Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s with musical groups like Bad Brains, The Slickee Boys, Minor Threat, and others, the punk music scene in Washington, D.C. rapidly grew to one of international prominence. Simultaneously, members of the larger international subculture began to create their own publications to document the music, ideas, and events that were developing. These self-published magazines, known as fanzines, became a primary conduit for information about this underground music culture. Although somewhat difficult to define, fanzines are publications generally produced in relatively small runs by enthusiasts.
When the Washington, D.C punk scene formed in the late 1970s, only a few fanzines, like Descenes, Vintage Violence, and The Infiltrator, emerged to cover it. Although larger D.C.-area music publications, like Unicorn Times, gave regular coverage to the nascent scene in Washington, these new fanzines particularly helped to promote new bands like Urban Verbs, The Razz, and The Slickee Boys.
Gaining local notice on the heels of those bands, but coming from a different, even harsher musical place, Bad Brains helped to spark the hardcore punk sound that became closely associated with the D.C. music scene. As Bad Brains played everywhere from basement shows to bars, the ferocity and passion that the band emanated struck a chord with a young group of musicians and fans that coalesced into the thriving hardcore scene that emerged in 1980. Those musicians quickly formed a group of new bands like Minor Threat, The Faith, and Government Issue, whose innovative music and chaotic performances helped to establish the D.C. punk scene as a place worthy of international attention. Helping to document that scene at the time were D.C.-area fanzines like Thrillseeker, If This Goes On, Truly Needy, Capitol Crisis, and Zone V.
As D.C.’s music scene grew, so did the fanzine community that documented it. Throughout the mid-to-late 1980s, fanzines like WDC Period, DCene, Action Time, Metrozine, No Scene, and Greed were chronicling the area’s musical evolution, which now included groups like Rites of Spring, Gray Matter, Fire Party, and Embrace. What had started as a local phenomenon had now turned into a music community with worldwide influence.
By the early 1990s, several D.C. fanzines had followed the lead of Greed and taken advantage of easier access to desktop publishing software to create cleaner, more professional-looking layouts. These fanzines, like Who Cares, Fake, Whack, Uno Mas and others covered the new boom of D.C. bands in the late 80s and early 90s, led by groups like Fugazi, Bikini Kill, Jawbox, Velocity Girl, Tsunami, Unrest, Bratmobile, Shudder To Think, Slant 6, and The Nation of Ulysses. Running parallel to these publications, however, were fanzines that excelled at the cut and paste approach, like the epochal Bikini Kill fanzine (created by members of the eponymous band), as well as other standouts like Sweet Portable You, Nerd Gerl, Teenage Gang Debs, Not Even, and Punk Life.
As the 1990s progressed, a new generation of bands like Trans Am, Frodus, The Most Secret Method, Smart Went Crazy, and The Dismemberment Plan propelled the music scene, and another new crop of fanzines (Torpedo Dialogues, Held Like Sound, Scorpion, Restaurant Fuel) came along, although stalwarts like Sweet Portable You and Punk Life continued to publish. By the early 2000s, however, DIY music coverage had primarily shifted to the internet. As a result, print music fanzines were not as common as before, but the tradition lived on into the 2010s with publications like Give Me Back and Strawberry Dreams, as well as a bounty of punk-inspired personal zines.