The Make-Up Credit: Glen E. Friedman

Anyone who ever suggested that D.C. punk had a definitive sound likely never listened to Dischord Records’ complete catalog, let alone the Make-Up. Prior to launching the group in 1995, front man Ian Svenonius, drummer Steve Gamboa, and guitarist and organist James Canty were citizens of the Nation of Ulysses, a hurricane of a postpunk band whose members dressed like they were going to church and spouted cheeky, radical leftist ideology. Even the title of their 1991 debut, 13-Point Program to Destroy America, espoused their desire to eradicate the country. By the time NoU broke up in 1992, their ideas had been lifted by MTV for a television program called Alternative Nation, which meant their music was en vogue (and replicable—hello, the Refused). So when Svenonius, Gamboa, and Canty teamed up with bassist Michelle Mae to form the Make-Up, they rebelled against that co-opting of punk ethos by blending soul with church hymns and French pop—a sound they dubbed gospel yeh-yeh—and building upon the musical and political legacy of their previous band. “We were always castigated for being fashion hounds, so we just wanted to embrace our own inauthenticity,” Svenonius told Washington Post pop critic Chris Richards in 2014. “We were very inauthentic, but we were influenced by black music and revolutionary politics and other things we were genuinely attracted to.” Sure, the Make-Up were a tightrope act, balancing out-there high-art concepts with rock stripped down to its most straightforward, melodic, and feral elements. And, yes, Svenonius’s subversive lyrics frequently felt as though they required a code-breaker’s manual (good thing he’s since expanded upon many of his theories about rock, socialism, and mass media with a few pocket-size books). But the Make-Up excelled because they took all these complicated pieces and just made something fun, earning a reputation as one of the most exciting acts around for their call-and-response live performances. You can feel the energy in their studio recordings too; even in their quietest moments the band seems to teeter on the verge of combustion, and wild-man Svenonius sounds more and more unhinged the closer he gets to a whisper. The Make-Up broke up in 2000, but since 2012 they’ve sporadically regrouped, and in anticipating their first reunion show, Svenonius told the Post, “this seems very natural. We can do this.”   v

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