We’ll draw a blueprint,
it must be easy,
It’s just a matter of knowing when to say no or yes.
The recent death of Prince brought my ever-emptier heart to a stronger sense of realisation; I realised what I truly value in music. Prince became to symbolise transgression in so many aspects of our (their?/your?) culture. Whether that be patriarchal gender expectations, fashion, music or most importantly his strength in resistance to the music industry’s powers-that-be: Prince continuously proved the ideals of resistance to be true, productive and just. This realisation then led me back to my ‘all-time favourite’ (apart from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band) band Fugazi, and their godly vocalist and guitarist Ian Mackaye. I have never considered Prince as one of my favourites, but it took a world-shaking death for me to realise what a pleasure it was to exist in the same universe as such an icon. So now I want to revel in my shared consciousness with a band that I will probably look back on as a life changing force. Can you tell where this is going yet? YOU GUESSED IT! Several hundred words of almost masturbatory homage to an entirely subjective entity. Here goes…
I love Fugazi because of what they achieved in a state of infinite, boundless and unapologetic resistance against an ecology of industries that generate profit against (my) idealistic definitions of Punk. In their 17 year existence, as the legend goes, Fugazi turned down several massive major label-deals in the economic climate (GIMME GIMME GIMME) of Grunge’s commercial success; they capped the entry fees to their gigs at $5 regardless of inflation; they wouldn’t work with the large music magazines that advertised things that they didn’t want to promote (i.e. alcohol and cigarettes); they constantly promoted political activism and ethical righteousness at their shows (every single one of their hometown shows was with non-profit activist charity Positive Force); they released all of their own music on guitarist and lead vocalist Ian Mackaye’s label Dischord Records; and most of all their music was freaking tiiiiiigggghhhht.
We owe you nothing
You have no control
In the late 1970’s Punk was declared dead by many people who didn’t want to go to Punk gigs anymore. Meanwhile in the Hardcore scene in DC, Ian Mackaye and his band Minor Threat (before that, Teen Idles) were touring the US playing their relentless form of Straight-Edge P.M.I-driven Hardcore. Mackaye had learned what happened to counter-culture if you gave the big labels a bite. Then when he felt that Hardcore was swamped with hyper-masculine violence and goalless nihilism, he helped create Embrace and then Fugazi with his newly politicized master plan of Punk. Although their existence was a very complex course of events, the main policy that drove Fugazi’s art was the belief that they “owed you nothing”, it was what THEY wanted. Not the fans, not any labels or production companies, not the promoters or band managers, it was entirely their call and their life and their music and their message from day one – to the very end. It just so happened that what they wanted was exactly what was needed to become the greatest example of integrity, compassion, morality, consistency and progression that I have ever come across. Even within the contextual landscape of Punk rock, Fugazi broke boundaries. In their refusal to observe alienating violence at their shows, Fugazi called out macho bullshit and on many occasions got slam dancers to leave with a full refund. In a world where so many moments of artistic progress and transgression can and have inspired the greatest political and social-progression-and-transgression, it is increasingly important to create art in the hope of inspiration and not for the hope of making money.
There are so many amazing artists, active and dead, that have been strongly resistant and have carried the political torch of DIY to their grave. There is so much amazing music that is just as hard-hitting for me. But Fugazi matter so much because of the weight that they drew. They sold hundreds of thousands of records, they sold out multi-thousand cap venues, toured the entire world, received so much critical recognition and still stand as one of the most famous Punk bands in existence. All the while their actions were consistently DIY, independent, political and just really really mint.
Listening to Ian Mackaye talk has been one of my hobbies for a while now, and the amount he is asked about so many different and irrelevant things makes me laugh. But I still find myself listening-to, and agreeing-with, and quoting everything that he says. It could be true that I am just a bit of a wet sock, but this is what Mackaye had to say in PunkPlanet about his musical existence: “I feel like music kicked my ass and I’m aiming to return the favour. But it’s not just by me, and it’s not just for me – it has to be shared. Shared either by the people I’m playing with or by the people listening. There has to be someone hearing it.” I am eternally grateful that I can be someone, and you should be too!
Here are a couple of books that helped me love Fugazi so much:
Click here for the full Fugazi Discography