Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Where To Start With... Fugazi

Former leader of Minor Threat Ian MacKayes second great group are perhaps punks most fiercely inventive and fiercely independent band. United by a desire for musical experimentation and a love of James Brown, MacKaye hooked up with drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally in 1987 to form a trio soon augmented by second singer Guy Picciotto (of emo progenitors Rites Of Spring). Taking their name from military slang meaning fucked-up situation, Fugazi mixed political stridency with skulking, funk-informed riffage, capping gig and record prices, shunning merchandising, and confronting hardcores ingrained culture of violence and bigotry.

Beyond their legendary integrity, Fugazi have restlessly challenged hard-cores creative frontiers, while Picciottos balletic flailings and MacKayes feral bark ensured Fugazi shows thrilled right up until their (hopefully temporary) hiatus, announced 2002. Any band who ever believed punk means more than some mainstream-approved pose owes plenty to Fugazi. Sample that spirit at the source



AS FAR as rock music goes, and certainly as far as pure rock music goes, there is no better band on planet earth than Washington DC’s Fugazi. And by ‘pure rock music, I mean the true essence of plugging an electric guitar into an amplifier and expressing something as honestly as you can, which is the true essence of Fugazi and their music. They have an impeccable drive for political action; for decades they’ve been playing benefit shows for worthy causes (every show in their hometown of DC has been a benefit show), and bringing important issues and positive political and social organisations to their audience’s attention.

“But even disregarding their political affiliations, they are the best live rock band around, full stop. Their complete absence of rock star pretensions (they always play under neutral coloured lights), the sense of entertainment, euphoria and also, importantly, the sense that you're all part of something together is what has made
them such a potent musical force since the 1980s. Having two of the most watchable frontmen in American music also hasn’t hurt.

“Their records have always pushed the boundaries of what people expected of them, In On The Killtaker and The Argument in particular. Brilliant performers, activists,
musicians, Fugazi mean everything to the people who know them. And for people who don't? Well, they don't know what they're missing.”


‘13 Songs’

(Dischord, 1990)

COMBINING THEIR first 2 EPs, Fugazi and Margin Walker. The former is a taut exercise in reggae-influenced, rhythmically-adventurous rock, where the fist-pumping riot rock (Waiting Room, covered by the Chillis) shares space with atmospheric and edgy vignettes like Glue Man and Burning. Margin Walker finessed that formula, with literally incendiary results on the Picciotto-fronted title track.


‘In On The Killtaker’

(Dischord, 1993)

WITH NIRVANA having dragged the underground overground, and Eddie Vedder name-checking them at every opportunity, Fugazi’s moment in the post-grunge spotlight saw them at their most focussed and purposeful. ‘Facet Squared’ opened like a Molotov, before tracks like ‘23 Beats Off’, ‘Public Witness Program’ and the scarifying ‘Walken Syndrome’ compiled another bleak vision of America eating itself alive.



(Dischord, 1990)

WHERE THEY tied their political leanings to the mast; Repeater was a fury-fuelled manifesto of independence, adrift in an ever-more corporate America. “You are not what you own!” they howled, on ‘Merchandise’. “I’m not playing with you!” they scorned, on ‘Blueprint’. Elsewhere, they dragged sharp eyes across a crumbling America, penning scorching accounts of poverty and violence ‘Greed’ and ‘Two Beats Off’ with unforgiving ire.


‘Red Medicine’

(Dischord, 1995)

BUILDING UPON the previous album’s darker, murkier passages, Red Medicine was drawn from loose and experimental rehearsal sessions, the band loosening their supposedly-rigid rock to encompass dubbed-out melodica instrumentals and askew lullabies. Of course, when the riffs did gel - ‘Target’, ‘Back To Base’ - Fugazi rocked with greater precision than any, but the rewardingly adventurous tone of this album indicated the weirder paths subsequent Fugazi LPs would follow.



(Dischord, 1999)

THERE ARE no bad Fugazi albums (their Quality Control was scrupulously tight), but this soundtrack to Gem Cohen’s 1999 documentary of the same name - compiled of murky instrumental rehearsal takes and studio experiments - is probably the least essential album in the catalogue (but worth checking out, especially if you love their later material). The documentary itself, compiled by Fugazi from footage spanning their entire career, is the most comprehensive document of the band’s essence, and essential viewing for any rock fan.


‘Waiting Room’

Echoing with space, dominated by its swaggering, itchy bassline and Guy and Ian’s call and response vocals, this chunk of agit-funk announced Fugazi’s ass-shakin‘ revolutionary arrival.

