Fugazi (/fuˈɡɑːzi/; foo-GAH-zee) is an American punk rock band that formed in Washington, D.C. in 1987. The band consists of guitarists and vocalists Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty.
Fugazi are noted for their unique sound, blending of elements of dub/reggae with high energy rock and punk/hardcore-styled guitars, as well as for their business practices and contempt towards the music industry. The band, and others from the punk and hardcore scene leading up to the early 1990s, were among the early adopters of what grew to be known as the DIY ethic.
Fugazi have performed numerous worldwide tours, produced six studio albums, a film and a comprehensive live series, gaining the band critical acclaim and success around the world. Fugazi has been on an indefinite break since 2003.
Fugazi, playing live in 2002 at Emo's
|Origin||Washington, D.C., U.S.|
|Years active||1986–2003 (on hiatus)|
|Past members||Colin Sears|
After the hardcore punk group Minor Threat dissolved, Ian MacKaye (vocals and guitar) was active with a few short-lived groups, most notably Embrace. MacKaye decided he wanted a project that was "like The Stooges with reggae", but was wary about forming another band after Embrace's break up. MacKaye recalled, "My interests were not necessarily to be in a band, but to be with people who wanted to play music with me."
MacKaye recruited ex-Dag Nasty drummer Colin Sears and bass guitarist Joe Lally, and the trio began practicing together in September 1986. After a few months of rehearsals, Sears returned to Dag Nasty and was replaced by Brendan Canty (earlier of Rites of Spring). One day Canty's Rites of Spring bandmate Guy Picciotto dropped by during a practice session to see how his friend was getting along; he later admitted he secretly harbored the idea of joining the group. But Picciotto was disappointed that there seemed to be no place for him.
After some uncertainty from Canty about what he wanted to do with his future, the trio regrouped and booked their first show at the Wilson Center in early September 1987. The group still needed a name, so MacKaye chose the word "fugazi" from Mark Baker's Nam, a compilation of stories of Vietnam War veterans, it there being a slang acronym for "Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In [into a body bag]".
The band began inviting Picciotto to practices. Inspired by use of a foil in hip hop, Picciotto sang backup vocals. After his band Happy Go Licky broke up, he became more involved with Fugazi. MacKaye eventually asked Picciotto to become a full member, which he accepted.
Fugazi embarked on its first tour in January 1988. In June 1988 the band recorded its debut EP Fugazi with producer Ted Niceley and producer/engineer Don Zientara (who would become a long-time collaborator), and shortly afterwards embarked on an arduous tour of Europe.
At the tour's conclusion in December, the band recorded songs for its intended debut album. However, the band was spent from touring and decided that the resulting sessions were unsatisfactory. The track list was cut down to an EP and released as Margin Walker the following year. Both EPs were eventually combined into the 13 Songs release in late 1989. Upon the band's return from Europe, Picciotto, unsatisfied with singing, began playing guitar too.
Sample of "Repeater", from Repeater (1990)
With Picciotto playing guitar full-time, Fugazi made the transition into jamming and writing new material as a band as opposed to performing songs composed solely by MacKaye. In addition to working on new material, songs they had been performing live were refined, such as "Merchandise" and "Turnover", for inclusion on their first official full-length studio album.
Released on April 19, 1990, through Dischord Records, Repeater did not initially reach the Billboard 200 charts or become a commercial success. However, the band spent most of 1990 and 1991 touring heavily behind Repeater, performing a total of 250 concerts between March 1990 and June 1991, routinely selling out 1,000-plus capacity venues throughout the world. By summer 1991, the album sold more than 300,000 copies, a large number for a label that relied on minimal promotion. While major labels began to court Fugazi, the band decided to stay with Dischord and refused the offers of those labels. Repeater ultimately went on to sell more than 1 million copies in the U.S. alone, and more than 2 million worldwide. The album was critically well received and featured an alternative rock sound that pre-dated significant releases such as Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten, which would unexpectedly go on to break the genre into the mainstream.
