(Copyright © 1999-2019 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Fugazi (1988), 8/10
Margin Walker, 7/10
13 Songs , 7.5/10
Three Songs, 6/10
Repeater (1990), 9/10
Steady Diet Of Nothing (1991), 7.5/10
In On The Kill Taker (1993), 7/10
Red Medicine (1995), 8/10
End Hits (1998), 6/10
Instrument , 6/10
The Argument , 6.5/10
The Evens (2005), 5/10
Get Evens (2006), 4.5/10
Messthetics: Messthetics (2018), 6/10
Anthropocosmic Nest (2019), 5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Fugazi was the next project of Minor Threat's Ian MacKaye and Rites of Spring's Guy Picciotto, following the dissolution of their bands. The two songwriters abstracted hardcore punk-rock into a theatrical form of music that is as deeply committed politically and ethically as it is aesthetically. MacKaye, a moral ascetic and dissolute artist possessed by an otherworldly force, was the driving engine, a Jim Morrison for the hardcore generation, propelled by a dissonant and thundering accompaniment. The first two EPs, Fugazi(1988) and Margin Walker (1989), which make up the album 13 Songs (1990), unleash monstrous psychological tension to fight a devouring existential fever. The terrorist attack carried out against society by Repeater (1990) is more cathartic than destructive, and even presents a Zen-like aspect. In the album, the two leaders and their phenomenal rhythm section devise countless tricks to keep the tension as spasmodic as possible. Having acquired a new musical language, MacKaye now indulges in bending it like a chunk of clay to materialize his inner ghosts. Steady Diet Of Nothing(1991), arguably their sonic masterpiece, replaces frenzy with cinematics: songs are always in motion, typically in an obsessive crescendo, fractured and deformed by numerous discontinuities. In On The Kill Taker (1993) makes the package more accessible by bringing out the melody that was hidden behind the pandemonium and polishing the guitar-vocals counterpoint. Red Medicine (1995) is the transfiguration of Fugazi: after MacKaye and Picciotto mastered the new art of storytelling that they had invented, the two now proceed to turn it into a classical language. The sophisticated puzzle of timbres and arrangements, the manic dynamics of pauses and rhythms, the acrobatic repertoire of shy litanies and strident rants have forever changed the context of hardcore music.

Full bio
(Translated from (my original Italian text by Nicole Zimmerman, proof-read by Alexander Altaras)

Over the course of their career, Fugazi were one of the most important groups in punk-rock story, aside from being the pride and joy of the music scene in Washington, DC at the time. For a decade, the group remained a bulwark of honesty and devotion, as well as intelligence and inspiration, for other bands. Their ethical and political contributions were on par with their artistic contributions. Fugazi transformed hardcore rock into a means of expression that was as adaptable as it was powerful - not much different from what Jim Morrison was doing with psychedelic rock. The group's theatrical sound has no equal within the annals of the genre, which arose as a reaction to the theatrics of rock. Ian MacKaye had a strict moral code but an unrestrained artistic sensibility; he was also one of the more polished intellectuals of punk-rock. The group was, in fact, the objective of the underground career of MacKaye, one originated from his experience with short-lasting but influential group Minor Threat. In 1993 the group disbanded. MacKaye gathered together what was left of the group Faith (another storied group from the area), and formed the group Embrace. The songs recorded in 1985 finally appeared in the album Embrace (Dischord, 1987), and unveiled a performer that was increasingly rousing and continually striving in his existential “preaching”. As if possessed by supernatural spirits (like Jim Morrison), MacKaye pulled from all his resources, like an actor consumed in an engaging Shakespearian solo. MacKaye recorded another single under the alias Egg Hunt before being joined by Guy Picciotto, the former band leader of Rites Of Spring, and forming Fugazi (a Vietnam-era slang expression for “fucked-up situation”), a quartet complete with 2 singers, drummer Brendan Canty (also from Rites Of Spring) and bassist Joe Lally.

