Long before Fugazi, before even Minor Threat, Ian Mackaye was merely a teenage bass player in the Teen Idles. One of DC’s earliest hardcore punk bands, the Idles have a scant discography – they released eleven songs in their time as a band, and they don’t even add up to fifteen minutes – but what is, is all good.
In addition to three songs on the Flex Your Head compilation album (including ‘Commie Song’, my favourite hardcore track of all time), they have eight tracks released on this EP. And it’s just as influential as it looks – this is the first ever release on Dischord Records, the mainstay of the DC scene.
The instant you turn the album on, it’ll (hopefully) blow your mind as much as it did mine. This is definitely hardcore punk – and it’s amazing how quickly the offshoots of punk developed, as the label itself was barely half a decade old – but it’s funny, accessible, and amazingly put together. Nathan Strejcek is surely the greatest punk frontman you’ve never heard of, sounding exactly like a seventeen year old punk singer should. He can’t growl like Henry Rollins, but that’s completely beside the point – Strejcek is the embodiment of adolescent rage and frustration, swinging wildly between anger and humour in a fashion any teen can understand.
Jeff Nelson, who would follow Mackaye on his way to Minor Threat, does an excellent job of setting the beat and pace at the back, combining well with the young Mackaye, whose rapid rubbery basslines betray the stereotype that punk isn’t meant to be skilled. This is a literal teenager playing better than most adults ever will. And Georgie Grindle, even if the most forgettable member of this quartet, is certainly holding his own with full-pelt guitar and a couple of solos thrown in for good measure.
So they had the band, but did they have the songs? They absolutely did. The opening track copies the name of the band and sets out the philosophy almost instantly, Strejcek managing to cram almost 150 words into just forty-five seconds. The words are cutting and relatable, stuffed with dry humour (“Hours in front of a TV set / We’re as idle as teens can get”).
The most important line, though, is the justifiably whiny complaint – “Went to the Bayou, they said no / You’re not 18, you can’t see the show”. Being 17 myself, and having to deal with the frustration of 18+ shows (and not having a fake ID), I’m the exact age that they’re singing about. Their youth caused them problems, but there were silver linings – to get into clubs and play they had large black Xs drawn on their hands, starting the universal sign of straightedgery.
The teenage themes continue. ‘Sneakers’ tells someone to hang onto their youth, ‘Get Up and Go’ shoots its mouth of at older critics (“You say we need more practice / Maybe in a couple years”), and final track ‘Too Young to Rock’ is painfully blatant – recorded live at an audience almost entirely older than the band itself. But there’s a few more strings to the Idles’ bow, taking on fashionista posers (‘Fiorucci Nightmare’) and the Grateful Dead (‘Deadhead’).
But the most incisive track of all is centrepiece ‘Fleeting Fury’. In a scene that’s barely escaped its infancy, the Idles already have some faux punks in their sights, accusing bands of abandoning the cause for the fame. “Tales of youth fighting back / Just another load of crap” spits Strejcek, and it’s a rallying cry. Teens rarely get a fair say in things, and admittedly part of it is because we’re stupid at times. But an oft-repeated comment is that you don’t need to respect someone if they don’t respect you, and the Idles agree – “There goes your fury, out the door / Don’t expect our respect anymore”. Young, fast, pissed off, and loud – the Teen Idles were the perfect band. Rock on.