Damaged City Fest V: They Lit Up That Church Like It Was In Norway

Angel Du$t at Damaged City Fest V. Photo by Farrah Skeiky.
Angel Du$t at Damaged City Fest V. Photo by Farrah Skeiky.

This was my night. It was different from a lot of other nights, because this was an important, memorable night.

This was the night of my first Damaged City Fest “main show.” I’ve enjoyed a few of the affiliated “after-shows” over the years, but had not previously attended one of the much-larger main shows, where a slew of bands convene to rock the house (of the Lord).

I was excited to finally be part of what most people in the know consider one of the biggest, best, and most consistent aspects of the contemporary D.C. hardcore punk scene. While doing some research for this write-up, I was a little surprised to discover that this fest has only been an annual event for five years, because it has come to feel like such an important and embedded part of the calendar.

When I think about all the bands that have played this fest in its brief history, it really isn’t surprising that D.C. Fest has been so successful and feels as though it has been around for six or seven years, minimum. Bands from all over the world and from many different sub-genres (and even from different generations) of outsider music have played a part in Damaged City: local heroes like Government Issue, 86 Mentality, the Goons, Striking Distance, the Aftermath, and Ilsa; bands from all over America (the Avengers, Infest, Zero Boys, Dropdead, Negative Approach); and international acts such as Night Fever, the Mob, Career Suicide, and Systematic Death.

As you may be aware, leaving Baltimore on a Friday afternoon and driving straight into the belly of the Babylon is a fool’s errand. On this particular afternoon, I was a fool for punk!

Despite my sincere efforts to arrive on time, between traffic and the challenge of finding parking, the first band had just finished up when I strutted into the house (of the Lord).

Line of Sight is a D.C. straight-edge band, and since I didn’t see them play, I’m going to tell you what the scene was like during their 15-minute opening set. In that amount of time they were probably able to perform four original tunes and a cover, which was probably by a classic straight-edge act (but not Minor Threat; maybe something by Chain of Strength).

Their five-song set of two-minute songs was transformed into a five-song set of 115-second songs because of all the energy in the room, but this still gave the band a solid five minutes to shout-out their friends, rant about people poisoning their bodies, and remind the crowd of the importance of commitment, friendship, and not stabbing each other in the back.

Meanwhile, I drove in slowly expanding circles around St. Stephen’s Church while screaming at D.C. drivers.

Unified Right was setting up when I finally made my way into the venue (of the Lord).

Unified Right is a great-sounding band. I think they are from Boston, or maybe just from Massachusetts. Oh, wait. These guys are from Florida? Weird, I didn’t get the impression that they were inbred hillbillies. They must be from a different part of Florida than I have ever been to!

Florida hardcore has never really stood out to me. When I think of Flor-core, I think of metalcore or screamo, but Unified Right plays good, old-school hardcore, so when I thought they were from Massachusetts it really made sense. Unified Right sounds like a less-Irish, more suntanned version of Boston / East Coast hardcore. It is straightforward, tough stuff. Sometimes they pull off an Agnostic Front-style anthemic mid-tempo jam, then they play some big-riff fast stuff that gets people singing along and yelling. I have never liked (or even been aware of) many bands from Florida, so this gives me hope. Unified Right has the sound I want to hear when I want to hear Flor-core.

As the angry music blared, I watched the kids in the crowd have a blast and jump all over the place.

Unified Right performed to an active crowd. I bet a lot of the people in that room have run a 10K at some point — maybe even something longer than that, but definitely 75 percent of these people have done a 10K, minimum. The median age of the crowd at this point was probably about 22.

The metabolism in the room was staggering.

Praise was the next band on the lineup. I love this band. I’ve had the good fortune to catch them a number of times and I am always happy when I see their name on a bill.

This fest is a great fit for this band, because they are phenomenal live, they are delightful people (or so I’ve been told), they are straight edge, and they have an absolutely awesome spirit / energy / aura (“vibe,” in the parlance of our time) that pours through their music. Most of the React Records bands are topnotch, but Praise is probably my current favorite.

Melodic hardcore of the type Praise purveys is great to find in any time and place, and I was happy to see a lot of people in the crowd singing along. There was less slamming than there was during Unified Right.

The heads were bobbing and the mouths were moving, opening and closing oddly in rhythm. My mind wandered a bit as I surveyed the scene, and I started to wonder: If the Revelation started right now, in this weird church, what would happen? Where would I go? Would I have a chance? Do half-dead straight-edge survivors in an apocalyptic hellscape have more stamina? Do they move faster than half-dead scumbags?