For Fugazi's second studio-album Steady Diet of Nothing, released in July 1991, the band once again asked Ted Niceley to produce. Niceley had become a chef and had to reluctantly turn down the job, so the band members decided to produce the record themselves. After the success of Repeater and its subsequent world tour, Steady Diet was highly anticipated, six months prior to its release Dischord had pre-orders in excess of 160,000 for the album.
Fugazi recorded its third album In on the Kill Taker in the fall of 1992 with Steve Albini in Chicago; however, the results were deemed unsatisfactory and the band re-recorded the album with Ted Niceley & Don Zientara. With the breakthrough of alternative rock in the early 1990s, In on the Kill Taker; released on June 30, 1993, became the group's first record to enter the Billboard album charts, received critical praise from Spin, TIME magazine and Rolling Stone, sold 180,000 copies in its first week of release and subsequently became the band's breakthrough album.
By the In on the Kill Taker tour, the group began to sell-out large auditoriums and arenas, as well as receive more lucrative major label offers. During the band's sold-out 3-night stint at New York City's Roseland Ballroom in September 1993, music mogul and Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegün met with the band backstage in an attempt to sign them. Ertegün offered the band "anything you want", their own subsidiary label and more than $10 million just to sign with Atlantic. Fugazi declined the offer. The organizers of Lollapalooza also attempted to recruit the band for a headlining slot on its 1993 tour, which the band considered but ultimately turned down.
Sample of "Combination Lock", from Red Medicine (1995)
Fugazi began writing the material for Red Medicine in late 1994, after touring in support of In on the Kill Taker. The band worked with engineer Don Zientara, but did not choose to work with producer Ted Niceley again. Fugazi opted to retreat from the in-your-face production values of In on the Kill Taker and instead worked to create an ambient sound which would display greater range and depth. To achieve this, the band handled production duties themselves, and in doing so, became more confident with in-studio experimentation. Red Medicine would take Fugazi a step further toward art rock. The band began an extensive worldwide tour in support of the album, playing a total of 172 shows between March 1995 and November 1996.
After the grueling worldwide tour the band had completed in support of Red Medicine, Fugazi took an extended break and also began writing material for a follow up release. By March 1997 Fugazi had once again returned to Inner Ear Studios with producer/engineer Don Zientara to begin recording what would become the End Hits album with the intention of taking a more relaxed approach to recording and a longer amount of time to experiment with different songs and techniques in the studio. The group ultimately spent 7 months recording the album. Due to the title, rumors began circulating at the time that it was to be their last release. Released on April 28, 1998 the album was commercially successful and marked one of the band's highest debuts yet on the Billboard charts. However, critical reaction to End Hits was mixed. Many critics praised the album's heavier tracks, while others questioned the inclusion of the group's longer, more experimental songs.
Sample of "Full Disclosure", from The Argument (2001)
Fugazi began work on The Argument in 1999. This process saw the group taking more time than usual to write and demo material. Each member would bring his own individual riffs and ideas to the band, jam on them, and then begin piecing the songs together into various configurations before deciding on what would become the final versions. The album's recording sessions took place between January and April 2001 at Inner Ear Studios and Dischord House in Arlington, VA, located just outside Washington D.C. The band once again worked with producer/engineer Don Zientara. During the recording process a considerable amount of time was spent finalizing each song's production, in particular the album's drum tracks, in an effort to give it a unique feel. Drummer Brendan Canty explained to Modern Drummer that "We recorded them all very differently in terms of the drum sounds. We used a lot of different cymbals, snares, and ways of miking."
The Argument was released by Dischord Records on October 16, 2001, along with the EP Furniture + 2, almost 4 years after the release of End Hits. The album was met with critical and commercial success entering the Billboard charts and selling over 170,000 copies in its first week of release. Arion Berger of Rolling Stone called the album "bracing" and "intellectual" and Chris True of AllMusic referred to the album as "spine-tingling and ear-shattering all at once" stating that, "the band has raised the bar for themselves and others once again." He also noted that the album had "touched on strange new territory." By this point Fugazi were on tour less frequently, due in large part to other professional and personal commitments, they performed only 32 shows in 2001 and 2002 respectively.
