Which explains one reason I admire Meltdown. They were not only politically aware in their teen years, but were unafraid to push their talent to its most hair-raising limits. They were Washington, D.C. high-schoolers in 1995 and 1996, when Fugazi's Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty asked if they could record their album. And yeah, while those punk rock heroes making such a request is pretty fucking cool, when you examine Meltdown's music, it's really just an aside. A spot of trivia. Some people's names in the liner notes.
That's because this high school band, Meltdown, made some of the most imperative and incendiary punk rock that has ever come out of D.C. Sonia Brenner, Fiona Griffin, Amy Heneveld, Raquel Vogl--four crash-boom ladies armed with three guitars and a drum kit. Meltdown first released a now out-of-print 7" record in 1997 on Slowdime. The Map is a recent vinyl-only re-release of 13 live tracks (recorded by Picciotto and Canty at the Pirate House and D.C.'s famed club, The Black Cat) on Portland-based label Archigramophone (also the home of Heneveld's current band, Emergency).
The Map opens with Meltdown's theme song, "Introduction," featuring Heneveld screeching gutturally and unintelligibly like a crazed bird--"oh-ah-yuh-uh-uh-yeah-oh-ah"--and a malignant symphony of trapezoidally clacking guitars. Gradually, as the whole group screams, "1-2-MELTDOWN," every rule (both musical and otherwise) is blown away, stomped on, stretched, salted, and strung up. Listening to it gives you the type of adrenaline rush that occurs when you're doing something subversive and important--positive action in place of negative reaction.
Every song on The Map unfolds like that. Heneveld is a dangerous fawn--her voice is tender and she's obviously very young, yet she uses it to taunt and yelp so urgently, you feel like she could crush you underneath its weight. On "El Gato Blanco," she sings in Spanish to the tune of "Ring Around the Rosy," eventually erupting into a powerful "Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nah-NAH!" On "Alien Autopsy" and "Postman," Heneveld trades vocal duties with Fiona Griffin, who evokes a desperately punk rock abandon similar to Tobi Vail-sung Bikini Kill songs. I hesitate to make that comparison, however, because Meltdown should not be categorized as R.G., or anything else for that matter. Because, aside from the stirring dichotomy (impetuous yet sweet-faced youths) and ecstasy (like in "Night Bird Nightmare," where the whole band growls and chants like witches) they invoke, Meltdown was an astonishingly technical band. They came up with connected yet warring riffs that have hardly been duplicated or even alluded to since. And, if I may remind you again, they were 17.
Meltdown's very existence was important. They were an all-girl high school band supported by their surroundings, and not exploited for their youth or beauty like many teenage "punk rock" bands these days. They were women driven by their own will, talent, intelligence, and irreverence. I, for one, am totally inspired.