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The Slap: Chalk Circle, DC Hardcore and the Death of Fun

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Chalk Circle live 1982

By Tamsin Chapman

Heres a thing I’ve been tinkering with for ages. Originally I had wanted to do a very ambitious essay on dancing at gigs, with elements of memoir and lots of pretention. But it’s not coming together. Maybe in the future it will, but in the meantime I’ve bought it back to the original kernel – the sleeve-notes from a Chalk Circle compilation. It’s sort of a review but more of a rant.

Listen to this song and if you don’t want to dance you’re a great big sopping wet honking limp nong.

Here are a few facts about Chalk Circle, the band who recorded this:

  • They existed from 1981-1983 in Washington DC
  • They were the first all-female band from DC since the International Sweethearts Of Rhythm (see below) in the 40s.
  • They only did four gigs
  • Although they were friends with Ian MacKaye and well-known on the DC punk scene, Dischord never put out any of their recordings. They were thought “not to fit”
  • Apart from a few tracks on obscure compilations, none of their music was ever released until earlier this year when all of their recorded output was brought together on the anthology Reflection (Mississippi Records)
  • They rule

God this music is so life-affirming; jagged like a botched tonsilectomy, scrappy and essential, insouciant yet shit-serious. Sometimes the vocals are call and response, sometimes all in unison. A nest of nightingales built of knife. Their rhythms are like household tools – typewriter, sewing machine? I’m not sure, but they’re exotic yet domestic. Like flea spray and cheap wine. Why hadn’t I heard them before?

As well as wonderful music, the compilation also includes wonderful sleeve-notes, put together by Don Fleming. [My old chess-playing partner! – Ed] One thing in particular stands out; this quote from Sharon Cherlow, the band’s guitarist:

We always thought of punk as having no rules, but when hardcore became popular there developed a rule to which Chalk Circle didn’t adhere. Nonetheless, Anne and I loved hardcore and went to all the shows. We went to all the Minor Threat, S.O.A., GI, and Youth Brigade shows and loved to dance. Even though the dancing was not intentionally violent, it stopped being safe for girls – a lot of guys wore chains and studs and didn’t realize their own strength when they rammed into people. This was the precursor to slam dancing. As the scene became more focussed on thrash – i.e. loud, fast rules – Chalk Circle didn’t fit in so well.

“They gave me my first slap/They told me to be ready /Now I’m quite prepared/For the last slap/It never stopped/It never stops” – ‘The Slap’, Chalk Circle

Punk. A musical movement that was inclusive, experimental and most of all FUN. Something hard to grab hold of that bent around and flowed out of clenched fists like shiny marbles and mozarella cheese. And then some boring men had to write their boring rules, they had to take up all the space (watch them on a train with their legs spread wide, hear them in the streets after pub closing time as they bellow in packs), they had to ruin it for everybody else. Inclusivity? Banned. Experimentation? Banned. FUN? Banned, banned and banned. And symbolic of their pogrom on fun – women dancing at gigs? BANNED.

And thus were spawned a hundred documentaries about the story of punk, a revisionist US-centric story which goes something like this: Stooges. Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Clash. Hardcore scene. Big long gap. Nirvana. Green Day. The end.

If you’re lucky, you might see a bit of Siouxsie or Debbie, but generally no women, no other countries apart from America and the UK and no dissonant voices. No LILiPUT, no Scorched Earth Policy, no riot grrrl, no queercore, no K Records, no Slampt … NO FUN.

As casually as the cops pepper spray some students, history is rewritten.

“Easy escapes aren’t to be found/Must find my own way out/No-one has the easy answer/But is there an answer?” – ‘Easy Escapes’, Chalk Circle

6 Responses to The Slap: Chalk Circle, DC Hardcore and the Death of Fun

  1. annaphallactic December 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    I had been waiting for YEARS to hear Chalk Circle. So glad this is available now. Sharon Cheslow is an underappreciated punk treasure; her entire output is fascinating and wonderful.

  2. Niall January 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    A botched tonsilectomy sounds like the complete opposite of life-affirming to me. Great tunes though!

  3. Erika January 18, 2012 at 12:39 am

    Thanks, I needed to read something like this.

  4. Bianca January 18, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Do you know of Alice Bag at all? She has an archive of interviews with ladies from the L.A. punk scene on her site: http://www.alicebag.com/news.html …I recommend her book Violence Girl too!

  5. Tamsin Chapman February 5, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Thanks Bianca – good stuff

  6. Pingback: Chalk Circle | An Adventure in Girl Punk

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