associated with distribution. One of the founders Ian MacKaye was at one point working three jobs, working on the label, and singing in a band and money still wasn’t being made. They were having a hard time with the distributors because the distributors wouldn’t ever pay their bills on time. Also they couldn’t get credit at the pressing plant so they paid for their records C.O.D but the distributors had 90 days which could turn into five or six months to pay Dischord. Another factor was they also had a hard time deciding whether to repress their earlier records or put out new ones.
When John Loder came into the picture everything began to change for the better. He ran Southern Studios in London which had released the records of an important band in punk music by the name of Crass. Dischord was highly flattered when he showed interest in releasing Minor Threat’s “Out of Step” 12”. With Loder being able to press the records on credit as well as the fact of it being cheaper to press records in Europe, Dischord asked if he could help distribute the record in the U.S. The demand for “Out of Step” was higher than expected and they didn’t have enough money to keep pressing the album so Loder said he would give it a try. The partnership between Southern Studios and Dischord lasts to this day.
Another problem they faced was the fact that many bands were breaking up or had left the label. But by 1985 new bands were beginning to form such as Rites of Spring, Soulside, Gray Matter, and Beefeater. By the late 80s more bands were forming such as Shutter to Think, Jawbox, Lungfish, Fugazi, and many more. This was a busy time for Dischord so they had to move some of the business out of Dischord House. Another company was started; Dischord Direct, in order to distribute D.C area bands, labels, and Dischord releases to stores and distributors.
In the early 90s there was a major interest in underground and independent music. Fugazi was one the largest groups in underground music and they were drawing serious interest in major labels. With the decision made that Fugazi would remain on Dischord that led to major labels offering to buy the entire label. Selling Dischord was never an option. “We understood the value of self determination, and because the label was so well established we weren’t faced with the same circumstances as many other bands and labels at the time.”
Many other bands were offered major deals, such as Jawbox and Shutter to Think. They decided to sign with major record labels to further their careers. Dischord respected their decisions because they realized the bands came before the label. By there being a lot of interest from the mainstream in punk music Dischord made more records than before, but when the interest started to die down they began to selling less records. They remained focused by releasing records by Slant 6, Hoover, Circus Lupus, Trusty, BlueTip, Branch Manager, The Crownhate Ruin, Smart Went Crazy, and Make-Up.
By the late 90s only three bands were on the label. Those bands were Fugazi, Lungfish, and BlueTip. Dischord became more focused on distributing other labels such as Slowdime, DeSoto, Simple Machines, Teenbeat, and more.
From 2000 to the present Dischord has seen resurgence in D.C bands, mainly from kids who grew up listening to Dischord releases. Such groups include Q and Not U, El Guapo, and Black Eyes. Fugazi which was the most successful band on the label released “The Argument” in 2001 and briefly toured before going on an “indefinite hiatus.” Also two important figures Amy Pickering and Cynthia Connolly left the label.
The “20 Years of Dischord” box set was finished and released. The box set featured one song from every band that released records from Dischord. They wanted to “underscore our gratitude to all of these bands and people for entrusting us with their music.” Another objective was to show there is such thing as running a music label in an unconventional way and still see great results.
Even though groups Q and Not U and Black Eyes broke up and El Guapo left the label new bands became a part of the label. Such bands were Medications , the Evens, French Toast, and the Channels. With 2006 being the most recent update from Dischord there were many new releases from Soccer Team and the Aquarium. Joe Lally from Fugazi was the first artist from the label to have a solo album entitled “There to Here.” Dischord is still recording and distributing as long as there are still people willing to listen and appreciate the music.