The EP Fugazi (Dischord, 1988) is a milestone in hardcore punk. The adolescent uneasiness of Minor Threat becomes an existential fever that burns and corrodes. MacKaye's performance was set in an apocalyptic scenario where emotions become exasperated in a beastly manner and enormous tensions cuts into the psyche. Equally, the primitive and naive hardcore sound of Minor Threat passes and becomes a complex and diversified type of rock music, the rhythms broken in the breathless lament of an agony without end. The sarcastic shouting of MacKaye and the "war cry" makes up the singular call-and-response in the general pandemonium of Waiting Room after which the rhythm section creates a tense climate through a pounding staccato from the bass and a hiccupping syncopation of the keyboard (which remains one of the group's masterpieces). Although one can sense the influence of the Clash, the sound is infinitely more violent and fragmented. Bulldog Frog merges the emotionalism of "emo-core" with the walls of sound of the MC5, repeating a verse with a psychotic tone as one would a magic spell and then exploded with a deafening emphasis. The most serene moment on the album is Bad Mouth, which is conducted with a reggae-like pace and a power-pop riff. Also different is Burning, one of the most sinister and mysterious tracks, on which the lyrics are sung in a vibrant manner with a surreal accompaniment from a bass that continuously repeats the same sinister sound and a keyboard that makes rhythms with chopsticks, while the guitar only occasionally contributes with a casual distortion. Founded on dualism of the two vocalists, the sound of the quartet is weakened at times by the guitar. Surprisingly, this unevenness is what gives the sound its unprecedented charge and dynamic. The guitar dominates with its dissonances, its repetitions and "raga" Give Me The Cure, a rock track influenced by Sonic Youth, and Suggestion, a quiet blues that renovates Led Zeppelin and Cream with punk-rock and reggae sounds.

The next EP, Margin Walker (Dischord, 1989), is more timid. Hardcore resurges in the title-track and in Lockdown, while it is weakened in And The Same, an experiment reminiscent of Sonic Youth and Gang Of Four. The essence of Fugazi's music is profoundly urban: the neurotic litanies and dissonant guitar contrasts with the agility and fluidity of the rhythm section, and in a sense prudently represent the alienation, the anger, and violence of the individual within the apparent order of society. In some sense the dramatic apex of the disc is Promises, a spiritual blues for mechanically-screamed zombie noises in an apocalyptic atmosphere.

These 2 EPs were compiled on the album 13 Songs (Dischord, 1990).

The third preparatory EP, Three Songs (1990), contains another of the group's classics: Song Number One, on which the maturation of MacKaye on guitar is evident and the two vocalists counter each other gloriously, MacKaye rough and hoarse, Picciotto savage and resounding, while the guitar sets itself afire and rants in riffs increasingly epic, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix. The instrumental Joe Number One is an eerie dance, like that of the Fleshtones, in line with their apocalyptic vision of an individual continuously crushed by society. And Break-In is the most important instrumental score - fast, fierce, dragging, a concentrate of staccato at breakneck speed and epidermal riffs.

"You are not what you own", "Never mind what's been selling, it's what you're buying" and so on: these are the slogans of Repeater (Dischord, 1990), the group's first true album (the CD edition also contains the tracks from Three Songs), and one of the most revolutionary discs of rock music. The album not only rails against society but does so with an almost Zen-like attitude. The album not only invented a unique explosive and catastrophic sound but also became the soundtrack of a revolutionary and purging mood, and therefore gave it a dimension beyond the existential - the metaphysical. Fugazi established themselves as the equivalent of Bob Dylan for the generation of the 1990s (while, in contrast, Nirvana stopped at the existential dimension). Technically the album is the archetype of all of post-punk, the benchmark that inspired all hardcore of the 1990s. Fugazi employs indulging pauses, glacial accord, ringing of guitar, furious howling, and above all continual changing of scene to accentuate the drama of the atmosphere. The more “regular” tracks are Merchandise, which fluctuates between heavy-metal and reggae, and the tribal instrumental Brendan Number One. The most captivating track is perhaps Turnover, which after an initial excitement finishes in a breathless boogie. The leaders found that the group's strength, however, was in the tracks that, musically speaking, impart a greater sense of the catastrophic terror and solitude of the individual: in Sieve-Fisted Find, with agitation worthy of the first Pere Ubu albums, in Styrofoam, completely shouted as if in mortal agony, and in Blueprint, a mixture of the Velvet Underground, Stooges, and AC/DC. The earthy syncopation of Greed, the angry heavy-metal rumble of Two-Beats Off, all form the grammar of a language of dramatic tension. Even though the confusion is excessive here and there, the vehemence still reigns supreme and redeems even the baseless drunk (as, for example, in the title-track). The album sold more than 100,000 copies and almost turned the group into a record company. The fans saw in MacKaye's integrity one of the few moral examples during the 90's ("You are not what you own", he said in Merchandise). In this disc Fugazi found a legendary equilibrium between fierce passion and almost mathematical intelligence, between instinct and rationale, between poetry and engineering.

