Arts Beat

A Texting Tour Of Punk's Old Places

Longtime Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye recalled the punk music scene of the 1980s for films accompanying the text-message tour.
Longtime Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye recalled the punk music scene of the 1980s for films accompanying the text-message tour. "It's real Washington history. It's real culture," he says. (Yellow Arrow)

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By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2006

For those interested in Washington punk rock of the 1980s, there's no shortage of ways to learn about the scene. You could listen to Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Fugazi. You could watch the documentary "American Hardcore." Or, you could stand outside the Starbucks at Seventh and E streets NW and wait for a text message.

That's the idea behind "Capitol of Punk," an interactive tour of 10 D.C. punk landmarks. By sending the text message "DCSPACE" to the number 67067, your cellphone will direct you on a guided treasure hunt, starting with factoids about the building at Seventh and E. (Organizers also have drawn a map of the tour locations, which is available online.)

In the dozen or so text messages, you'll learn that until 1991, the Starbucks site was an all-ages art and music venue called d.c. space. You'll read anecdotes about bands seeing how fast they could play the Monkees song "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone." Government Issue set the record, it turns out, finishing in 12 seconds.

Put that in your Frappuccino and sip it.

"When you're there, it's hard to believe," says 26-year-old project director Christopher Allen. "There's no marking. There's no way to see that history. It's invisible."

"Capitol of Punk" is the brainchild of Yellow Arrow, a New York-based project that is part of a company called Counts Media. The group has created similar text-message tours for New Orleans's Voodoo Music Festival and New York's East Village.

Unlike those tours, the D.C. project includes films about each location, which are screening Saturday at the Warehouse Theater. The text-message tour is already up and running and the films are available in full at http://www.yellowarrow.net/, along with the tour map.

"You get the sensation you're actually getting messages from actual musicians that are guiding you through the city," says executive producer Jesse Shapins.

Kara Oehler, a Yellow Arrow contributor and radio journalist, helped conceive of the "Capitol of Punk" tour while working on a segment about music for American Public Media's "Marketplace." Oehler, 28, grew up listening to punk in Indianapolis and served as the group's expert on the subject.

Oehler, Shapins and Allen started working on the project in January. During interviews with 15 or so musicians, Oehler asked them to point to significant locations on a giant map of Washington.

"They would see what someone else had marked and they would say, 'Oh, I remember that!' " Oehler says.

Allen says his position as a D.C. punk outsider helped the final product: "I wanted to make this accessible for people who didn't understand all the people and all the bands," he says.


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