Embrace - Biography

By Oliver Hall


Embrace was a relatively short-lived band led by American punk icon Ian MacKaye in the mid-1980s. Despite their short term of activity, Embrace inspired as many imitators as MacKaye’s previous band, Minor Threat, and his subsequent band Fugazi. 


From 1980 to 1983, MacKaye had been the frontman for the teenage hardcore band Minor Threat, whose members proudly abstained from drugs, booze, and sex, and came to be regarded by many as the archetypal American hardcore group. The Dischord label, which MacKaye has run continuously since 1980, documents MacKaye’s work as well as that of his underground musical community in Washington, DC By 1984, that scene’s original burst of creativity and idealism seemed to have come to an end. MacKaye writes on Dischord’s website that “almost all of the original [Dischord] bands had either broken up or left the label by 1984. We experienced a lull in creative activity as well as a sense of estrangement from the DC scene, which, in its growth, seemed increasingly more violent and disjointed.”


Following the lull of 1984, a number of bands committed to social justice and local activism emerged to reinvigorate DC’s punk/underground scene, declaring the summer of 1985 “Revolution Summer.” Bands of the period such as Rites of Spring, Embrace, and Dag Nasty are largely credited with inventing the emo (originally short for “emotional hardcore”) style of punk – a style which has now transformed into an almost unrecognizably commercial rock genre. Generally speaking, the first emo bands consisted of musicians who played a melodic, major-key post-punk derived from Hüsker Dü and featured vocalists who sang and screamed about their most anguished torments as a way of dramatizing social conflicts. In other words, Embrace’s emotional hardcore had a larger agenda and a larger worldview than later emo bands seem to have. “Your emotions are nothing but politics / so get control,” MacKaye sings on “No More Pain.”


Ian MacKaye formed Embrace in the summer of 1985 with guitarist Michael Hampton, bassist Chris Bald, and drummer Ivor Hanson. Hampton, Bald, and Hanson had been the core of the Faith, the DC hardcore band fronted by Ian’s brother, Alec. Embrace played live for less than one year, breaking up in the spring of 1986. The band’s only release is the self-titled 1987 album, Embrace (1987 Dischord). After recording the one-off single Egg Hunt (1986 Dischord) in 1986 with former Minor Threat drummer Jeff Nelson, MacKaye formed Fugazi with bassist Joe Lally, and guitarist Guy Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty of Rites of Spring.

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