John Stabb, 1961-2016

[This story, co-written with Matt Cohen, appeared in the Washington City Paper on May 12, 2016]

It wasn’t John Stabb’s idea. The decorations strewn about his room at Holy Cross Hospital, the photographer, and the minister. Less than a month earlier, doctors had diagnosed Stabb—the wiry, iconic lead singer of seminal D.C. hardcore band Government Issue—with an aggressive form of stomach cancer from which few recover. As part of his treatment, Jaya Vijayan, the medical director in charge of Stabb’s care, asked him what he felt compelled to make happen, what he most wanted to get done. It’s the kind of question intended to help a patient set goals and remain motivated while fighting an aggressive disease. Stabb told her he wanted two things: to get his book published, and to get married. Thus the minister.

Stabb first told others of his stomach pains a few days before playing a Jan. 19 show with his band History Repeated at Comet Ping Pong. By the day of the show, the pain was severe, the result of what Stabb thought was a bad case of appendicitis. “I was deeply concerned about his health,” says Derrick Baranowsky, Stabb’s best friend and History Repeated bandmate. “I showed up thinking it was just a regular night and he said ‘Oh, by the way, I don’t know if you heard, but I might have to go to the E.R. after this show. I might have appendicitis.”

Baranowsky urged Stabb not to perform, but he insisted. “No, no, I’ll be fine,” he recalls Stabb saying. The band played, and Stabb performed in his trademark way—thrashing about the stage and into the crowd while belting out his band’s songs—as best he could. “He did the show and he was still John, but he was clearly a little less animated,” Baranowsky says.

After the set, Stabb went to the E.R. He was released after a couple days, but he wouldn’t be home for long: A week later, Mina Devadas, Stabb’s partner, rushed him to Holy Cross Hospital, his pain now far worse. He needed emergency surgery. Doctors removed multiple tumors from his stomach, and they delivered his cancer diagnosis soon after.

In the hospital, Devadas reminded him that the two had never really talked about marriage before, other than to agree that it wasn’t for them. Both had been married before, and Devadas says they decided early in their relationship that they didn’t need a piece of paper to be happy together. “We could just date each other for the rest of our lives, and that would be pretty cool,” Devadas says. “But going through this illness, we wanted some permanency. There was a feeling of wanting to hold on and cement something.”

So Vijayan called on her team to arrange the ceremony, and on March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—Devadas and Stabb were wed. It was a private ceremony, just the two of them and the group the hospital had assembled. Stabb wore his straight edge hoodie; Devadas wore a hoodie of her own. They exchanged dog tags with their names on them Devadas made at a local pet store. “It was a really fun, really happy day for both of us,” she says.

The doctors had agreed to let Stabb delay his chemotherapy for a day so he’d feel good at his wedding. That night, Stabb began a chemo regimen that would last for 21 consecutive days. The treatment left him weak but did little to stop the cancer.

“Our honeymoon was in a hospital bed that we made into a double bed by pushing a cot together with the hospital bed,” Devadas says. “And I spent every night of those 112 days with John in the hospital, because he asked me to, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”

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The State of D.C. Hardcore

Rob Watson, pictured here fronting Pure Disgust, organized the La Casa showcase to help introduce a newer crop of D.C. hardcore acts to the scene. Robin Zeijlon is on drums.

[Originally appeared on NPR.org in March 2016]

Rob Watson was ready for something new.

At 9 p.m. on a Friday in February, Watson was standing outside of La Casa, a micro-church and community center — whose main chapel is the size of your parents’ spacious living room — nestled next to a tienda in Washington, D.C.’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Inside, a hardcore punk band called Unknown Threat had just taken the stage.

Of course, there was no actual stage. There was just the floor where the band set up at one end of the room, and the dozens of fans in attendance who stood everywhere the band wasn’t and this is more or less what punk looks like. Once Unknown Threat hit its stride a few songs into its set, those standing closest to the band churned into motion, ricocheting off of one another and swinging arms wildly, seemingly unconcerned whether friend or foe caught a fist to the face.

