They Know Ian

Washington, D.C., may have started out as swampland, but they built that city on rock & roll. Our nation's sweaty capital bred punk bands from Year One, boasting one of the most revered hardcore scenes ever. It led the underground scene around by its nose during the early '90s, with D.C. bands setting a standard for artistic expertise, experimentation and integrity—everyone still listens to Fugazi, right? So, naturally, people wonder where it's going to go next—which band is going to set the new direction—and right now, the zines, the record stores and the Internet gossipmongers would direct your attention to a new development on the outskirts of Indie Rock USA's capital: four quiet guys who like to read, listen to the radio, and crank out monstrous Himalayas of indie-noise-pop as a band called Q and Not U.

They've got the sound down already—you know, the characteristic District of Columbia car crash between catchy, oddly vulnerable melody and epileptic guitar seizures that launched a whole new tendril of post-punk rock. But the substance that really defines Q and Not U is a bracingly refreshing sincerity, commitment and even idealism (and youth idealism, experts agree, was last sighted in the wild sometime in the late 1960s). The love, care and art that go into this band are almost tangible—you could shake it out of the LP jacket or possibly swab it off them while they're onstage—and certainly contagious. “I can't wait to get to the point where I can do what I want to do,” wrote drummer John Davis in his zine Held Like Sound. “But does that point ever come? Yes.”

It's been sort of a long time coming. College-grad Davis was in his first band in eighth grade, a D.C.-inspired outfit called Corm. Every time he'd put out a new tape, he'd send it in to godhead independent label Dischord Records (which, if you didn't know, has been helmed by it-gets-no-more-seminal-than-this Fugazi singer/guitarist Ian MacKaye since the days when Ronald Reagan stalked the earth). This led gently into an acquaintanceship and then a friendship, and as Davis meandered band to band through the wilds of the D.C. underground, he co-released some records with MacKaye's Dischord and his own Shute Records. When Q and Not U finally coalesced—guitarist Davis switching to drums as friends Chris Richards (guitar) and Matt Borlik (bass) recruited some messy-haired guitarist named Harris Klahr—MacKaye was there to watch, listen, and eventually put out a single and the No Kill No Beep Beep full-length. It was the summer of 2000, and D.C. had been quiet for a long time. Not anymore. Said one magazine, “Q and Not U will resurrect the historical power this city is known for.”

And why not? Q and Not U are a throwback to D.C.'s innocent and sincere salad days, an honest and unpretentious attempt at creating art instead of just fashion. The kids dig it, and the critics do, too. “Everybody wants it, but no one can get it,” reported one of many sold-out local record stores. You can draw thick black lines connecting them to bands like Fugazi, the Dismemberment Plan, even back to the minutely calculated songs of Wire, but they fill all the spaces in between with their own distinctly uncompromised voices. “Want to show you the new dance, but you'd be shocked by what was allowed” goes “The More I Get the More I Want.” “The interesting part's always caught outside the frame.” They take that cloying indie-rock pretension (hello, the Make-Up?), dump it over and shake it out—their record cover is packed with dozens of under-25 musicians and artists, all trying to mug bored and snobby for the camera, but they can't help cracking smiles. And on the flip side are Q and Not U themselves, surrounded by fading confetti and deflated balloons.

It looks like the party's over and everyone's gone home, but the band can barely keep from laughing. And maybe that's a snapshot of the New Direction.

Q and Not U perform with Ted Leo, Build Your Own Monster and the Act of Breathing In at Koo's Art Cafe, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937; Wed., 7:30 p.m. $5. All ages.

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