Fugazi went on what they have called an "indefinite hiatus" after the conclusion of their 2002 UK tour following 3 sold-out nights at the London Forum in England on November 2, 3, 4, 2002. The hiatus was brought on by the band members' insistence on spending more time with their families and to pursue other professional projects.
Since Fugazi went on hiatus in 2003, rumors began circulating regarding a possible reunion, with some insinuating that the band may get back together to headline the Coachella Festival. While the band has confirmed that they have been offered large sums of money to reunite and headline festivals, such as Coachella, they have so far declined the offers.
In March 2011, MacKaye reiterated that Fugazi has "been offered insane amounts of money to play reunions, but it’s not going to be money that brings us back together, we would only play music together if we wanted to play music together and time allowed it".
In November 2011, when asked by The A.V. Club about the possibility of a reunion and a follow up to 2001's The Argument, bassist Joe Lally stated that "The Argument was a great record that we should try and top. It’ll take some time to come together and everything. To do that, we’d have to, the way the four of us are, we would take quite some time, I think, re-associating ourselves musically, and then just letting it come about naturally, because it would have to be a natural thing. So we’ll just see."
In August 2014, Dischord announced an official release for First Demo, an album featuring 11 demo songs recorded in January 1988. The announcement included a preview of the demo for the Fugazi track "Merchandise."  The eleven-track album was released on November 18, 2014.
MacKaye insists Fugazi is not, in fact, broken up. While he admits any future public performance will have to contend with various confounding factors, the members have occasionally played music together, privately, since their 2002 hiatus.
On March 21, 2018, in a new interview on Vish Khanna’s Kreative Kontrol podcast, Fugazi bassist Joe Lally revealed that the band still occasionally gets together to play. Lally begins, “Yeah, when we’re all in D.C., we totally hang out together and talk and spend a lot of time laughing. We have a great time together, go out to dinner, and we’ll play some music together.” He then shoots down any hopes of a potential reunion: “There’s so much to try to look after to allow Fugazi to do anything, that we do not have the time to give it the respect that it deserves. So unfortunately, it is where it is.”
Canty has been doing a variety of soundtrack scores and playing bass in the trio Garland Of Hours alongside frequent Fugazi guest contributors Jerry Busher and Amy Domingues, and has played bass live with Mary Timony. Canty also appears on Bob Mould's 2005 album Body of Song and on Mould's 2008 album District Line, and has toured with Mould, appearing in the live DVD Circle of Friends. He is currently working in the Burn to Shine DVD series which is being released by Trixie DVD. Now, he is playing in Deathfix alongside Devin Ocampo (Medications, Faraquet, Smart Went Crazy, Beauty Pill), Rich Morel (Bob Mould, Blow Off) and Mark Cisneros (Medications, The Make-Up). They will release their album in February 2013 on Dischord Records.
Lally has released three solo albums, There to Here (2006), Nothing Is Underrated (2007), and Why Should I Get Used To It (2011). He has also appeared on fellow DC post-punkers Decahedron's debut album Disconnection_Imminent, as well as on a project with Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarists John Frusciante and Josh Klinghoffer, known as Ataxia. The group has recorded two albums, Automatic Writing (2004) and AW II (2007).
Picciotto currently works as a record producer most notably with Blonde Redhead and The Blood Brothers, and he has performed alongside members of The Ex at the Jazz festival in Wels, Austria. Picciotto also contributed guitar on two Vic Chesnutt albums, 2007's "North Star Deserter and 2009's At the Cut (co-producing the latter), for Constellation Records and performed live with Chesnutt and members of Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra and The Quavers in Jem Cohen's program entitled, "Evening's Civil Twilight in Empires of Tin at the Vienna International Film Festival (Viennale) in 2007 (a DVD of the program was released in 2009). Picciotto played guitar on Chesnutt's Fall/Winter 2009 North American Tour. He has a daughter with musician Kathi Wilcox from the band Bikini Kill and The Frumpies.
