On Rites of Spring


10. Dez. 2007, 5:56

A dual guitar rumble straight out of The Clash cuts through a Peter Hook-style rubbery bass line like a knife through very hot butter, to use the old cliche, blasting into a melodic, if slightly detuned, garage rock roar of a groove over which a young Guy Picciotto desperately shouts lines like "If I started crying/Then would you start crying" as if they were revolutionary polemic. This is "Theme," a track from the one and only full length album by Washington DC's Rites of Spring.

Unfortunately, Rites of Spring have become a band more talked about than actually listened to in the twenty or so years since their breakup, thanks to the popularity of emo, a term which nowadays means post-hardcore lapsed into banality and sad self-parody, or worse. The band was in fact one of the first, if not the first, groups the term was applied to, often to their consternation ("My only hope is that [emo] doesn't figure too prominently in my obituary," quips Picciotto in a 2005 interview). Regardless of the band's feelings on the issue, the career-spanning collection End on End is a good reminder as to why any debate over emo should even matter in the first place. As tracks like "For Want Of" and "Drink Deep" evince, this is powerful music, leading one the believe that DC '85 might have been every bit as important as New York '77 in terms of its impact on independent music, not to mention rock music in general.

As for the band's sound, the group blends a background in hardcore punk with the borderline-chaotic noise and ragged fervor of The MC5 and The Who's early work, and a songwriting style that appears to have come out of nowhere. Some have tried to tie it to Husker Du, but there's far less of a reverence for pop in Rites of Spring's work, and it's far to complex and articulate to have come out of hardcore punk. The lyrics, too, are far too literary and poetically inclined to be borne out of hardcore or pop, or even most art punk for that matter. The scale and scope of what Rites of Spring express on their self-titled full length in what are mostly two and a half to three minute punk songs is simply tremendous. In a way, Rites of Spring's sound reflects Romantic-era classical music in its grandeur and primal emotion, thus rendering their name quite apt. Later, on the EP All Through a Life, the band would move on to a more subdued style influenced by Television and The Beatles' mid-period work. Admittedly, it's a bit awkward, but still an interesting blend of nascent post-hardcore and art pop.

As one might expect from a band named after a ballet that notoriously caused the Parisian cultural elite to riot in the concert hall during its 1913 debut, Rites of Spring flamed out after two years and about 15 legendary performances. These live shows were reportedly very intense, complete with instrument destruction, roses being thrown on stage and audience members being brought to tears by the music. Three out of the four members of Rites of Spring formed One Last Wish in 1986, who took Rites of Spring's sound in a more polished direction, and the entirety of the Rites of Spring lineup reconvened in 1987 as Happy Go Licky, a highly experimental art punk unit whose work predicted the more artistic side of Fugazi, which of course included Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty as members.

Rites of Spring, ever on the edge of chaos, were bound to rip apart, and those who were there to witness the spectacle it must have been first hand are fortunate indeed. Rites of Spring embodied a very particular time and place, and pointed beyond it to rock's future, for better or worse.
Akzeptierte Übermittlungen
Baltimore and DC bands, Dischord Records


  • larrybob

    I agree, great article. What Rites of Spring was doing was innovative and original; by comparison, much music these days is trite and derivative. Sometimes I wonder if the power their music holds for me is a result of having lived with it for so long, but it seems that it still has the power to grab people.

    15. Dez. 2007, 2:44
  • PinkFloydrulez

    this was awesome. props to you

    17. Mär. 2008, 2:43
  • johnny-mnemonic

    nice article about a revolutionary band :)

    30. Mai. 2009, 11:08
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