Live at The Safari Club: A History of harDCore Punk in the Nation’s Capital 1988-1998 By Shawna Kenney and Rich Dolinger, 123 pgs.

Sep 20, 2017

The past few years there have been more than a fair share of books about the music scene in Washington D.C. Live at The Safari Club is a bit different. This coffee table-style book covers the scene at The Safari Club in the late 1980s through the ’90s. The authors, Shawna Kenney and Rich Dolinger, were part of the scene, with Kenney being a primary booker at the venue when she was only eighteen.

The book follows an oral history outline, with individuals sharing their experiences. Some of the names were familiar to me: Alec MacKaye (Ignition, Faith), Tim Owen (Jade Tree Records), Sean Brown (Swiz, Dag Nasty), and Mike McTernan (of Damnation AD, who for some reason friended me on Facebook even though I don’t know him). Others were local scenesters or members of more obscure bands whose names never appeared on my radar, even though I was in the hardcore scene during part of this time (albeit in Indiana). Individuals give accounts of the history of The Safari Club, how shows started there, violence, epic performances, conflicts with the owner, and the venue’s eventual closure.

In addition to the oral history, there are numerous, great, black-and-white photos of the bands that played there: Krakdown, Token Entry, Ignition, and many more. The photos are truly the highlight of the book, as they’re given a large spread and capture the action and power of these shows.

There are problematic areas with Live at The Safari Club, however. The hardcore scene was, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a predominantly white, male environment (even more than it is today). In almost all the pictures, I was shocked to see virtually no women and only a handful of people of color. I understand the club and scene was what it was. Still, it would’ve been nice to hear about race or gender issues in the scene. How was it to be a woman at a venue that specialized in macho, aggressive music? Additionally, there were blacks and Asians in photos but very little talk about race. What were their experiences like?

Another concern is that while the title of the book states it covers the years 1988-1998, there is very little mentioned about the club after the early ’90s. This was especially disappointing, as I got into hardcore about ’95 and would’ve loved to hear about the bands from that time.

While this is a very well-packaged book with cool photos, it fails to fully capture the history of The Safari Club, a venue that, while very interesting, is just like a lot of others that once existed. Many of us had them in our cities, but I wanted to know what made this one special. The lack of depth keeps Live at The Safari Club from living up to its full potential. –Kurt Morris (Rare Bird Books, 453 South Spring Str., Ste. 302, LA, CA 90013)