Summer 1985. The first wave of punk has long since burned out into a pitiful malaise of nihilism and drugs. Its successor- the American hardcore scene- once a shining beacon of DIY work ethic and righteous anger had been overrun by muscleheaded thugs more interested in brawling than jamming. Where to for those still wanting to be a part of something greater? Something pure and something heartfelt? This was the question the musicians of Washington D.C in 1985 had to confront. Their response? Cast aside everything that came before and rebuild. The summer of 1985 was to be the Revolution Summer- everyone was to form new bands and create a new scene, free of numbskulls. Despite its noble intentions, the Revolution Summer and its acts quickly died out after a year, yet within that short time it planted the seeds for the future direction of punk and indie rock. One of those bands to flourish during the Revolution Summer was Rites of Spring.
A four piece fronted by singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty, both of whom would soon go on to join Ian Mackaye in the seminal Fugazi, Rites of Spring only played 15 shows and released one album over a two year period. By those figures it would be easy to dismiss Rites of Spring as merely the band Picciotto and Canty played around in before they struck gold in Fugazi. But such an assessment is terribly shallow- Rites of Spring were a great band in their own right. Their body of work would become the template for future post-hardcore bands as well as emo acts. Rites of Spring are often acknowledged as the first “emo” band.
“I’ve never recognized ‘emo’ as a genre of music. I always thought it was the most retarded term ever…”Guy Picciotto, Rites of Spring
Ironically Picciotto hated the term “emo”- “I’ve never recognized ‘emo’ as a genre of music. I always thought it was the most retarded term ever. I know there is this generic commonplace that every band that gets labeled with that term hates it. They feel scandalized by it. But honestly, I just thought that all the bands I played in were punk rock bands. The reason I think it’s so stupid is that – what, like the Bad Brains weren’t emotional? What – they were robots or something? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Rites of Spring and the other bands of the Revolution Summer were the next step in punk’s evolution. The kids that grown up thrashing their instruments in hardcore bands had now developed into talanted musicians and had grown tired of the genre’s strict boundaries and restraints. Rites of Spring were one of the first bands to loosen the chains of hardcore and challenge what a punk band could sound like. The speed and intensity of punk remained but it was combined with melody and introspective lyrics that didn’t just unleash streams of vitriol. Essentially it was punk but with greater emphasis on songwriting.
“I woke up this morning with a piece of past caught in my throat / And then I choked”
Guy Picciotto’s shrill yet captivating voice dominates this track as he laments a painful break up. Picciotto seems on the brink of total collapse and despite the dark nature of his words there remains a glimmer of hope in his delivery. The upbeat guitar and the pace of the track prevents the song from sinking into a mire of tiresome self-loathing and angst. Instead “For Want Of” becomes a song of rare beauty. Yes, it’s about the fallout of a failed relationship and yes it’s dark, however it maintains a passion and sincerity that’s inspiring. It’ll remind you that although this relationship ultimately hit the skids, in the long run the good times will outweigh the bad and that hope endures.
Rites of Spring’s sole studio album, Rites of Spring, was released in June of 1985 on Dischord Records. You can purchase a digital copy of the 1991 compilation edition, combining both the album Rites of Spring and the EP All Through a Life, via Dischord.