Minor Threat performing at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., in 1981.
|Past members||Ian MacKaye
Minor Threat was a hardcore punk band, formed in 1980 in Washington, D.C. and disbanded in 1983. The band was relatively short-lived, but had a strong influence on the punk scene, both stylistically and in establishing a "do it yourself" ethic for music distribution and concert promotion. Minor Threat's song "Straight Edge" became the eventual basis of the straight edge movement, with the band often professing their own "straight edge" ideals. AllMusic described Minor Threat's music as "iconic" and noted that their groundbreaking music "has held up better than [that of] most of their contemporaries."
Along with the fellow Washington, D.C. hardcore band Bad Brains and California band Black Flag, Minor Threat set the standard for many hardcore punk bands in the 1980s and 1990s. All of Minor Threat's recordings were released on Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson's own label, Dischord Records. The Minor Threat EP and their only full-length studio album Out of Step have received a number of accolades and are cited as landmarks of the hardcore punk genre.
- 1 History
- 2 Copyright issues
- 3 Members
- 4 Discography
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Formation and Early Years
Prior to forming Minor Threat in 1980, vocalist Ian MacKaye and drummer Jeff Nelson had played bass and drums respectively in the Teen Idles while attending Wilson High School. During their two-year career within the flourishing Washington D.C. hardcore punk scene, the Teen Idles had gained a following of around one hundred fans (a sizable amount at the time), and were seen as only second within the scene to the contemporary Bad Brains. MacKaye and Nelson were strong believers in the DIY mentality and an independent, underground music scene. After the breakup of the Teen Idles, they used the money earned through the band to create Dischord Records, an independent record label that would host the releases of the Teen Idles, Minor Threat, and numerous other D.C. punk bands.
Eager to start a new band after the Teen Idles, MacKaye and Nelson recruited guitarist Lyle Preslar and bassist Brian Baker. They played their first performance in December 1980 to fifty people in a basement, opening for Bad Brains, The Untouchables, Black Market Baby and S.O.A., all D.C. bands.
"Straight Edge," a song from the band's first EP, helped to inspire the straight edge movement. The lyrics of the song call for abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, a novel ideology for rock musicians which initially found a small but dedicated following. Other prominent groups that subsequently advocated the straight edge stance include SS Decontrol and 7 Seconds.
Another Minor Threat song from the second EP, Out of Step, further demonstrates the belief: "Don't smoke/Don't drink/Don't fuck/At least I can fucking think/I can't keep up/I'm out of step with the world."
The "I" in the lyrics was usually only implied, mainly because it did not quite fit the rhythm of the song, like the version on the 1984 album Minor Threat. The version on Out of Step is slower, allotting a bridge where MacKaye explains his philosophy of straight edge, explaining that straight edge "is not a set of rules; I'm not telling you what to do. All I'm saying is there are three things, that are like so important to the whole world that I don't happen to find much importance in, whether it's fucking, or whether it's playing golf, because of that, I feel... (chorus)". Some of the other members of Minor Threat, Jeff Nelson in particular, took exception to what they saw as MacKaye's imperious attitude on the song.
Minor Threat's song "Guilty of Being White" led to some accusations of racism[by whom?], but MacKaye has strongly denied such intentions and said that some listeners misinterpreted his words. He claims that his experiences attending Wilson High School, whose student population was 70 percent black, inspired the song. There, many students bullied MacKaye and his friends. Thrash metal band Slayer later covered the song, with the last iteration of the lyric "Guilty of being white" changed to "Guilty of being right." In an interview, MacKaye stated that he was offended that some perceived racist overtones in the lyrics, saying, "To me, at the time and now, it seemed clear it's an anti-racist song. Of course, it didn't occur to me at the time I wrote it that anybody outside of my twenty or thirty friends who I was singing to would ever have to actually ponder the lyrics or even consider them."
In the time between the release of the band's second seven-inch EP and the Out of Step record, the band briefly split when guitarist Lyle Preslar moved to Illinois to attend college for a semester at Northwestern University, Preslar was a member of Big Black for a few tempestuous rehearsals. During that period, MacKaye and Nelson put together a studio-only project called Skewbald/Grand Union; in a reflection of the slowly increasing disagreements between the two musicians, they were unable to decide on one name. The group recorded three untitled songs, which would be released posthumously as Dischord's 50th release. During Minor Threat's inactive period, Brian Baker also briefly played guitar for Government Issue and appeared on the Make an Effort EP.
In March 1982, at the urging of Bad Brains' H.R., Preslar left college to re-form Minor Threat. Shortly afterwards, the cuts Minor Threat and In My Eyes were rereleased as Minor Threat in 1984. The reunited band featured an expanded lineup: Steve Hansgen joined as the band's bassist and Baker switched to second guitar.
When "Out of Step" was rerecorded for the LP Out of Step, MacKaye inserted a spoken section explaining, "This is not a set of rules..." An ideological door had already been opened, however, and by 1982, some straight-edge punks, such as followers of the band SS Decontrol, were swatting beers out of people's hands at clubs.
Minor Threat broke up in 1983. A contributing factor was disagreement over musical direction. MacKaye was allegedly skipping practice sessions towards the end of the band's career, and he wrote the lyrics to the songs on the Salad Days EP in the studio. That was quite a contrast with the earlier recordings, as he had written and co-written the music for much of the band's early material. Minor Threat, which had returned to being a four-piece group with the departure of Hansgen, played its last show on September 23, 1983, with go-go band Trouble Funk and Austin, Texas punk funk act the Big Boys, at the Lansburgh Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. They ended their set with "Last Song", which was the original title of "Salad Days".
