Fugazi is a benchmark, a signpost and an example of how it could and should be done

Gateway Acts is a new ongoing series on Backbeat in which we examine the music that served as an entry point for our burgeoning musical obsessions, a gateway drug that tuned us in and turned us on. Today, guest columnist and Flattery Festival founder Ian O'Dougherty (Uphollow, Ian Cooke, TaunTaun, Eolian) asserts that if there were just one band, that band would be Fugazi.


By Ian O'Dougherty

I started playing guitar at the age of eight after seeing La Bamba in 1987. Brian Setzer's cover of Eddie Cochran's song "Summertime Blues" on the soundtrack got me excited about guitar and led me to discover Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. I heard Nirvana on the radio in 1991 and then started playing guitar loudly. In junior high, I met a kid named Whit Sibley, who also played guitar loudly. He put the Descendents "Silly Girl" and Fugazi's "Long Division" on a mixtape for me, and in return, I gave him a Godflesh cassette to check out. We eventually decided to start a band together called Uphollow. We ended up playing hundreds of shows and did more tours than I remember.

See also:
- Saturday: Flattery Festival at 3 Kings Tavern, 2/2/13
- Q&A with Minor Threat, Fugazi and Dischord Records founder Ian MacKaye
- How Beck opened up a whole new world to an evangelical boy from the Midwest

Then and now, Fugazi are used as a benchmark, signpost, example and a ceiling. To me, no band is better than Fugazi. Not the Beatles. Not Queen. Not Tom Petty. Not even Metallica, Radiohead, NOFX or Jawbreaker. Fugazi has something they all don't have. It's artistic and musical integrity, it's a cohesive social and artistic stance. It's pure without-a-net live ability to perform free-form, without a setlist. And there's an extremely small percentage of filler on any of Fugazi's albums.

Every release, from 1988's self-titled EP through 2001's The Argument is absolutely solid, maintaining a sonic and artistic center while still progressing musically. The albums are so consistently good, it seems pointless to engage in a debate of what the best Fugazi album is -- they're all great.

While all the other bands I listed above were highly influential, Fugazi's influence has had a much more direct and lasting effect. It's been over ten years since Fugazi played a show, and still any discussion of anything relating to independence, integrity, DIY, anti-corporation, a city-specific scene, an underground scene, music-business ethics, all eventually leads to Fugazi and Dischord Records.

Yesterday, at a rehearsal playing Fugazi songs (more on that in a minute), we discussed a NPR news story about the upcoming postal service rate hikes that involved Dischord and how the new rates would affect them. A couple hours later, I was at a workshop for independent bands discussing merchandising options for tour. The meeting was held at A Small Print Shop, an independent print shop that offers eco-friendly shirts and other options.

During the discussion, Fugazi's ethics and tactics were brought up multiple times as an example of integrity. Today's musical/artistic/business landscape is drastically different than it was when Fugazi was paving the way, and it was interesting to be playing the band's song, "Merchandise," and then later discussing selling merchandise in order to continue living as a musician. The last line of the bridge in "Merchandise" kept popping in my head, "You are not what you own!"

More than other bands, it seems that Fugazi's music and aura has been successfully embedded and integrated into the daily lives of their listeners and fans. Independent printers, artists, booking agents, managers, engineers, graphic designers, game programmers, engineers all can cite Fugazi for life lessons. Bands of various ages and a multitude of genres have all been influenced by Fugazi, from Nirvana, Refused and At The Drive-In to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Quicksand and the Deftones to Iceage, NOFX and Bad Religion, among countless others.

When it came to Fugazi, we were what we owned. They made it this way, because the only thing you could own was the music, and it influenced hundreds of bands, while also helping to shape a lot of listeners into the people they turned out to be. Our band Uphollow was certainly influenced by Fugazi, as well as the many other bands that were influenced by the group that we played shows with over the years, including Built to Spill, Blonde Redhead, Hot Water Music, No Knife, Planes Mistaken For Stars, Jimmy Eat World, Les Savy Fav, Avail, Braid.

I think most, if not all, of those acts would agree that Fugazi was THE band -- and it still is. The band's members, Ian MacKaye, Guy Picciotto, Brendan Canty, and Joe Lally, have been busy in various musical and video pursuits while Fugazi has been on hiatus (not to mention making the audio of hundreds of excellent live shows available on their site). I've kept in contact with MacKaye, and he exhibits the same thoughtful and calculated responses on postcards as he does on lyrics and artwork. He is as genuine as it gets, a refreshing thing.

On tours in the '90s, I met Keith Curts in San Francisco, Eric Bliss in Salt Lake City, and Devon Rogers in Denver. We were all going to shows and playing shows in the pre-internet days, and then, fifteen years later, they had formed a band called End Hits, and were doing Fugazi songs. Last October, they called me needing a last-minute bassist, hoping/assuming I would know the songs. Naturally I accepted their invitation and played the shows and had a blast.

I was also playing in an Andrew W.K. tribute band, and it got me to thinking about how fun it would be to put together a show with a variety of cover bands -- thus this Saturday night's Flattery Festival at 3 Kings. The whole idea is to show respect, pay tribute, and acknowledge the music that has influenced us. Party Harder will be covering Andrew WK, End Hits will take on Fugazi, Coverage will channel the Descendents, Dogbreath will revive the Replacements, and Skulls will conjure the Misfits.

