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Steady Diet of Ideology

Like many self-styled punks of the late 1980s, Ian MacKaye of the seminal Washington, D.C., bands Minor Threat and Fugazi talked the ideological talk, railing about the evils of corporate music and the soul-rotting effects of consumer culture. But unlike many of his peers, who eventually went into business with major labels and compromised their values, MacKaye actually walked the walk. As both a musician and a label owner, he used all available business leverage to advocate what he thought best for his audiences. He insisted on cheap tickets (at the height of Fugazi's popularity, admission was usually $15, with no service charge) and cheap CDs, and no liquor or tobacco advertising.

MacKaye became more of a hero for his thinking—he pioneered the clean-living approach that came to be known as "straight-edge" within the hardcore punk community—than for the music his bands made. That's unfortunate, because when future generations look beyond the MacKaye media profile, they'll discover an iteration of punk that was both intelligent and thrilling, and far more original than many scenesters at the time recognized. Named for Vietnam-era GI slang (Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In), Fugazi built an abrasive attack from two disciplined overlapping guitars (played by MacKaye and Guy Picciotto) and chanted taunts expressing varying levels of outrage. "Merchandise" is typical: Over an almost Neanderthal, gleefully mangled ska beat, MacKaye and company imagine themselves as evil shopkeepers, yelling the refrain, "We owe you nothing, you have no control."

Repeater, the band's full-length debut, is American hardcore with energy to burn. Though the lyrics do tend to hit MacKaye's pet themes over and over (could that explain the title?), the music moves all over the place—as they progress, these wound-too-tight tunes touch dub reggae and island polyrhythm as well as scalding free jazz and four-on-the-floor rock. All of it feels guided by a strong sense of purpose, which might be the X factor missing from so much hardcore: When every other punk band was selling out and cashing in, Fugazi stayed true to its ideals. It didn't cave when it easily (and profitably) could have. Even in the soul-sucking music business, that oughta count for something.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1990, Dischord
Key Tracks: "Turnover," "Merchandise," "Greed," "Sieve-Fisted Find"
Catalog Choice: Fugazi: Steady Diet of Nothing. Minor Threat: Out of Step.
Next Stop: Rage Against the Machine: Rage Against the Machine
After That: Bad Brains: I Against I
Book Pages: 291–292

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#1 from Jay, Dallas - 12/28/2009 9:19

Good Album,Fantastic Band . . .

Though I personally would’ve chosen “13 Songs” for its initial revolutionary value or my personal favorite “In On The Kill Taker” I cannot listen to this album without taking a deep introspective journey. Their newest album “The Argument” is also incredible in itself, very experimental sound-wise, especially for this band.

#2 from Ian, Portland - 01/17/2011 12:42

I prefer Killtaker too.  But yes, Repeater was the first proper Fugazi record, with Ian and Guy both on guitar. 

BTW.  Shows back in the day were $5.  Not $15.

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