Alternatively, MacKaye stated that he did not "check out" on hardcore, but in fact hardcore "checked out". Explaining this, he stated that at a 1984 Minutemen show, a fan struck MacKaye's younger brother Alec in the face, and he punched the fan back, then realizing that the violence was "stupid", and that he saw his role in the stupidity. MacKaye claimed that immediately after this he decided to leave the hardcore scene.
Preslar was briefly a member of Glenn Danzig's Samhain, and his playing appears on a few songs on the band's first record. He joined The Meatmen in 1984, along with fellow Minor Threat member Brian Baker. He later ran Caroline Records, signing and working with (among others) Peter Gabriel, Ben Folds, Chemical Brothers, and Idaho, and ran marketing for Sire Records. He graduated from Rutgers University School of Law and lives in New Jersey.
Nelson played less-frantic alternative rock with Three and The High-Back Chairs before retiring from live performance. He runs his own label, Adult Swim Records, distributed by Dischord, and is a graphic artist and a political activist in Toledo, Ohio. The band's own Dischord Records released material by many bands from the Washington, D.C., area, such as Government Issue, Void, Scream, Fugazi, Artificial Peace, Rites of Spring, Gray Matter, and Dag Nasty, and has become a respected independent record label.
In 2005, a mock-up of the cover of Minor Threat's first EP (also used on the Minor Threat LP and Complete Discography CD) was copied by athletic footwear manufacturer Nike for use on a promotional poster for a skateboarding tour called "Major Threat". Nike also altered Minor Threat's logo (designed by Jeff Nelson) for the same campaign, as well as featuring Nike shoes in the new picture, rather than the combat boots worn by Ian MacKaye's younger brother Alec on the original.
MacKaye issued a press statement condemning Nike's actions and said that he would discuss legal options with the other members of the band. Meanwhile, fans, at the encouragement of Dischord, organized a letter-writing campaign protesting Nike's infringement. On June 27, 2005, Nike issued a statement apologizing to Minor Threat, Dischord Records, and their fans for the "Major Threat" campaign and said that all promotional artwork (print and digital) that they could acquire were destroyed.
On October 29, 2005, Fox played the first few seconds of Minor Threat's "Salad Days" during an NFL broadcast. Use of the song was not cleared by Dischord Records or any of the members of Minor Threat. Fox claimed that the clip was too short to have violated any copyrights.
In 2007, Brooklyn-based company Wheelhouse Pickles marketed a pepper sauce named "Minor Threat Sauce". Requesting only that the original label design (which was based on the "Bottled Violence" artwork) be amended, Ian MacKaye gave the product his endorsement. A small mention of this was made in music magazine Revolver, where MacKaye commented "I don't really like hot sauce but I like the Minor Threat stuff".
- Ian MacKaye – lead vocals (1980–1983)
- Lyle Preslar – guitar (1980–1983)
- Brian Baker – bass (1980–1982, 1983); guitar (1982–1983)
- Jeff Nelson – drums (1980–1983)
- Steve Hansgen – bass (1982–1983)
- Out of Step (1983)
- Minor Threat (1981)
- In My Eyes (1981)
- Salad Days (1985)
- First Demo Tape (1981, released 2003)
- Flex Your Head (1982) – "Stand Up", "12XU"
- Dischord 1981: The Year in 7"s (1995) contains the first two EPs
- 20 Years of Dischord (2002) – "Screaming at a Wall", "Straight Edge" (live), "Understand", "Asshole Dub"
- Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground (2004) – "Straight Edge"
- American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986 (2006) – "Filler"
- Hargus, Billy Bob. "Ian MacKaye Interview". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved June 9, 2007.
- Raggett, Ned. "Out of Step". AllMusic. Retrieved January 6, 2006.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Complete Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved January 6, 2006.
- "List of Minor Threat Accolades". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved 2012-04-08.
- "List of Out of Step Accolades". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved 2012-04-08.
- Pappalardo, Anthony. "The Influence of Minor Threat 30 Years After Their First Show". Alternative Press. Alternative Press. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
- "Minor Threat". Kill From The Heart. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
- Our Band Could Be Your Life
- "MINOR THREAT AT LANSBURGH CULTURAL CENTER". It All Happened - A Living History of Live Music. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- Nike Skateboarding "Major Threat East Coast Tour Poster" Nike. Retrieved on March 17, 2007.
- Moyer, Justin "Fox Uses "Salad Days" on NFL Broadcast" EconoCulture. Retrieved on March 17, 2007.
- "Wheelhouse Pickles". Wheelhouse Pickles. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
- Del, John (2007-12-14). "MacKaye Mildly Endorses Minor Threat Hot Sauce". Gothamist. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
- Pitchfork: Minor Threat Turns Condiment, But Ian Doesn't Mind Archived March 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- Long Washington Post Express interview with Brian Baker from 2007
- Andersen, Mark & Jenkins, Mark (2001), Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capitol, New York, NY: Akashic Books, ISBN 1-888451-44-0.
- Azerrad, Michael (2001), Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991, Boston, MA: Little Brown, ISBN 978-0-316-78753-6 .
- Connolly, Cynthia; Clague, Leslie & Cheslow, Sharon (1988), Banned in DC: Photos and Anecdotes From the DC Punk Underground 1979-85, Washington, DC: Sun Dog Propaganda, ISBN 978-0-9620944-0-8 .