We have a responsibility
To use our abilities to keep this place alive
Right here right now
Do it. Now. Do it.
– ‘Burning Too’
It’s often hard to identify what triggers a reassessment of the past. It can be stray word or sight or smell, or one of the silly polls people are fond of on social media, or a reminiscence with a friend. Sometimes, for me, it’s the realisation that a thing I loved has been half-forgotten; and one of the joys of getting older is reassessing the body of work of a beloved writer, band or artist and seeing how you react to it again.
I had been chatting online with friends about the best punk, hardcore and post-hardcore gigs we had all variously attended over the years – one of the many pointless, nerdy, and deeply satisfying activities I enjoy. My friend, the performer and storyteller, Paul Case, began reminiscing about the time we had seen the legendary Washington DC band Fugazi play at the Kentish Town Forum in London in 2002. In retrospect, we were hugely lucky. The band did three nights at the venue – Fugazi more popular than ever following the release of their brilliant final album The Argument – and we attended the second night (almost sure of that).
After that, Fugazi went on an indefinite hiatus which has now lasted seventeen years. I was nineteen years old at the time and, of course, unaware I was seeing a legendary band for probably the one and only time in my life. My memories of the actual gig are patchy other than the band were fantastic.
Talking about the show with Paul made me decide, for the sheer hell of it, to go back through Fugazi’s back catalogue start to finish to relisten to the old records I loved, and to listen properly to parts of their catalogue that I had never paid much attention to. It felt important too to reacquaint myself with the aspect of Fugazi that often overshadows their music – the fierce DIY attitude that didn’t waver throughout their entire existence. Putting records out exclusively on the independent label co-owned by Ian Mackaye, Dischord, that is almost synonymous with the band; no official merchandise; ticket prices kept as low as possible; all-ages shows wherever possible; a commitment to playing benefit shows and supporting countless good causes. They are one of the epitomes of what the punk culture’s DIY attitude is, and can achieve, and it remains a constant inspiration to me, and how you can conduct yourself and push your art without compromising your integrity.
Of course, none of that would mean much if the music itself wasn’t any good. Relistening to Fugazi’s records again as an adult of thirty-six was an absolute joy – this is music recognisably from the punk and hardcore scenes but that took countless risks, creating a sound that somehow became a blueprint for a certain brand of post-hardcore whilst remaining essentially unique. As a young man, the records that had most thrilled me were Repeater – which remains an essential political punk classic – and the aforementioned, much more experimental, The Argument. I realised I had never listened to the albums Red Medicine or In on the Killtaker properly, and rediscovering them proved something often written down my music critics but I had never much thought about: they never made a bad record, never put a foot wrong. It would be pointless for me to try and gice any definitive sort of ‘best of’ but below are two Spotify playlists – split between songs by Ian Mackaye and songs by Guy Picciotto, the two main songwriters of the group – and two live videos to give a taste of what their shows were like.