Fugazi are Brendan Canty, Joe Lally, Ian McKaye and Guy Picciotto. They were formed mainly from two bands - Embrace (Brendan and Ian) and Rites Of Spring (Guy). The initial band was just Brendan, Joe and Ian, but they added Guy after the first show, which he attended.
They play what was called 'Emo', before the scene became impossibly watered down. Basically, it is a more melodic, thoughtful and sensitive version of hardcore punk1. They are also straight edge; despite sometimes denying this, they do keep to the main tenets.
What's with the Name?
Fugazi is a piece of Vietnamese slang (from the era of the Vietnam war), meaning a 'messed up' situation2, which Ian found while reading a book about the Vietnam war.
More about the Members
As well as being in the band, Ian runs Dischord Records, who put out records by Fugazi and many others from the Washington DC scene. Prior to being in the band, Ian was in The Slinkees, Teen Idles, Skewbald/Grand Union, Minor Threat, Egg Hunt and Embrace. Guy was in Rites Of Spring, which was credited as the first Emo band, and also Happy Go Licky and One Last Wish. Brendan was in Rites of Spring, Happy Go Licky and One Last Wish with Guy, and also in Deadline.
The first record released by the band was a self-titled EP. It is an excellent starting place for listening to Fugazi and has definite roots in hardcore and also reggae. Highlights of the disc include 'Waiting Room', 'Bad Mouth' and 'Suggestion'. The latter song is a powerful indictment of the objectification of women in modern society:
Why can't I walk down the street free from suggestion?
Is my body my only trait in the eyes of men?
'Waiting Room' is probably the most instantly accessible Fugazi song.
Next came Margin Walker, an EP which sticks much to the same ground as Fugazi. Tracks which stand out on this EP include 'Margin Walker', 'Provisional', and Burning Too. Provisional tackles politicians, and attacks the current political system which leads to people attempting to retain office at any cost. 'Burning Too' is a plea for people to take care of the environment more. The album 13 Songs is also available, which contains both the Fugazi EP and the Margin Walker EP combined.
The band's first LP is claimed by many to be their best, and a corker it is too. Still broadly covering the same territory as the previous EPs, it moves more towards a sparse bass and drum dub reggae feel. It features a remake of 'Provisional', entitled 'Reprovisional'. The album also marks a more stark anti-commercial attitude, with several songs attacking consumers themselves:
You are not what you own.
Steady Diet of Nothing
This is their darkest effort, and is a transitionary album on the way to later albums such as Red Medicine. Tracks such as 'Keep Your Eyes Open' and 'Latin Roots' stand out on this album, but not by much. The quality of the album is fairly consistent, if not as good as Repeater or Fugazi.
International Pop Convention - Olympia
This five-day underground festival, hosted by Calvin Johnson of K records, in Olympia, Washington (the label's home town) occurred at a pivotal time when the underground scene started going overground for a brief few years, just as Nirvana started gathering momentum. Another reason this event is important is because its climax on the fifth day was what has been designated Fugazi's best live performance ever, and has therefore been selected as an example of a Fugazi gig. Fugazi shows tend to be cheap, and where possible, for all ages. They are also renowned for playing charity shows, for such causes as AIDS and women's clinics. The band is also against moshing3. Many take this stance to be anti-fun, but it is in fact an effort to prevent violence, and the stronger members of an audience getting the best places at a gig by brute force.
In on the Killtaker
The name of this album is from a line in a letter the band found in the street in DC, with no indication of where it's from or what it was about.
It is the last of Fugazi's old-style albums, and heads towards the experimental end of the scale, with '23 Beats Off' and 'Last Chance for a Slow Dance' being good examples of this. However, there are still a good number of rock tracks including the brilliant 'Great Cop' as well as 'Smallpox Champion' and 'Facet Squared'.
This is an experimental album, with the odd rock track ('Target' for example), the rest being largely devoted to the more eclectic end of things. A prime example of this is 'Combination Lock' - a funky rock number with a slightly robotic voice saying:
I have forgot my combinationin the middle, and no other words. The whole album is very good once given a chance, although not an ideal first Fugazi album.
The title of this album put the rumour mill into overdrive for obvious reasons. However, the name really comes from the idea of it being the end of the century, or the end of an era. It is also due to one of the tracks on the album - 'No Surprises' - which has a tacked-on ending. Basically, the end of the album has a hidden track, which features all the attempts at the ending, most of which failed because of the drum beats not being in time, or being wrong in some other way. These were titled 'End Hits' because they were hits at the end of the song. Another lesser known rumour is that they were breaking up, and came from the title of the final track 'f/d', which is legal shorthand for 'Final Disposition'.
Apparently, the name actually comes from the track being based on the original music for the Red Medicine track 'Fell Destroyed'. This album is more in the style of Steady Diet of Nothing than its immediate predecessors. It still retains the experimental edge that has become a Fugazi trademark, with songs like 'Arpeggiator', an entirely instrumental track. Other highlights of the album are the anti-corporate rant '5 Corporations', 'Caustic Acrostic' and 'No Surprises'.
Instrument is a film based on the life story of the band so far. It was filmed by a friend of Ian's, Jem Cohen, who is a professional music video director4. Accompanying the video is a CD soundtrack, mainly made up of oddments and rarities. Both items are essential for Fugazi fans. The video, in particular, gives a deep insight into the band, and is an entertaining and refreshing change from most band documentaries.
Common Misconceptions about the Band
The band are humourless, always serious and political - This is far from the case, and the band themselves often refer to their behaviour as 'goofy'. This is seen on the Instrument video, when the band are recording in the studio, and Guy and Joe are waiting near a keyboard with sampling abilities for their next recording session. Joe and Guy basically sample their own voices and modulate them before looping them. The sound of Guy saying 'you ate all the chocolate' in a high-pitched, speeded-up voice has to be heard to be believed! They are, however, very serious about their music.
The band live in a group house, only eat oats, and have no heating - There is just one shred of truth to this rumour. Ian and some of his band mates in the Teen Idles lived in a group house in 1980, which Ian still lives in. So Ian did once live in a group house. The band are varying degrees of vegetarian, but none of them restrict themselves to just oats. The part about not using heat is equally incorrect. The band are fairly anti-corporate, and therefore dislike giving money to big companies when they can avoid it, but that just isn't practical when it comes to heating.
This is best approached from two directions - the influences on the band as a whole, and the personal influences of individual band members.
Influence on the Band
- Bad Brains
- Gang of Four
- All Scars
Influence on the Individual Members
- Brendan, Guy, Ian
- Scott Weinrich
- Arthur Lee
- Louis Armstrong
- Joy Division
The band are very politically active, and play many benefit shows for various causes in the DC area. They are fiercely independent, and refuse to believe in music as a commercial product. Due to this, CDs by them cost around US$8-12, to cover time and materials, and shows cost around US$5. Some of the political causes that Fugazi support are:
- Amnesty International
- Food Not Bombs
- Campaign for Tibet
- Fort Reno5
- The Washington Free Clinic
- Emmaus Services
- Positive Force