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi)

Steady Diet Of Nothing (1991) confirms Fugazi's inexhaustible repertoire of musical drama, enriched here with new expressive forms that concentrate in-depth on the possibilities of American hardcore. The Sonic Youth-esque Reclamation and the title track , with its maelstrom of wild distortion and tribal pulsation , hover in hallucinatory climates, defying the conventions of hardcore, while staying rooted in the techniques of rock. Sounds go adrift into an ocean of brutality, much in the vein of Big Black.
Here co-frontman Ian MacKaye experiments with a new language of rock, in which songs are always in motion (typically in an obsessive crescendo, fractured and deformed by numerous discontinuities). Nice New Outfit is the most melodic song on the album, but nonetheless awash in a frenzied and tribal sound. KYEO, a more driving track, is marked by MacKaye's hysterical quiver. The songs are all attempts to make the music even more diagonal and therapeutically shocking. Sonic Youth's influence is particularly evident here in the way Fugazi mixes rock and dissonance.
Fugazi return to more traditional hardcore elsewhere, but still with a dark, paranoid expressiveness. Exit Only alternates from jumpy syncopations in the style of the Pere Ubu to violent boogies, while Runaway Return exploits the band's arsenal of howls, breaks, progressions and repetitions, and Latin Roots is devastated by thundering phrases of all the instruments. To emerge in these storms of Wagnerian intensity, the voices of our two "actors" must scream out of their mind, abdicating to any aesthetic ambition. No less appealing is the ghostly Long Division, accompanied only by bass and guitar.
Fugazi's lucid understanding of the dynamics of hardcore music leads them to new heights of physical, moral and spiritual expression with what is arguably their sonic masterpiece.

(Translated from (my original Italian text by Nicole Zimmerman)

Fugazi's rage seemed inexhaustible. In On The Kill Taker (Dischord, 1993) concedes nothing: it is another determined attack. The songs even renounce the experimental architecture of the two previous albums and concentrate mostly on the energy. This album makes excitement a mode of expression. The level of violence is more elevated in compensation for the hyper-neurotic atmosphere of the preceding discs, which are more subdued. The album is the most accessible of Fugazi's career (as in the melodic and syncopated Public Witness Program). It is an album in which the energy is not limited to a few explosions but channeled into noble songs of freedom (as on Facet Squared , a fearless attack with a pow-wow style rhythm).

Conscious of the limits of this form of expression, the group was probably in search of a new sound, as demonstrated by the intermittent signs at the start of Facet Squared (and the tribalism that follows), the endless distortion that makes up framework of 23 Beats Off, and the instrumental Sweet And Low, that drowns their volatile sound in abandonment, with a (relatively) relaxed, almost jazz-like sound.

At this point Fugazi are in danger of parroting fIREHOSE, as evident in their new compsitions, which are hummable but aggressive, dramatic, and at the same time innovative, e.g. Smallpox Champion and Cassavetes. However, their best tracks remain close to the style of Big Black, such as Rend It or Walken's Syndrome, where the group loses control of their emotions and MacKaye screams like a wolf howling at the moon, yet without surrendering the harmonic quest to "classicism", of this rock style without confines.

Fugazi created a group of eclectic EPs, from the grim expressionism of Repeater, to the Wagnerian (as in Richard Wagner) power of Steady Diet of Nothing. Meanwhile, the composure of In On The Kill Taker signaled their point of arrival; each album more valuable than the last.

A world of new sounds populates Red Medicine (Dischord, 1995), a more sophisticated work. The listener can hear a bit of John Zorn and Black Flag, Minutemen and acid-rock, and even Can and Beethoven. The group mixes sophisticated inflections and arrangements, played around with pause and rhythm, and slow and twisted sing-song. At this point Fugazi seems to have learned more from the pop experiments of Unrest and Tsunami than from their own legendary past. An irresistible hiccupping pulse and a violent strumming like that of Sonic Youth propels their single Do You Like Me; but the track is deceptive, in that the rest of the disc is immersed in dissonant harmonies that are disordered, dispersive, and depressing, like the crime dramas of the 90's. This was rather like Mark Stewart of the Mafia period and David Thomas but more distraught and with a sparse and unkempt accompaniment.

The tired dirge Fell Destroyed, the psychotic rhyme Birthday Pony, and the rambling recitation Latest Disgrace, do not repeat the same pattern with the instrumental scores that, in the past, limited the background scene to an outline and the subject to a black and white sketch. Long Distance Runner summarizes all the symptoms of their "disease": the desolate feeling from the singer, the drums' languidly dub-tinged beat, and above all the pauses filled with the mournful rumbling of the bass.

