Exploring DC's Go-Go and Punk Music Scenes Tour: Madams Organ

The short-lived venue brought the punk community together in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.

It only existed for around one year, but the original Madam’s Organ was instrumental to the growth and development of DC’s punk movement. It originally opened as an art collective run by students at the Corcoran School of Arts (not yet affiliated with George Washington University), but soon transformed into a concert venue as more punk bands needed a venue to practice and perform in. Some of the bands even lived there short-term; Madams Organ served whatever purpose the bands or artists needed, and it would propel the punk scene’s cementation in the city.

When the students first opened Madams Organ at 2318 18th Street NW, it was a space to showcase local artists’ work. However, some of the students also had ties to the local music scene, and offered the space to bands for practices and small performances. The building wasn’t built for musical performances due to its original design as a rowhouse, but the bands made do with the layout. Additionally, the makeshift venue was not conducive to an audience, but that didn’t stop concert goers from piling in to see their favorite bands.

While in operation, the venue hosted concerts almost every night, with numerous notable DC bands playing the small but popular space. Madam’s Organ was not just a concert venue, but a community space for punks, teenagers, and anyone who loved local music. It also produced a market for artists to create artwork in concert zines (described by the Washingtonian as “pre-Internet blogging” in print form using artwork and writing), record concerts and interview each other, and write about the performances in self-made magazines.

While much of the punk movement in DC relied on person-to-person communication or grassroots organizing, there were a few stores dedicated to punk music where fans could find cassette tapes (later CDs), magazines, and other ways to support their favorite bands. One such store was called Smash Records, which was originally located in Georgetown at 3285 ½ M Street NW. The record store was a “punk-centric” store that catered to the genre for decades. While the store has since moved to Adams Morgan (near the original Madams Organ), its legacy of selling punk music added to the movement’s close knit community.

The original Madams Organ only lasted for one year. When the art collective decided not to renew its lease due to increased rent prices, it closed and left a major gap in available concert space. Many punk bands were banned from playing in concert venues because of the raucous and rowdy crowds that they drew. Madams Organ’s lifespan, while brief, provided a specific place for punk bands to play and for its fans to gather without restrictions.

Another venue called Madams Organ opened in 1992 just up the street at 2461 18th Street NW, but it bears no relation to the original art collective and venue.

This site is a part of the Exploring DC's Go-Go and Punk Music Scenes Tour.



2318 18th St NW, 20009