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Six definitive songs: The ultimate beginner's guide to Fugazi

Fugazi are probably the most influential punk band of all time. This is not to disregard the groundbreaking original punk waves on either side of the Atlantic that rose up in the late 1970s or other D.C. contemporaries such as Black Flag and the rest of the hardcore movement. However, Fugazi are so much more than just unbelievable songwriters. The band can only be described as the visceral sum of its electrifying parts. Guitarist and vocalists Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty comprise the groundbreaking outfit.

Formed in 1986, before creating Fugazi, three of its members had already made an indelible mark on the realm of alternative culture, including punk and indie. Ian MacKaye had been the frontman of seminal hardcore punks Minor Threat from 1980-1983 and co-founded iconic independent label Dischord Records in 1980 alongside Minor Threat drummer Jeff Nelson. Along with D.C. contemporaries Bad Brains and Black Flag, Minor Threat set the standard for hardcore punk. Their song ‘Straight Edge’ inspired the iconic straight edge movement, and they also had a massive impact on the DIY movement.

From 1984-86 Picciotto had been the guitarist/vocalist and Canty the drummer of influential D.C. band Rites of Spring. Although their career was fleeting, Rites of Spring were part of the 1985 Revolution Summer movement alongside Beefeater and Embrace. More importantly, though, their experimentation with compositional rules in addition to their visceral hardcore style became highly influential. They are widely credited as the first emo band, a claim Rites of Spring have always refuted. Canty had also played in Dischord band Deadline.

If it feels as if we have brushed over Lally’s impact on punk, he has also been influential along with his funky basslines. In 1994 he founded Tolotta Records and has had an extensive solo career, even touring with Melvins. At this point, it is only right we label Fugazi as a supergroup.

From Fugazi’s inception in 1986 to their hiatus in 2003, the band released six studio albums, four EP’s and one soundtrack. The vast array of legends they have inspired and count as fans is dizzying. These include Eddie Vedder, Johnny Marr, Elliott Smith, Joe Strummer, Tool, The White Stripes, Interpol, Bloc Party, Lorde, The 1975, Carrie Brownstein, Arcade Fire, Rage Against the Machine, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Nirvana — basically, all of them.

These legends who count Fugazi as an influence are only the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other pioneers that have cited the D.C. heroes as having a significant impact. Fugazi are your favourite band’s favourite band. 

Musically they incorporated hardcore and art-punk, experimental, jazz and reggae, making them one of the most exciting bands around. However, their pioneering style and influence exist outside the musical realm as well. Taking off in the DIY fashion where their previous band’s left off, Fugazi embodies all that is amazing about music and punk. They never charged high prices for shows, and they were fully progressive, even refusing to be interviewed by glossy publications that advertise tobacco and alcohol. These steadfast and groundbreaking social policies had a defining impact on their works and others’.

It is only right then that we list the six definitive Fugazi songs, evenly showing off their varied and iconic back catalogue. Honestly, it is cruel to trim it down to six, but here we go.

Fugazi’s six definitive songs:

‘Glue Man’ – 13 Songs (1989)

The seventh track on Fugazi’s 1989 compilation album, 13 Songs, ‘Glue Man’ stands out as a statement of intent. As a Picciotto song, it resonates as a more arty number in their back catalogue. It features droning guitars and echoing, reverb-drenched vocals that sound like insanity is a genuine and tangible prospect.

‘Glue Man’ instantly grabs the attention and makes you wanna lose your shit. Lally’s bass is a heavy, sinister element lurking in the background that adds to the visceral drone of the song. There also exists footage of Picciotto cutting crazy shapes to this track live.

I would give anything to see them perform this live again.

‘Blueprint’ – Repeater (1990)

Another Picciotto composition, not only does ‘Blueprint’ stand out from their debut album Repeater, but it also stands out from their entire back catalogue. It is an example of the artier, and, dare we say it, emo mode of Rites of Spring blending into Fugazi’s work. Again, it features droning high pitched guitars and the melodic bridge. Even the vocal melody is more emotive than usual.

The song ramps up at the end with the classic line “Never mind what’s been selling, It’s what you’re buying and receiving undefiled” — indicative of their anti-capitalist stance. The repeated chant of “never mind” at the end is a sardonic take on the complacency of consumerism.

‘Turnover’ – Repeater (1990)

The other standout from 1990’s Repeater is ‘Turnover’. The spine chilling, turning up and down of the guitars volume knob, the groovy bassline that enters the mix, then the spiky guitars of MacKaye and Picciotto pierce the mix like a dagger. The first cry of “Languor rises reaching” catapults this entry forward.

This art-punk masterpiece combines all that is great about Fugazi. Hardcore, dub, art-punk and visceral dynamics. The band masterfully ramp up the action before slowing it down and bringing you right back to the start of the song.

It will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

‘Smallpox Champion’ – In on the Kill Taker (1993)

Starting with that hazy Sonic Youth-esque intro, the equilibrium is soon disrupted. Taken from their abrasive third album, 1993’s In on the Kill Taker, ‘Smallpox Champion’ is an unhinged triumph. It perfectly captures the bands more aggressive approach on In on the Kill Taker.

Musically, it is quick and super abrasive then jumps into that indie sounding ending with the dovetailing guitars. MacKaye and Picciotto give Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore a run for their money on ‘Smallpox Champion’.

The song is classic Fugazi in the way it starts quick and abrasive, seemingly about to fall apart, and then ties it all together for a melodic ending where Rites of Spring can certainly be heard. It is one of the most effective crescendos in their arsenal.

‘Bed for the Scraping’ – Red Medicine (1995)

Fugazi’s fifth album Red Medicine, has influenced everyone from Refused to John Frusciante and Russian Circles. It is also their most commercially successful album. The band opted to move away from an in-your-face production approach and instead wanted to create a more natural, ambient sound.

Red Medicine can be viewed as the band genuinely heading in a more experimental direction. It features off-kilter songwriting and is highly effective. It is challenging yet accessible work, a paradox that can be put down to the production.

‘Bed for the Scraping’ is a noisy, melodic piece and you can definitley see its influence splattered all over Refused’s magnum opus, The Shape of Punk to Come. A pacey, anthemic number marked by the classic MacKaye-Picciotto vocal duel, it is one of the catchiest moments on the album and of their career.

‘Full Disclosure’ – The Argument (2001)

Released in October 2001, The Argument is the final offering from Fugazi. Upon release, it was met with critical and commercial acclaim and is hailed as one of the most pivotal post-hardcore releases. It is the most diverse and experimental opus in their back catalogue. MacKaye described the album’s title as referring to “an anti-war manifesto”. He expanded, ” I will not agree with war across the board. It also talks about a greater argument: that these giant aeroplanes are dropping tons of homicidal weaponry, blowing the shit out of everybody, and guys are running around with guns. And that is an argument of colossal scale.”

For many songs on The Argument, the band picked apart or reworked songs that were already written and created this offering of totally new works. While there are many standouts, ‘Full Disclosure’ has to be the one. It features everything. Lally’s funky, unhinged basslines, the spiralling, spiky guitars of the frontmen and a whole array of dynamic changes. 

It is possibly the most pop Fugazi got. The chorus is a hazy, poppy melody and thus sticks out from their arsenal. This is an effective piece of songwriting as it perfectly contrasts the nearly inaudible MacKaye of the verses. The chorus also features indie-esque ooh’s, indicative of the time maybe?

The chorus is so catchy, you will have this song on repeat.

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