Review: Bad Brains – A Band in DC

Bad Brains: architects of a new hardcore sound in the 1980s

Film Title: Bad Brains: A Band in DC

Director: Mandy Stein Ben Logan

Starring: Bad Brains

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 104 min

Fri, Feb 14, 2014, 16:55


American punk doesn’t get any spikier than the DC scene, the raucous genre that gifted us Fugazi, Dischord Records and Henry Rollins during the early 1980s. Even among this lively company, Bad Brains stood out as the architects – some might say perpetrators – of a new kind of hardcore sound. An African-American jazz-funk ensemble that became entranced with the three-chord minimalism of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, Bad Brains brought fierce musical chops, epic shredding, a metallic edge and Rastafarian noodles to the post-punk landscape.

Directors Ben Logan and Mandy Stein’s film – screening as part of guest curators Allison and Tiffany Anders’s very fine JDiff sidebar – kicks off on the band’s 2007 reunion tour, just as bassist Darryl Jenifer is telling charismatic frontman HR that he never wants to see him again. Plus ça change. Archive footage and distinguished talking heads (Ian MacKaye, Dave Grohl, the late Adam Yauch) talk us through an iconoclastic musical history that noisily extends back to 1977. Seeing Bad Brains live, says Henry Rollins, “was the start of my life”.

Inevitably, many musical differences and questions go unresolved. And inevitably, the band weren’t keen on the finished film. A thrilling document, nonetheless.

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