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Dischord Records

Dischord Records

As well as the interview with Guy Picciotto, Cynthia at Dischord also sorted out a Q&A interview with Alec MacKaye regarding the history of the label. Dischord is probably among the most important record labels around; not just for releasing records by the likes of Minor Threat, Fugazi, Nation Of Ulysses or the Make-Up but for keeping the business side of the music industry as far away from themselves as they can (charging no more than $8 on average for a CD album) and staying resolutely independent. Alec has played in the Untouchables and The Warmers, amongst others and is the brother of Ian. (According to Dischord The Warmers have recently ceased to be though.)

Can you tell us a little about when Dischord was formed.. was it that there was already a release in mind so the label was a necessity?

Dischord was formed circa 1980, when members of the Teen Idles (please note spelling) wanted to put out a record and could not find anyone to do it for them. With the help of a guy named Skip Groff, who owned a cool local record store, they recorded and released a single. They split up, and what happened next is apparently the crux of how the label got it’s footing. The record sold itself and they weren’t sure how to handle the returns. So they decided to use any left over money to loan to another local band to do a record. This was SOA – with the agreement that if it broke even, the money would go to financing another band’s record. And so on.. So, in theory, that same $1,000.00 is still kicking around bringing Lungfish, Smart Went Crazy, The Make-Up and Fugazi to the world (amongst others).

Who were the founders of the label?

It could be said that all the members of the Teen Idles are the founders, but Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson are the ones who handled and propelled it in it’s early days and through the rest of the years. They still are in charge.

The Nation of Ulysses

Is Dischord still a purely local label (to Washington DC area)? Have you ever considered setting up the label elsewhere or do you think that would remove the kind of personal approach the label has?

The problem with “branching out”, is that it literally takes one away from the strength and focus of a label or any other idea. We never want to get ahead of ourselves, because that serves no-one well, so we take it slow and concentrate on local bands…

how do you go about putting records out? Is it correct to say that bands are not “signed” by a binding contract of any kind to the label?

As yet, no-one has ever signed a formal agreement with Dischord. We are beholden to no-one. And anyone who does stuff with Dischord has the option to do what they want, they decide. As it stands, most folks can’t offer a better circumstance and we don’t try to compel our bands with threats, the main thing that others offer is more cash up front. But, as one discovers, that gets taken back sooner or later.

I ask about contracts because The Make-Up release stuff on K Records (amongst others) as well as Dischord.

K records is like a sister or a brother or at least a cousin to us and they do what we do. It is not incongruous for Make-Up to do stuff with them.

Have you ever been offered a distribution deal from a major label?

Dischord has been offered to get big corporate distribution by major labels, but there are a lot of people who rely on Dischord to be it’s own equitable and personable entity. These are often the same people who put out the early, influential records. Why screw them now?

Do you have a full time workforce dedicated to the label?

We have a small, hardly fulltime workforce who have plenty to do. We also help out quite a lot of labels and bands that we don’t even work with normally, so anytime we think we are caught up there is always something else to do.

Has there ever been a time when you felt like calling it a day, that the label was too much trouble?

I imagine that has popped up a number of times.. but that really is a question for Ian to answer. I expect that virtually anyone who does anything that is difficult has that notion at sometime or another, the trick is to stay the course.

Do you enjoy the fact that, since barcoding your records, Dischord output is now stocked in high street chains or do you see this as a nec essary evil?

I reckon that all the folks who receive royalty checks from the Dischord enjoy the increased volume. As a label, and a distributor, we are still very attached to independent stores. The underground will always bring the new sound.

Is there any control for you over the retail prices major chains charge for your releases? i.e. can you stop Tower (for example) selling a Dischord release for a huge mark up on your price? (sorry to be so business like)


We actually have no way of telling any store how much they can charge… once they buy them from us, the records are their property and they can hang any price tag they want on them. Fortunately, most stores are fairly honest. But to discourage massive mark-ups, we have printed on all the records covers our mailorder price and address, so if someone has a real beef with a shop they can get it direct from us. However, they should not expect a store to have a comparable price to ours. No-one could without losing money. The store has to pay the distributor, etc. and make some dough themselves to pay their electric and phone bills and maybe some folks who work there…. So don’t boycott your local indie record store (hey, I never said I would. chris) .. support them! They will bring the good music to you from all over. Even buying a two-song 7″ is a kind of investment. Think of who you are supporting.

Who designed the logo?

Jeff Nelson.

How many releases have you put out so far and do you know which is the best selling?

112 full releases. I believe Minor Threat Complete Discography is the most popular, though Fugazi can’t be far behind.

Can you see the label continuing for another 15 years?

We take it all in our stride. No particular guessing about the future. No fear either. The first 15 years went by pretty smooth. All it took was a lot of hard work.

Do you think it’s any easier to put out records now than it was when you began?

Again, Ian would have to comment on whether it is easier to release records now. It seems like every step forward is complicated by new and old worries and considerations. But we run with a bit of momentum and we flatten difficulties quickly.

Thanks Alex

(Please don’t call me Alex. My name is Alec.) Thanks


This interview was first published in Hee Haw fanzine

See also:
Guy Picciotto interview
Ian Mackaye interview

Dischord website