Last night I caught a great performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for the Landmarks Festival at the Hatch Shell. Although the show was an abbreviated, symphony-only version of Stravinsky’s opera, it was still a wonderful opportunity to hear the music played by a full symphony (and one filled with the best high school-aged talent from around the world at that).
With it’s jarring, discordant bursts of noise juxtaposed against graceful melodies, it’s a little easy to see how The Rite of Spring caused a riot when it was premiered in Paris in 1913. The structures certainly are abrasive and revolutionary for the world of classical music. But what was probably more outrageous than the music itself was the storyline of the opera, which concerned pagan Russia and ended with the sacrifice of a young girl. Staged at a time when Europe was on the brink of World War I and tensions were high across the continent, The Rite of Spring must have been thought of as blasphemous in Paris, where art is still a part of the bloodline.
A little over seven decades later, a revolutionary musical entity was set upon the bloodline of the DC punk community. Named after Stravinsky’s piece, Rites of Spring fully intended to re-energize the punk scene in the nation’s capital as harDCore was heading into a tailspin. Although the band started up in 1984, their narrative is synonymous with the summer of 1985, known as Revolution Summer; Rites were a fixture in the re-energized DC punk scene, fueling a brand new energy through their cathartic live sets, perplexing and introverted lyrics, and power-pop-meets-hardcore instrumentation. And in a scene that was dubbed with the term “emocore,” Rites of Spring are known as the first emo band.
Twenty four years on and the affects of Rites of Spring’s revolutionary evolution from hardcore continues to be felt across the world. They may have only played slightly over a dozen shows, released only one full album, existed for only a couple of years, and their name may only cause tremors in the hearts of those they personally touched and the average music nerd, but their ideas have clearly transcended time and place. Although their name may not cause a panic among a gaggle of fourteen year old girls the way that Fall Out Boy does, Rites of Spring are the provincial Velvet Underground of emo; they may not have sold millions of records, but everyone who picked up a Rites of Spring album or saw them live were certainly inspired to pick up an instrument. Now that’s revolutionary.
Rites of Spring – Hain’s Point (live):