In July 2011, Minneapolis based record label Doomtree released an album of mash-ups between Fugazi and east coast veteran rap crew the Wu-Tang Clan. The album is titled 13 Chambers, group name Wugazi. However, Fugazi itself did not have any involvement with the release. Bassist Joe Lally was asked about his thoughts on the Wugazi release, and stated "I think they could've found better Fugazi pieces to sample with Wu-Tang guys rapping on it. I mean, it’s enjoyable, and I do appreciate it for the fact that somebody enjoys our music enough to bring it into that. But, you know, I don’t know. I guess I should shut up, because I suppose I'm about to run into these people at the Fun Fun Fun Fest festival and talk to them. But I’m afraid that is my opinion on it. It's like, get better samples of our stuff, do better work."
In October 2012, Chris Lawhorn released Fugazi Edits. The album includes 22 instrumental tracks, which sample 100 songs from Fugazi's discography. As in other cases, the band had no involvement in the production. But, the album was authorized for release by MacKaye, with the proceeds going to charity.
Between 1987 and 2003, Fugazi played over 1000 concerts in all 50 US states and all over the world. Over 800 of these shows were recorded by the band's sound engineers. Beginning in 2004 and continuing into 2005, Fugazi launched a 30 CD Live Series that featured concerts from various points in their career, which were made available for sale via Dischord Records. Continuing with the live series concept and after several years of development on December 1, 2011 Fugazi launched a comprehensive Live Series website through Dischord Records that features 750 recordings available for download at the suggested price of $5 each or a "pay what you want" sliding scale option for each download between $1–100 with the goal of eventually making all 800 of the shows that have been recorded available for purchase. For $500 fans can also purchase an "All Access" privilege which will include access to any future concerts and downloads added to the site.
While each concert was professionally mastered, the recordings capture everything that happened onstage and for preservation's sake the band chose not to edit anything out, singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto explained to the New York Times, "We liked this idea of, 'Let's just let it be everything,' ... There doesn't have to be the idea that this is the great, golden document. It's all there, and it's not cleaned up. You get what you get." The sound quality also varies as the earliest recordings were made to cassettes, then eventually digital formats such as DAT, CD-R and ultimately hard-drives were used. Each concert page also includes flyers, photographs and ticket stubs. As a career-spanning archival project, the Fugazi Live Series has few equals, putting the band in the company of acts like the Grateful Dead, Phish and Pearl Jam, three notable examples of other artists with such a large volume of concerts available for purchase.
Fugazi is significantly affected by the Clash. The Clash held up an example of pursuing revolution with punk music and Fugazi loyally followed this inspiring example. More importantly, Fugazi lived out the rhetoric of the Clash and they convinced people in a more persuasive way. Joe Strummer (the lead vocalist of the Clash) recognized Fugazi as the only band who best exemplified punk’s spirit in the 2000 Rolling Stone interview.
Fugazi's style has been described as post-hardcore, art punk, alternative rock, indie rock and experimental rock. Fugazi's music was an intentional departure from that of the hardcore punk bands the members had played in previously. Fugazi combined punk with funk and reggae beats, irregular stop-start song structures, and heavy riffs inspired by popular rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Queen, bands that the punk community of the time largely disdained.
Picciotto became the group's second guitarist when he realized MacKaye's typically chunky, low-end riffs and Lally's dub-influenced basslines allowed him to focus on high-pitched parts. In both vocal and guitar roles, Picciotto assumed the role of a foil to MacKaye; employing a Rickenbacker guitar for its scratchy single-coil sound in order to "cut through MacKaye's chunky chording like a laser beam." Picciotto's assumption of guitar duties allowed all four members of the band to jam together and write songs that way, where previously they had played songs largely as MacKaye had arranged them. When writing songs, the band often rearranges them with different structures and different singers. Spin Magazine has listed MacKaye and Picciotto together at No. 86 on their list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time for their unique and interlocking guitar style in Fugazi.
Generally, MacKaye's lyrics and singing are more direct and anthemic (MacKaye admits that he loves audience sing-alongs and writes songs with shout-able slogans), while Picciotto usually favors a more abstract, oblique approach. Lally has contributed vocals to a few songs as well, in which he sings in a more relaxed, quiet style as opposed to MacKaye and Picciotto, whose lyrics and vocals often feature strong emotional intensity. Later, Fugazi more fully integrated elements of punk rock, hardcore, soul and noise with an inventively syncopated rhythm section. Notable is MacKaye and Picciotto's inventive, interlocking guitar playing, which often defies the traditional notion of "lead" and "rhythm" guitars. They often feature unusual and dissonant chords and progressions filtered through a hardcore punk lens.
