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By nature, a demo tape is only ever a look at the beginnings of the band, a way of seeing what year zero was like, a historical document. Adding another piece to the (admittedly already well documented) puzzle that is Washington DC hardcore, Six Song Demo casts a light on the development of both Rites Of Spring and the Dischord ‘sound’. Recorded in April 1994, Six Song Demo predates both of Rites Of Spring’s official releases and, despite their then youth as band, they sound almost fully formed. Most of what Rites Of Spring are known for is present here. As frantic sounding as ever, they come across as angry and impassioned. The guitars are less jangly and Guy Picciotto’s voice is hoarser and less developed, but aside from that, everything is as it is on the non-demo records.
Without wanting to go too far into a possibly revisionist take on the history of DC hardcore in the Eighties, there was a schism building within the city, and what amounts to a scene within a scene developed. Often dubbed Revolution Summer, it was the sound of punks turning their backs on the outright aggression of hardcore, and trying to expand their musical horizons. Whether or not the name was serious, a cursory look at the Dischord back catalogue reveals the way things played. Early records (S.O.A, Teen Idles) were brief bursts of adolescent aggression – as the groups disbanded and re-grouped into new line-ups, there was a change in approach. Faith’s Subject To Change LP was an obvious spark to Rites Of Spring’s beginnings. You could even look at Salad Days as a precursor to Rites Of Spring’s more emotional take on punk. The aggression is still there but it’s more inward. It’s unfortunate that the idea of emotional punk is much maligned. I’ve actively tried to avoid using the word, but it’s quite hard to not describe Rites Of Spring in that sense. Compare “It’s more than love/It’s less than love/It’s what I gave to you” (from ‘It’s All There Is’) to something like ‘Out Of Step’s drill sergeant bark of “Don’t drink/Don’t smoke/Don’t fuck” – there’s very much a heart on the sleeve element to Rites Of Spring. They’re more personal, less dogmatic than your typical hardcore band.
The songs on Six Song Demo appear pretty much as they are on later releases. The recordings are much rawer, and very rough around the edges. On ‘Hain’s Point’, for example, Guy’s scream of “I can’t explain” sounds like it ripped his vocal chords. ‘End On End’ is still as ferocious as ever, but it had yet to morph into the seven-minute noise-punk epic it would become on End On End. It sounds like they’re playing these songs for the very last time. Which, despite being a music cliché, is actually true here. After recording Six Song Demo, bassist Mike Fellows left DC for the LA, hence the “Mike Fellows is dead” joke/reference at the end (it’s also the name that this demo was bootlegged under, fact fans).
After recording this demo, Rites Of Spring would go on to develop their sound more, taking as much from their fellow punks as British post-punk, particularly early Eighties U2, who seem to have a surprising large influence on the Dischord roster. They’d become more melodic, janglier, slightly more rounded in their song writing. It may not a vital addition to your record collection, but Six Song Demo is an interesting and enjoyable release from one of the best bands and labels in hardcore. It may not for the casual fan, but it’s certainly one for the collector, which is pretty much every single hardcore fan ever.