Would a reanimated straight-edge corpse even want to eat me?

To be honest, I might thrive in the end times. I mean, things are going pretty well for me so far.

Stand Off is one of my favorite current bands in D.C. They play much angrier and “tougher” hardcore than most of the other bands on this day of the fest. I love their speed and intensity. I hate that this was apparently their last show. I wish these guys all the best and I’m sure that whatever they do next is going to be awesome, too (although you never know).

I wish I heard more in-your-face bands like this at every show. While I love melody and appreciate catchiness and “pop sensibilities,” there is a lot to be said for bands like Stand Off that punch you in the face (sonically) and blast through song after song after song after song and when they are done and you come to your senses you are covered in sweat and blood and have a big, stupid grin on your face (or maybe that is just me!).

At this point I realized that it wasn’t even 8 o’clock yet. Organization like whoa: This is what happens when you put a handful of highly motivated people without drug problems in charge of major events.

I think “punk-rock time” has gotten me accustomed to things just kind of coming together gradually, anchored by an attitude of, “Don’t worry: It’ll come together as soon as the guy gets here with the drugs.”

Sometimes it seems like my friends and I can’t get a four-band show wrapped up before 2 a.m. I think I might have to start hiring straight-edge people with control issues to manage my shows.

While I’m on the topic of straight-edge people with amazing time management skills, I want to personally say “thanks” to Chris Moore.

I’m sure there are a lot of other people who put time, talent, energy, thought, debate, patience, sweat, and stress into this event over the years, but I don’t really know them (other than Nick Tape!), and they probably don’t like me anyway, so I’m just going to take a minute to talk about Chris Moore, who sees through all the B.S. and has always been nothing but a class act (to me).

This guy is arguably one of the all-time best drummers out of D.C., is the brains behind Damaged City Fest, and is one of the classiest motherfuckers to ever be called a fucking motherfucker.

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Respect.

I won’t even try to figure out how many bands he has been in, but they were all (for the most part) better than any of the bands you or I have been in.

In addition to doing a lot for our scene and appearing in an episode of “Veep,” Chris Moore is locally known for being photographed with the likes of Paramour, Pentagram, and Brian Baker (to name a few), but Chris Moore still gives me a nice hug every time I see him.

I guess he really is a weirdo after all.

Red Death is another band with members from around here. They seem to get on these D.C. Fest things pretty regularly. I’m slightly embarrassed to say I had only previously witnessed them once, because I think they are great and have for some time now. I have a real weakness for thrashy hardcore, but a lot of bands that play this type of crossover stuff seem to wear one of those stylistic influences on their sleeve and deny the existence of the other. This is especially the case for bands that see themselves as primarily a metal band. Red Death, however, seems to have no problem showing that punk and metal are two great tastes that taste like awesome violent murder together.

I don’t know whether it was room filling up more, the metabolic youth moving around even more, or the sonic plague, but I needed to get some fresh air halfway through the Red Death’s set, so I decided to take a run up the block and get a drink out of my car. Upon arriving at my vehicle I was displeased to discover that I had obtained a parking ticket while enjoying Damaged City Fest V at St. Stephen’s Church. So, I moved my car. After driving around for an annoying length of time I found a really sketchy parking lot that seemed totally legit.

When I got back to the weird church there were a lot of people standing around outside catching their respective breaths. I ran into a bunch of pals I hadn’t seen inside. That was neat. Drank a beer. Also cool. Overall, outside of getting a ticket and the apocalyptic premonitions, this had already been a bitchin’ evening.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to talk about the “merch area” in the sanctuary area of the weird church. There were a lot of vendors in there, pedaling their wares. Just about every table had a couple of boxes of records. The thing I found interesting was how the “show room” stayed mad full, but the merchandise area (and its large “seating area”) was generally pretty packed as well. Whether or not this show officially sold out, there were certainly a ton of people in the house (of the Lord).

I was walking around the “merch area,” rocking an Orioles hat, and Justice from Trapped Under Ice / Angel Du$t and I got to talking about music, Baltimore, touring, moving, our collection of stylish gold teeth, politics, and guns. I used to see him around town now and then, but he has been bouncing around between different cities (and even different coasts), and it was great to spend a little while catching up.

Also, Battery: How are you not going to have any T-shirts?

If you were at this show and you were able to peep Fury, then you definitely saw the best band of the night and the best band of a whole lot of other nights.

I mean no disrespect whatsoever to any of the other bands, because every band I saw held up their end of the bargain, but Fury was 100% my favorite.

