More Than a Label: How D.C.’s Sister Polygon Records is Building a Community
Pictured above: Priests are the masterminds behind independent label Sister Polygon Records. Photo by Krystina Gabrielle
National attention to D.C.’s rock scene has intensified in recent years, with local acts like Snail Mail, Priests and Flasher getting steady recognition outside the region. These three bands also share a common bond: they’re a part of the ever-growing Sister Polygon Records family.
Over the years, the D.C.-based record label has become the nucleus of the local rock community. Founded by the members of Priests in 2012, the band initially began releasing music from their close-knit community of friends. With Sister Polygon, Priests didn’t set out to gain national attention, but the music has spread to larger audiences.
“It’s very special for us because it’s our music, something that we’re making with our friends,” Sister Polygon co-founder and Priests vocalist Katie Alice Greer told DCMD, “We put out music that we love.”
There have been some passing movements that have come out of D.C. since the beginning of Dischord Records. But, these surges of national attention seem to be on-and-off.
“There’s a lot of music in D.C. A lot of the rock stuff has come from the world of Dischord, though,” said Greer, “It’s a little hard now in the internet age, where a lot of stuff gets cycled through all the time. Even stuff from two or three years ago gets buried as old news. So, it might be harder to see how much has actually been going on in D.C. for a pretty long time now.”
One of the latest breakout acts to come from the Sister Polygon family is Snail Mail, the project of Maryland native Lindsey Jordan. Jordan and Greer became good friends before the band released music with Sister Polygon. Greer along with the other members of Priests first approached Jordan after Snail Mail played a set with Philadelphia punk band Sheer Mag. This began the start of Snail Mail’s rise to playing national music festivals like South by Southwest and being featured in wide-spanning publications like Pitchfork.
“I’m sure the reason that writers have heard about Snail Mail is that Priests have given us a platform to be heard and seen,” said Jordan.
Black Cat owner Dante Ferrando, who has booked many Sister Polygon acts at his venue, also recognizes Priests–and their label’s influence–on the city.
“The Sister Polygon scene or the current [occurrences] in the punk rock scene seem better than they have been in the past few years,” said Ferrando. “I think partially because D.C.’s not one of those industry markets like a New York or an L.A. The bulk of the bands, particularly the punk scene or any of those independent kinds of scenes, have been traditionally less major label and nationally focused.”
Jordan believes that Sister Polygon is changing the trajectory of punk music in the District, creating a national stir about the local scene and letting outlets know that D.C. is a town of great music, among other things.
“I think Priests are so incredible and that they have single-handedly put D.C. punk back into the spotlight,” said Jordan.
As they’ve continued to grow, one of Sister Polygon’s biggest priorities is to increase its resources and accommodate even more music and interesting projects. The label has been a key starting point for acts like Providence, RI.’s Downtown Boys and D.C. artist Sneaks, who’ve eventually gone on to work with larger indie labels.
“We’d really like as a label to grow to a point where people would be like, ‘Oh, yeah. We’d love to stick with you,’” Sister Polygon co-founder and Priests guitarist G.L. Jaguar said, “But, unfortunately, we run out of a living room and we only have so much money.”
They are at the cusp of setting up Sister Polygon’s international distribution stream, creating a more sustainable way of getting music out, and ultimately a support system for musicians and ability to grow with demand.
“I’d much rather they’d think of us as a community,” Greer said, “But, I think in the increasingly corporatized culture of making music, especially music that comes from the underground, music itself gets more and more divorced from the community aspect of it. So, I’m happy for my friends when they have opportunities. But, a lot of the [Sister Polygon bands that move on] have maintained a pretty strong relationship with us and with Sister Polygon even though they don’t release records on the label anymore, and that makes me happy.”
Jordan believes that Sister Polygon will continue to have a lasting impact on the city and beyond District lines.
“When I think of D.C. music, I one hundred percent think of Sister Polygon,” said Jordan, “When I started coming to shows, I got into Sister Polygon and they’re all such visionaries. They’re all super supportive groups of people who otherwise wouldn’t have a platform to get their music out.”