Legendary post-hardcore outfit Fugazi is one of the most important, respected and influential bands of 20th century American underground. Playing a crucial role in the growth of the alternative music scene, its musical, political and social legacy can hardly be overstated.
Between forming in 1986 and entering an indefinite hiatus in 2003, Fugazi crafted a remarkable album catalogue, always pushing forward and tapping into the unknown with each new recording. Their legacy is important on so many levels: from contextualizing the DIY punk spirit and spreading the straightedge ethos, to shaping the sound of multiple genre in their wake, including indie rock, emo and post-hardcore.
Washington, D.C., was the hardcore capitol of the 1980s (also known as ‘harDCore’), with Fugazi bandleader Ian MacKaye playing a central role from early on. Back in the late ‘70s, MacKaye played in the landmark hardcore band the Teen Idles, which is, in part, how he and Jeff Nelson came to found the now-legendary record label Dischord in 1980. By the time Dischord released the Idles’ debut EP, Minor Disturbance, the band had already evolved into iconic hardcore outfit Minor Threat, which Nelson played drums in.
Alongside fellow D.C. act Bad Brains and Southern California’s Black Flag, Minor Threat are credited for setting the standard for all hardcore to come. With their song “Straight Edge,” they became synonymous with a punk subculture that abstained from using drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
By the mid 1980s, the hardcore scene had gradually immersed into a stagnant musical force characterized by violent, reckless behavior, on and off stage, and Ian MacKaye confronted those consequences by dissolving Minor Threat entirely. He then started up Embrace, a short-lived band connected to the 1985 ‘Revolution Summer’ movement (together with Rites of Spring, Dag Nasty and others), who took a clear stance against the violence and sexism plaguing the hardcore punk scene. A year later Fugazi was born.
Composed of MacKaye (guitar, vocal), Dag Nasty’s Colin Sears on drums (soon to be replaced by Rites of Spring drummer Brendan Canty) and Joe Lally on bass, the band’s lineup solidified when Rites of Spring’s Guy Picciotto (guitar, vocal) joined full-time in 1987.
Fugazi rejected the standard hardcore motifs in favor of a something much more dynamic, complex and exploratory. Not too unlike the Clash, PIL or Gang of Four a couple of years prior, Fugazi embraced reggae, dub, funk, art rock and post-punk and became a paragon for legions. Twenty years later, highly inventive albums like Repeater (1990) and Red Medicine (1995) still shine. Fugazi reached their artistic zenith with the critically acclaimed sixth album, The Argument (2001). They’ve been on hiatus since 2003.