It was about time some of the fitness-instructor-looking youth started demonstrating some stage dives. Honestly, I don’t even want to write about Fury anymore, I just want to go listen to them. If you weren’t at Damaged City you should do yourself a favor and go listen to their album. I’ve been listening to it ever since the show. I have had to buy three new cars because of Fury.

These cats are from California, but they bring a lot of influences from hardcore scenes everywhere. I love the D.C. and NYHC-style parts. I like how it flows back and forth from youth crew anthems to full-blown metal hardcore. They even do really fast, thrashy, Suicidal Tendencies-sounding parts. This band rules.

Fury at Damaged City Fest V. Photo by Farrah Skeiky.
Fury at Damaged City Fest V. Photo by Farrah Skeiky.

Once Fury left the stage I wandered back out to the merch area (of the Lord) to pick up some shirts and records. Everyone out there was either really friendly or massively uninterested. I would suspect that the latter group of people was on dissociatives if not for the giant Xs on their hands.

After my little shopping spree wrapped up I went to my car to deposit my new possessions. A friend gave me a beer, which was pretty cool, because I was thirsty, and not drunk. I wasn’t outside for long, but when I went back to the weird church Battery was already playing. Did I mention how organized and well-oiled Damaged City was?

Walking into that room while Battery was playing — I felt like I had gone back to the Capital Ballroom. It was unreal. Maybe it was me who was on the dissociatives. I checked my hands and they didn’t have big Xs on them, so I can’t be sure.

I always loved this band and had some great times seeing them in the mid-’90s. I don’t think they were the first band that made me fall in love with youth crew, but they were definitely one of them.

Although Battery toured everywhere back in the day and did achieve some success in other markets, they always seemed like more of a regional phenomenon, which I always felt was unfortunate.

I have read a million articles on youth crew and ’90s hardcore and you always see the same bands getting shine from the writers. There wasn’t the same kind of love for Battery on paper, but in real life, where it counts, Battery upstaged the other bands on the scene. At least in D.C. (I never saw them anywhere else) crowds really went off when Battery played.

Locally, Battery had, and still has, a mystique.

In 2017, they showed why.

Battery at Damaged City Fest V, in 2017. Photo by Farrah Skeiky.
Battery at Damaged City Fest V, in 2017. Photo by Farrah Skeiky.

Somehow the sound got better than it was during the rest of the night, and Battery played a set that actually might have been better and tighter than in the old days.

They lit up that church like it was in Norway.

“These Are the Days” and “That’ll Never Be Me” were the real standouts from Battery’s set. It all seemed even more vital and fresh than it did back then, somehow.

***

I used to have the best times in the ’90s at these big shows, but now I’m not getting kicked out for underage drinking. Now I am being called “sir” and being politely asked to go past the church’s property line to drink my beer.

Angel Du$t also makes me feel old, but in a totally different way. These guys make me feel old because they have boundless energy, still have hair, and because they drive the girls crazy.

Angel Du$t by Farrah Skeiky
Angel Du$t at Damaged City Fest V. Photo by Farrah Skeiky.

Angel Du$t is one of the most fun bands doing hardcore right now.

When I was young and just starting to go to hardcore shows and see bands like Battery, it felt like the brightest, most vital thing in the world.

On a night like this one, it still feels that way.

It felt the same. It sounded the same. It even looked the same.

At D.C. Fest V, in 2017, every once in a while I would look around and see a bunch of young women in overalls or high-waisted pants with pegged legs, and I would suspect that I had been transported into an episode of “Saved by the Bell” — the one where everyone got letter jackets with crew names on the back and did stage dives until Screech cut the power halfway through Angel Du$t’s set.

In the end, though, in this episode everything worked out for the best.

Angel Du$t punched out Screech and Zack Morris and the show went on.

Kelly Kapowski took the microphone from Justice and finished the song.

Then, as the feedback and applause died down, Kapowski made a short, surprising speech.

“The Friday night show of Damaged City Fest 2017 was one hell of a great time!” Kapowski aggressively shouted into the microphone. “It was super-organized! All the bands ruled — especially Fury — and I look forward to future editions of Damaged City Fest! Hopefully Chris Moore will book Fury again!”

She dropped the microphone and dove back into the audience.

For a moment or two, I felt like Kapowski was actually speaking for me.

I looked down at my hands.

There were no Xs on them, so I can’t be sure.

— By Dave Poole

Local writer Dave Poole. Photo by Allison Acosta.
Local writer Dave Poole wearing a Fury shirt, because he was unable to purchase a Battery shirt at Damaged City Fest V. Photo by Allison Acosta.

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