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.
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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.