Who Gets Banned By A Bland D.C.?
Photo by Chrisopher Grady
It is much easier to romanticize the past than to build toward a future you believe in. Music, especially punk music, and maybe even more specifically D.C. punk music, can feel mired in expectations of what it’s ”supposed to be like.” Trying to bring new sounds and ideas in genres that are weighed down by decade old aesthetics can be quite difficult. You have to find a new mountain to climb.
So it means a lot when experienced musicians come at something with eyes and ears that are totally informed by the past, yet are still waiting to see what they can do in the moment. Puff Pieces – made up of Mike Andre, Amanda Huron, and Justin Moyer – are doing just that, and it’s a lesson to anyone who thinks that using music to crystallize dissent is over. “I am attached to the word and identity of punk. I understand that what is important is the spirit behind it,” explains Amanda.
Puff Pieces are people from D.C. who experienced the city’s history of music and punk, have seen the overwhelming displacement of people, history, and land, yet continue to make and record music and play shows. They named their newest release Bland in D.C., a commentary on the state of the city and a take on the Bad Brain’s legendary song, Banned in D.C. Banned in D.C. came out of Bad Brains feeling too challenging for the city. They were unofficially prohibited from playing many of the city’s venues, and presumably knew their work was a threat to capital’s appropriation of culture. But according to Amanda, “It is hard to imagine anything being banned in D.C. today.” Justin elaborates: “We have some type of high-functioning blandness we find ourselves in the midst of. We are trying to find something to latch onto.”
We have some type of high-functioning blandness we find ourselves in the midst of. We are trying to find something to latch onto.
Amanda grew up in D.C. during the 70s and 80s and returned after college as a young adult in the transforming D.C. of the 90s. While the past should not be romanticized, Amanda expressed how the global phenomena of gentrification has affected D.C.’s collective voice and power: “The gentrification here has become high functioning in way. There is an efficiency to it, everything is cleaner. I guess there is less crime in some areas, depending on how we define crime, there is still a lot of crime of evictions and people being killed by the police, but the policing of the city has sanitized the city. The city has been kind of turned inside out and there is a suburbanization.”
I never thought of “bland” as a form of violence. But Puff Pieces point out that bland is powerful in its ability to desensitize us to lives shows, DIY processes, and state violence. So, what does it mean to Puff Pieces to fill in this blandness, to latch onto something? Drummer Mike Andre suggests that “affordable housing would be a great starting place for a non-bland D.C.” Amanda argues that that land for different types of people would draw D.C. out of a monolithic mindset: “We need spaces for different people. Cultural spaces, but also small businesses. There used to be caverns of people who wanted to own a business or show space that had a connection to something beyond themselves. There is a place called Bohemian Caverns and also Union Arts that were so important to the music and arts community and it is terrifying that such historic and important places are closing.”
One way artists can put their hat in the priority-making ring is by making clear how important live music spaces are. Puff Pieces are part of a long history and future of bands that use the show space as a mobilizing space. Mike, who was fairly quiet throughout our hour long phone call, was clearly ignited when talking about the physical space that Puff Pieces inhabit with their band. “We play shows to be in community with people who make non-capitalistic art and share with them. It is important to us in the context of the shows that we play that we can create something with people. Regarding music or punk or whatever we are doing. What is important is the format and structure that these things take place in and the process and the way that the art is being made in and created and shared. As the artists we are responsible to this process.” Amanda reaffirms, saying, “we play music to connect to people.”
Puff Pieces’ new album is great. The recordings are crunchy, full, and alive, but after talking to the band, the recordings are only the beginning of what they’ve set out to accomplish. We need to close the MacBook, scrape together the $5-10 – which should probably be more considering rents and wages – and go watch Puff Pieces. Profit generation as a process and end seems to be creating D.C.’s bland generation. Yet groups like Puff Pieces, Priests, and Maracuyeah Collective are trying to push back on capital’s priorities to create meaningful, dangerous culture. Bland in D.C. is all about asking, what happened to being banned in D.C.? And more importantly, who is banned from D.C. in 2016?