The Faith and Void: the glorious Dischord of 1980s harDCore punk

Washington DC was fertile ground for hardcore punk in the 1980s, with Dischord records its main outlet. Craig Finn celebrates the still-vital Faith/Void split LP

In the early 1980s, while Ronald Reagan was perched in the White House, Washington DC was ground zero for US east coast hardcore punk. The DC bands were more political than those in New York and Boston, and more emotional, too. Dischord Records – established in 1980 by Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson of Minor Threat, probably the DC scene's biggest band – documented the musical output of the scene with a steady flow of high-quality releases. Dischord's attention to detail – good artwork, a well-organised mail order business, low retail prices – helped spread the DC sound nationwide, then worldwide.

The Faith and Void were two of the very best of the DC hardcore bands. The bands combined in 1982 for a split 12" release on Dischord that is one of the most vital hardcore records ever released. It's a reminder of hardcore at its finest: angry and dangerous without being cartoonish. Like many of their DC hardcore peers, the Faith and Void both had short lifespans, and are known mostly for their halves of this one record. Two new releases from Dischord – one featuring the Faith's Subject to Change EP plus their first demos, the other gathering together 34 songs recorded by Void between 1981 and 1983 – offer a new insight into these bands and their place in the hardcore canon.

The Faith were influenced heavily by the first wave of US and UK punk rock. But though you can hear the sound of the late 70s in their demos, the Faith are leaner, faster and more direct than their predecessors. By the time they recorded the Subject to Change EP – which was first released in late 1983, shortly after they disbanded – the Faith had adopted a more melodic and emotional approach, perhaps owing to the addition of a second guitar player. The two guitars together seem to chime, creating an unusual – for hardcore – sense of melody. And instead of employing hardcore's usual strangled bark, Alec MacKaye (Ian's brother) makes sure his words are clear and easy to discern: the Faith's musicality often trumps their rage.

This is the sound that went on to shape much of what came after, especially later period DC bands such as Embrace and Rites of Spring, both of whom shared members with the Faith – and who are often charged with being the founding fathers of emo, though you'll find little in the Dischord catalogue that has much in common with the bands described as emo nowadays.

Void took their name from Black Sabbath's Into the Void and played a more metallic and chaotic brand of hardcore than the Faith. In fact, they sound possessed and sometimes seem blurred, as if every member is simply playing as fast as he can. While much of hardcore was susceptible to quickly falling into a status quo of conventions and cliches, Void existed outside of the genre norm and remained unique and terrifying.

Like many of the DC bands, Void were actually from outside the city itself, from the suburbs – Columbia, Maryland, in their case. You hear the complaints of bored suburban kids in their music, in songs like Organized Sports, and in one song they put their grievance in the baldest form: Suburbs Suck. But Void's anger isn't just directed at their moms and dads and football coaches – War Hero's cry of "I want to die in a war!" marks them out as something other.

In 2011, hardcore seems to be having a moment in the sun. Fucked Up have crossed over from the sometimes insular punk scene to be a staple of festival bills. There's even the hint of hipness around young bands such as Cerebral Ballzy and the British group Flats. The Faith and Void show why hardcore has lasting power, how even music recognised mainly for its brevity and brutality can convey something emotional and immediate, even 30 years on.

• Craig Finn is the singer of the Hold Steady. Subject to Change and First Demo by the Faith, and Sessions 1981-83 by Void are out now on Dischord.


Craig Finn

The GuardianTramp

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