Vinyl You Need calls up the people who work at record stores and asks them what records they think are essential. This edition features Smash! Records in Washington, D.C.
Matt Moffatt does not like lists. He refuses to list make a list of his favorite records (because that’s virtually impossible, duh) via email. And at first, he’s even reticent to list any on the phone. But Moffatt, the owner of Smash! Records in Washington D.C., is eventually persuaded to talk about his city’s rich punk and hardcore history in a way that could later be re-formatted in such a way that pertains to numeric amalgamations of records of import.
Even when founder Bobby Polski opened Smash! in the 1980s, he intended it to be a punk/alternative store. “That was the niche from the beginning,” says Moffatt in between responding to a lone customer who wandered in, questionably asking for reggae vinyl. For those unfamiliar with our capital’s famed music scene, however, Moffatt explains that three main bands paved the way for punk and hardcore as we know it today. The “big three,” as he calls them, are Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Fugazi. “That’s what we always stock. That’s what will always move. That’s what pays our rent.”
Smash! Records, which relocated to Adams Morgan a few years ago, is full of everything needed to fulfill the alternative dream—music, clothes, shoes, vintage wares, and, of course, tons of attitude. Outside, a beat up magenta sign reading, “Punk, hardcore, indie rock, and more,” marks the entry. Inside, posters, hand-written signs indicating which genre can be found where, and framed records cover surfaces from the walls to the ceiling.
So, as we asked Moffatt to tell us five D.C.-centric and/or hardcore-punk records he thinks everyone should own on wax, he simply looks around to see what’s on the walls in the shop. Here’s what we concluded, based on that extraordinarily scientific tactic.
**Matt Moffatt Owner, Smash! Records **
Artist: Black Market Baby
Album: Senseless Offerings
Reason: On my expensive wall, I have a record by the Black Market Baby. The album is called Senseless Offerings. They were a seminal D.C. punk band who influenced the hardcore bands like Minor Threat. They’re slightly older than Minor Threat and their peers. They took your basic punk formula and sped it up a little bit. They were kinda rowdy guys and they released this one record, which is rock solid. And the reason that they’re not legendary is because the bands that they influenced ended up superseding them. Bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat became so popular within the punk scene, so Black Market Baby got relatively overlooked because of that. So they released this one record in ’83, which is actually a little late; it seems like if they released it two years earlier maybe it would be a little more important. But it’s since become a rarity and as much as the punk rock from that time period, it’s become a very valued record and it’s sought after now. The album in my hands has not been reissued, but their other material has been reissued a couple of times over the decades. They still play reunion shows every once and a while around here. It’s definitely something a store like us would recommends if someone wants to dig a little deeper in D.C. punk.
Artist: St. Vitus
Album: St. Vitus
Reason: They were from L.A. in the early ‘80s. Basically, they were metal dudes on a punk label, Black Flag’s SST Records. They put out many records throughout the ‘80s. It’s kind of the same story as Black Market Baby. They were oddballs within the punk scene. They were four long-haired punk dudes playing slow metal, which has since been dubbed, “doom metal.” Back then, people just called it, “it’s sucks,” if you were a punk rocker! But they have aged incredibly well. Their records have gone nobody-really-cares to they’re-on-my-wall-for-an-expensive-amount-of-money. Since they’re metal dudes, the metal community picked up on them, so they double-dipped. The punk world distributed them, but the metal world [got it], as well, so they had a larger audience. It’s fucking awesome. It excites me just by looking at it.
Artist: Sonic Youth
Reason: This is my favorite Sonic Youth record, but they’re a band that I feel like doesn’t need more exposure!
But the story of Sonic Youth is pretty well known. They’re a New York band that was part of the No Wave movement, which was kind of like anti-music. If you’re unfamiliar with No Wave, it’s almost like true punk music because it was made to be really harsh and unlistenable, as opposed to being distorted Chuck Berry riffs. Sonic Youth kinda came out of that, but they also...ended up being influenced by the hardcore scene—maybe not the music, but the elements of the how those bands toured and put out their own records.
I think EVOL is their most cohesive record. And this [record] is the beginning of people liking Sonic Youth.
Artist: Pure Disgust
Album: Pure Disgust
Reason: There’s currently a local, self-professed hardcore punk scene. Everything ebbs and flows, but right now there’s a group of kids that’s putting out their own records and they’ve gotten a little bit of attention touring. The biggest ones are Coke Bust, who’s almost a senior member of the younger generation, and this band Pure Disgust of pretty much all teenagers. They just put out their first LP. It’s a cool record.
Artist: The Jesus Lizard
Reason: I am listening to The Jesus Lizard on my iPod. I don’t even really like the vocals! I think what’s always held The Jesus Lizard back was the vocals. David Yow was such a drunk maniac, so as a performer people were receptive, but the records suffer from the indecipherable lyrics. But the music makes keeps it interesting.