This hardcore quartet reaches their highest level of sophistication with the instrumental Version: a subdued Native American tribal mood in which the drummer plays a sleepy beat and the saxophones wail like sirens. Equally calibrated is the synthesis of Target: the guitar plays what sounds like the theme of an equestrian circus, it has an intense boogie alla Lou Reed, an uproar like Brown Sugar (Rolling Stones), and a horrid version of the stereotypical hard-rock riff. Ditto the cascading leashes and the bulldozer pace of By You (reminiscent of When The Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin), which are used mostly to build the atmosphere (of terror, paranoia, and psychosis) for the story by Picciotto. This album is an exemplary testament of how the inharmonious shout of hardcore kept slipping towards the syncopated diction of rap, like the unbridled rhythm of a machine gun reincarnated as the hypnotic pounding of a drumbeat.

The evil side of Fugazi, however, has not forgotten the stratospheric progressions that made them a force to reckon with: the epic anger of Back To Base, with the typical furious rhythms and acidic notes from the guitar, and the hoarse rap by way of wild guitar flourish in Bed For The Scraping, which is affixed almost as a warning. This album does not seem as if it came from the same group. Here, Fugazi reinvented themselves, as did the Doors, in L.A. Woman: drawing on tradition but with a grumpy and desolate mood that completely transfigures it.

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi)

Overproduced and layered with sonic tricks, End Hits (Dischord, 1998) wants to reaffirm Fugazi's modernity but ends up sounding like an unusually (for them) unsophisticated work, as if the leaders had assembled it during lunch breaks at work. Certainly, nobody can accuse Fugazi of indulging in routine: even the powerful Break and the instrumental Arpeggiator hardly recall the band's old style (Caustic Acrostic and Place Position get closer). Experiments rule, but not the well-integrated kind of experiment that turned Red Medicine into a bridge between past and future: these "end hits" rather build a huge gap. Closed Captioned and Recap Modotti are dotted with electronica, funk and dub. Floating Boy, Pink Frosty, No Surprise revolve in a universe of dislocated harmony that would steal the show on a post-rock epic.

Picciotto also fronted the Cranium on A New Music for a New Kitchen (Slowdime, 1998).

Ostensibly, Instrument (Dischord, 1999) is merely the soundtrack to a rock documentary on Fugazi, but these mostly instrumental pieces confirm the transition to a somewhat calmer and apolitical aesthetic.

For whatever reason, Picciotto and McKaye became convinced that Fugazi is a top-notch guitar band. Like the previous album, The Argument (Discord, 2001) is mainly a display of guitar counterpoint, Which is not necessarily bad, but certainly not the reason that Fugazi existed. However, the personal/political dramas (Strangelight, Life and Limb, Argument) benefit from the slower, less intense approach in that their epos is now closer to the everyman than to the everypunk. The low-life vignette of Cashout is to hardcore what the Kinks were to Merseybeat (with a touch of cello, courtesy of Amy Domingues) Actually, the harder edge of Nightshop, Full Disclosure and Ex-spectator sounds trite.
The single Furniture, released at the same time as the album, is a poppy affair that further confuses the trail.

Ataxia is collaboration between Fugazi's bassist Joe Lally, percussionist Josh Klinghoffer and guitarist John Frusciante.

The Evens (Dischord, 2005) is a collaboration between Ian McKaye and drummer Amy Farina, an album of lo-fi rage (vocals, guitar and drums) but often fuming tracks, particularly You Won't Feel A Thing, All These Governors. The project was continued on Get Evens (2006), that was, again, more of a political than musical artifact.

Fugazi's bassist Joe Lally launched a solo career with There To Here (2006) and Nothing is Underrated (2007).

Messthetics was formed in 2016 by pyrotechnic guitarist Anthony Pirog, former guitarist of the jazz combo Kung Fu Bastard (2017) with reedist Bobby Muncy, who drafted Fugazi's formidable rhythm section (bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty) for the instrumental albums Messthetics (Dischord, 2018), a punk-jazz workout (Mythomania, Quantum Path) with nods to post-rock (The Inner Ocean) that sounded like Joe Satriani fronting a vintage prog-rock combo, and Anthropocosmic Nest (2019), a less aggressive work despite the hysterical Better Wings, the pulsing industrial voodoobilly Scrawler and the metal accelerations of Drop Foot. Pirog also led the Spellcasters of Music From The Anacostia Delta (Cuneiform, 2019), with Joel Harrison and Dave Chappell, plus Barry Hart on drums and John Previte on bass.

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