But to Watson, who has performed in bands and booked shows in D.C. for years, the city’s punk scene, at this moment, feels complacent. He says he has watched the scene he helped build lose urgency, at least at home.

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Maracuyeah Collective: DC’s Rabble-Rousing DJ Collective Is Creating A New Kind Of Party

Show featuring Mexico:Argentian Kumbia Queers co organized by Maracuyeah and Anthology of Booty Photo by Daniel Martinez via Kesta DC Warmed

[Originally appeared in The Spark Mag in March 2016]

They call it “Maracuyeah.”

It’s a little joke – an emphatic twist of the Spanish word for passion fruit, “maracuyá.” And that’s just it. Washington, D.C.’s Maracuyeah Collective is about passion. For the past five years, the collective has organized and hosted sweaty, throbbing parties, soundtracked by Latin music from across countries and generations and attended by a similarly diverse swath of the city’s Latin community. They make their parties welcome to people across the spectrum of cultural and gender identities, queer and straight. While there have been other Latin dance events in D.C. over the years, none have provided the space for the DJs and party-goers to which Maracuyeah caters.

The collective’s pioneering members found one another through the deep underground broadcasting scene in D.C. In those early days, Kristy Chavez-Fernandez – known locally asKristy La Rat – and collective co-founder Maria Fernandez Escobar – who performs as DJ Mafe – operated in the same circles around music, underground radio, Latin beats and their shared culture and community.

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G.A.Y.R. – Greatest Hits

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[Originally appeared in Impose in February 2016]

Reality is awful. It’s unkind. Bigotry abounds. Let’s agree that we’re more or less directionless meat-sacks cast adrift on this dumb, spinning rock, which feels like a forever trap, though people eventually escape. This is something like the perspective of Gladiators, Are You Ready?, or G.A.Y.R., a transatlantic queercore trio that describes themselves as, “testo-fueled, spandex-clad, and enraged at the core.” Their mission? To clear the foul air of “the suffocating onslaught that claims to inspire something other than dread at the fate of terrestrial life.”

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Petrol Girls Singer Ren Aldridge Reflects On Visiting Displaced Residents in the Calais ‘Jungle’

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[Originally appeared in Noisey in January 2016]

By the time you read this, they may have already bulldozed much of The Jungle.

French authorities for days have threatened to plow into the migrant camps in the seaside port town of Calais and level any of the hundreds of ramshackle homes that sat too near the busy nearby motorway. This particular incarnation of “The Jungle,” as the residents there call it, houses 5,000 people, maybe more, all displaced from their homes or fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Migrant advocacy groups guess that around 2,000 people live in the part of the camp the government intends to remove. One group working in Calais to organize and relocate people estimates that 300 women and 60 children call that portion of the makeshift village of tents and shacks home.

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Blasting Off: With its Third Album, Two Inch Astronaut is Breaking Free of the City’s Musical Past

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[Originally appeared in the Washington City Paper on February 5, 2016]

Sure, Sam Rosenberg is nervous. Why wouldn’t he be?

He’s milling around the basement of the Kay Spiritual Life Center, the interfaith chapel tucked at the northeast end of the American University quad, and soon his band, Two Inch Astronaut, will hoist instruments and play its brand of well-honed post-punk in front of a few dozen college kids. It’s a few weeks before the band will drop its third and most anticipated record, Personal Life—an album that could, all cosmic winds blowing the the right way, propel the Colesville, Md. trio into a higher indie rock strata. So yeah, Rosenberg is nervous.

But amid the din of soundchecks and chattering teens—before a series of well-timed premieres would expose the new 10-song LP to the public—he explains why: He just wants to know what people will write about it.

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Can Independent Dog-Walking Musicians Still Get By In D.C.?