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1990 - 2301 Canton - Deep Ellum Live

This was my introduction to live punk rock shows- and this is where i set the proverbial bar for every shitty band ive ever been in! not saying i reached it, but for my fragile young mind, Fugazi was like nothing I had ever experienced. There was no pose- this shit was REAL! I was in 10th grade and living with my Aunt and Uncle in Grand Prarie, TX.

A friend I hung out with a lot ( you know, when skateboarding and punk rock were part of the same insular scene) invited me to check out this show with her. I wasn't familiar with the band, and like most kids my age, I still had Minor Threat records in rotation.

We listened to the tape version of the one and only LP they had out at the time as we barreled down the highway so stoked to experience this band LIVE!

If memory serves, Sedition and Last Rites opened the show then FUGAZI hit the 5ft stage! Not 2 or 3 songs in the Dallas Fire Dept came through the door, paperwork in hand as they stormed the stage. Words were exchanged ( Ian eventually turned the mic away from his mouth and gave these dudes a serious " Fuck Off!" - eventually we were all told we had to leave due to maximum occupancy and fire codes. The show still happened though as they ripped through their entire set in an empty warehouse!

After a couple songs they would come banter at the chain link gate that separated them from us. Stage diving still went on with reckless abandon from the parked U-Haul in the parking lot. And...this was all well documented in Michael Azzerad's book " Our Band Could Be Your Life" - which upon reading many years after the fact totally blew me away! It's that kinda moment when..as I sat in my kitchen- I suddenly stood up and yelled at the top of my lungs, " HOLY SHIT! I was THERE!!!"

I did my homework without the Internet and talked rabidly w close friends about what bands had come before, what labels were related, etc. FUGAZI started me on the journey... And I'm still on it after all these years! They're a gift that keeps on giving!

1995 - Mammoth Event Center

with Air Miami and God is My Co-Pilot as well as my good friends in Ana North ( basically Belljar without Josh and with Dave Lally from Screeching Weasel )

Great Fucking Show!

I believe a lot of the Fugazi pictures in Chrissy Piper's amazing photo book " The Unheard Music" came from this show.


'Repeater' pretty much changed my life, or at least that part of my life that evaluates how I understand music. I knew punk rock before then, but I don't think I was really hearing it. 


Great article on a great band. Brings back my memories of seeing them thrice:

October 22, 1995, Mammoth Events Center, Denver, CO: I was 15, it was one of my first real punk rock concerts without parental chaperones. Most distinct memory is of Ian MacKaye yelling at some people up front for moshing, telling them to "leave that to the MTV crowd." Major moment of countercultural awakening for me.

April 12, 2001, Celebrity Theater, Phoenix AZ: I was living in Claremont, CA (near L.A.) and Fugazi was on tour but not coming all the way to California. I sensed that this might be one of their last tours, so I recruited two people to road trip 5 hours with me to Phoenix, AZ, the closest show they were playing. The venue was in the round, with a revolving stage. The band clearly thought it was absurd, but if they didn't revolve, some people would only see their backs, so they revolved. At one point someone spilled their drink on the stage, and Ian M stopped the show (and the revolving stage), and made everyone wait while that dude got a rag from the bar and cleaned it up.

April 13, 2001, Grey Hills High School, Tuba City, AZ: Making the most of the road trip, we followed the band like the Dead, 3.5 hours north to a tiny high school on the Navajo Indian Reservation, where they played the gym/auditorium. There were maybe 40-50 people at this show, 90% Native American high school kids. The story I got from the nice old lady taking tickets was that one of the high school students had written to the band asking if they could play a show at his school and the band had said yes.


I saw the 6/16/89 show in Pittsburgh. I got to meet the band after, but very specifically remember Guy introducing himself by telling me "it's Ghee, not Guy. Ghee." He was quite nice about it, but I got the impression he very much wanted everyone to know how to pronounce his name.  Also saw the 3/3/91 show. I was a senior in college, and we convinced my mom to let me take my sister, a sophomore in high school, back to Penn State with me for spring break, then down to Lancaster for the Fugazi show. One of my best memories with my sister, who passed away later that year.  I have to agree, Ian, Fugazi is THE band.


^Great video! I saw the night before and after also. I was there to see Fugazi and also Sin Desires Marie. Folks, feel free to share your Fugazi show stories in this comment section:

October 22, 1995 at Mammoth Events Center w/ Air Miami and God Is My Co-Pilot

Feb 19, 1999 in Ventura, California. Phantom Surfers opened the show, then our band Uphollow played before Fugazi. Best show ever because it was our best performance ever, it was sold-out, and some of the crowd knew our music because we had been touring in the area often. 

October 13th, 1999 in Nantes, France. I remember it was fun to try to find the venue speaking limited French. All the French kids said "Guy" and not "Ghee" for Guy Picciotto. 

April 5th, 6th 2001 at Ogden in Denver , and 7th at Colorado Music Hall in Colorado Springs. I was impressed at how different the sets were three nights in a row. In general, there were only about 3 songs they din't play from their entire catalog. Pretty amazing.

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