FIND IT: ‘13 Songs’, 1990


Wherein MacKaye attacks explicit and implicit sexual oppression, preaching that true punk-rock enlightenment only comes with the rejection of society’s many prejudices.

FIND IT: ‘13 Songs’, 1990

3. Glue Man

Picciotto’s nightmarish vision of suburban drug addicts brilliantly applies primitive echo machines to the band’s own feedback-fringed cacophony: a chilling punky reggae death-party.

FIND IT: ‘13 Songs’, 1990

4. Repeater

A brilliantly odd pop song, blending a turbulent hardcore chorus with a chiming indie-rock chorus to celebrate those who make a living outside the mainstream, by any means necessary.

FIND IT: ‘Repeater’, 1990

5. Blueprint

“I’m not playing with you,” spits Guy Picciotto at the rotten, corrupt music industry, rightly proud that Fugazi - thanks to MacKaye’s righteous Dischord Records - will never have to ‘sell out’ to The Man.

FIND IT: ‘Repeater’, 1990

6. Song #1

“Song #1 is not a fuck-you! song!” yelled MacKaye, but this single was the group’s most accessible moment to date, a shout-along polemic that bade farewell to their early sound.

FIND IT: ‘Repeater’, 1990

7. Reclamation

Where the spooky chainsaw guitars get absolutely torn apart by the heaviest bassline punk-rock has ever heard. If you ever needed proof that Fugazi listen to a lot of reggae and dub…

FIND IT: ‘Steady Diet Of Nothing’, 1991

8. Dear Justice Letter

As guitars burn like newly-looted store-fronts, Picciotto reads the government a missive from an underclass denied National Health Insurance, whose “lungs are all leaking”.

FIND IT: ‘Steady Diet Of Nothing’, 1991

9. Facet Squared

Opening like a ticking time-bomb, this dragstrip punker includes MacKaye’s killer anti-patriot couplet “We draw lines and stand behind them / That’s why flags are such ugly things”.

FIND IT: ‘In On The Kill-Taker’, 1993

10. 23 Beats Off

Demonstrating their broadening musical palette, this oblique tale of a celebrity HIV sufferer ignites from glowing embers, into a scorching feedback drone-out. Stunning.

FIND IT: ‘In On The Kill-Taker’, 1993

11. Great Cop

Simple and brilliant, a devastatingly heavy return to hardcore roots on MacKaye’s edgy, hammering tale of inquisitive ‘friends’ who ask too many questions. A live favourite.

FIND IT: ‘In On The Kill-Taker’, 1993

12. Do You Like Me

The noisy piano opening announcing Red Medicine’s murky, subterranean sound, razored guitars suddenly lash in for this savage, scouring burst of Picciotto vitriol.

FIND IT: ‘Red Medicine’, 1995

13. Bed For The Scraping

For those double-tracked unspooling guitars… A real axe-hero favourite, as the choruses explode with Picciotto and MacKaye’s duelling high-register guitars, like licking flickers of flame.

FIND IT: ‘Red Medicine’, 1995

14. Target

Picciotto’s wry, snotty attack on punk rock’s new “grouching young millionaires” who’ve made him hate the sound of guitars. Ironically, this tune proves six-strings in the right hands always electrify.

FIND IT: ‘Red Medicine’, 1995

15. No Surprise

Sweeping, dubby walls of noise, countless false-endings, lilting hooks and Guy Picciotto’s sweetest vocal yet carved this perfect paranoid pop song.

FIND IT: ‘End Hits’, 1998

16. Five Corporations

Over a riff that sounds like dive-bombing fighter jets colliding, MacKaye fires spittle and rage at conglomerates choking the free world with their monopolies. Their angriest moment.

FIND IT: ‘End Hits’, 1998

17. Arpeggiator

Weird and wonderful instrumental, with MacKaye and Picciotto playing catch with a tricky little riff, like punk-rock’s answer to Deliverance’s ‘Duelling Banjos’. Prog-power!

FIND IT: ‘End Hits’, 1998

18. Ex-Spectator

A rattling, angular burst showcasing the drums of Jerry Busher, the long-time onstage percussionist who joined the band in the studio for the first time for this album.

FIND IT: ‘The Argument’, 2001

19. The Argument

A beautiful exercise in controlled dynamics, this slow-burning epic explodes with distorted guitars and scything strings, evidence that Fugazi never eased their intensity as they matured.

FIND IT: ‘The Argument’, 2001

20. Furniture

Their last single (for now) was a tune written during their first years, a return to the brutal slogan-and-riff sucker punches they built a revolution upon. The formula still thrills.

FIND IT: ‘Furniture EP’, 2001


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