When questioned by Guitar World in 2002 about the band's influences, singer/guitarist Ian MacKaye responded, "Too many to mention. And not just from the last few years. Some of them predate us by decades, and most of them wouldn't be punk. I would hope any musician would be inspired by a lot of different kinds of music."
Each of Fugazi's albums since Repeater have featured an instrumental song. By the time of 1995's Red Medicine bassist Joe Lally also began contributing vocals to the band and the group was implementing many of their broader influences into the overall sound. Critics Ian McCaleb and Ira Robbins declared that Fugazi's music combined an "unprecedented dynamic range ... and previously unimagined elements" such as "clattering musique concrète ... piano and sound effects ... murky dub and lancing clarinet" and "loose-limbed jammy funk ... into an ambitious, experimental format that raises more stylistic questions than it answers."
Bands who have cited Fugazi as an influence include Nirvana, Refused, At the Drive-In, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Quicksand, Deftones, Iceage, NOFX, Bad Religion, Blink-182 Rage Against the Machine, the Offspring, Bikini Kill, Lorde, and Pearl Jam.
On their first tours, Fugazi worked out its DIY aesthetic by trial and error. The group's decisions were partly motivated by pragmatic considerations that were essentially a punk rock version of simple living: for example, selling merchandise on tour would require a full-time merchandise salesperson who would require lodging, food, and other costs, so Fugazi decided to simplify their touring by not selling merchandise. The band was also motivated by moral or ethical considerations: for example, Fugazi's members regarded pricey admission for rock concerts as tantamount to price gouging a performer's most loyal fans. Fugazi's inexpensive target goal of $5 admission was spawned during a conversation on an early tour when the band's members were debating the lowest profitable admission price.
In later years and at many venues, particularly on the east and west coasts of the U.S., Fugazi was unable to get ticket prices below about $10–$15 total. However, it never saw the $5 rule as inviolable, instead aiming to charge a price that was both affordable and profitable. Unlike some similar, independent rock contemporaries, Fugazi's performances and tours were always profitable, due to the group's popularity, low business overhead costs, and MacKaye's keen sense of audience response in given regions.
Fugazi's early tours earned it a strong word-of-mouth reputation, both for its powerful performances, and also for the band's eagerness to play in unusual venues. The group sought out alternatives to traditional rock clubs partly to relieve the boredom of touring, but also hoping to show fans that there are other options to traditional ways of doing things. As Picciotto said, "You find the Elks Lodge, you find the guy who's got a space in the back of his pizzeria, you find the guy who has a gallery. Kids will do that stuff because they want to make stuff happen."
The group (MacKaye in particular) also made a point of discouraging violent, unwanted slam dancing and fistfights, which it saw as relics of the late 1970s/early 1980s hardcore punk era. Michael Azerrad quotes Mackaye, "See, [slam dancers] have one form of communication: violence ... So to disorient them, you don't give them violence. I'd say, 'Excuse me, sir...'- I mean, it freaks them out – 'Excuse me, sir, would you please cut that crap out?'" Azerrad writes, "[MacKaye's] admonitions seemed preachy to some. And by and large, people would obey – it wasn't cool to disrespect Ian MacKaye." Occasionally, Fugazi would have an unrepentant slam-dancer escorted from the concert, and give them an envelope containing a $5 refund (the group kept a stock of such envelopes in their tour van for these occasions).
During the summer of 1990 MacKaye formed the corporation Lunar Atrocities Ltd. in order to shield his own and his bandmates' personal assets from the threat of lawsuits. As MacKaye’s financial advisor, Seth Martin, explained to the Washington Post in a 1993 interview: "protection from liability is the main reason to form a corporation, and for these guys it makes sense. If someone got hurt stage-diving and decided to sue, it would be harder to go after their personal assets."