Chris Moore

[Originally appeared in the Washington City Paper on October 23, 2015]

Laurie Spector typically wakes around 9 a.m. By 10, she’s out of her parents’ house in Bethesda and off to meet her clients. There’s Charlie and Sophie, Bella and Gabby—a collection of diminutive friends who rarely need to venture beyond their respective fences. There’s a rowdy group who gets so excited to see her, one of them pees on the floor every time she arrives. They burst with energy, this bunch: Maddie and Cisco, Carmella and Csilla. In their inexplicable excitement, they often pull her down the street. They have loved her from the very beginning. She finds such unearned attention—love for a stranger—baffling.

A month or so ago, Spector hadn’t yet met these new friends—toy poodles and springer spaniels and vizslas and, in one case, a jack-a-bee. Back then, Spector was struggling with the tedium of a desk job at a nonprofit in Foggy Bottom. She has a college degree, and the office-worker path felt predetermined, she says. Spector would burn her eight hours and then go home, drink a beer, watch a movie, and fall asleep.

“I need to live on money, so I started working there,” Spector says. “After a while, I was completely miserable.”

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Diet Cig Are Graduating From Being A College Band

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Originally published in Noisey on July 15, 2015

The music world loves a band that has earned its keep—tour van veterans who only found recognition after they’d played a thousand VFW halls and recorded a dozen demos, and that’s far from some dumb trope. It happens. Other bands—shit, who are we kidding, basically all bands everywhere—toil in local scenes for years only to fade out as the years pile up. “Making it” in whatever modern way that turn of phrase still exists is chimera to most bands, even as the amount of music (and music journalism, natch) available and accessible to the world expands without end. But some bands, seemingly upon arrival, come equipped with such big hooks and jab-at-your-heart lyrics, they rise quickly to the surface. People notice.

Diet Cig are the poster band for that success story, taken to its preposterous extreme. Earlier this year, the band played its first show at a friend’s house in New Paltz, New York, a sleepy college town two hours north of New York City, and recorded a five-song EP two weeks later. Now, a half a year on, the first single from their upcoming record has landed on Spin, Vanity Fair, and—here we are—Noisey, all in the same week. That hyperspeed success would be enough to give anyone whiplash, but perhaps especially singer Alex Luciano, a 19 year old college sophomore who, before Diet Cig, had never picked up an electric guitar let alone played in a band.

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High-Functioning Punk: Sister Polygon Records is More Than Just An Indie Farm Team

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[Originally published in the Washington City Paper on June 15, 2015]

It’s a quiet Friday afternoon, and G.L Jaguar paces through his apartment, pointing out a box of tapes, record sleeves, a tape-to-tape recorder. Then, the nattily-appointed guitarist for the D.C. punk quartet Priests moves towards a closet, lit bright by a window with a decent view of the Capitol. “Well, here it is,” he says.

There in the closet sits a short shelf with an orderly library of identical records and tapes, each stacked one next to the other. Here in Jaguar’s 16th Street Heights apartment lives Sister Polygon Records, the tiny but disproportionately influential label jointly owned and operated by the four members of Priests. While it can’t approach the size and scope of Dischord, an independent label synonymous with underground music in D.C., Sister Polygon might very well be more significant in today’s tight-knit world of underground punk.

Bands on the label, including Priests, have rattled the gates of the popular music kingdom, collecting acclaim from critics and deals from bigger record labels along the way. And they’ve done it while shunning buzzy bands, hot sounds, and pleas for coverage. Sister Polygon is a DIY concern through and through.

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Recipe For Disaster: How Damaged City Became A Hub For International Hardcore

[Originally appeared in DCist in April 2015]

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In the years since his former band Career Suicide released what became its career-defining album, Matthew Miller’s life has changed.

He had two kids. He moved to what bandmate and Career Suicide singer Martin Farkas calls “the literal middle of nowhere”, in the expansive prairies of Manitoba, Canada. He now steers an 18-wheel truck through long stretches of highway crisscrossing the continent.

So when Farkas called Miller to extend the invitation to play D.C.’s Damaged City festival, when his truck was frozen in a repair yard in the middle of the awful Canadian winter, the offer to return to his former life, however briefly, must have sounded appealing.

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