Fugazi's live shows have become legendary. Now the post-punk band's archive of live tapes and other items is being rolled out online.
Fugazi, the pioneering post-punk band that became one of the most exciting live bands in the world, launched a massive online archive Thursday that documents hundreds of searing shows recorded between 1987 and 2003.
The Washington, D.C., band ripped up the music industry rule book during that time, hitting audiences with caustically catchy tunes, impromptu set lists and dirt-cheap ticket prices. Though the group’s long been on indefinite hiatus, its members — singer-guitarists Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty — still stay in touch, and have spent the last years assembling the digital archive of Fugazi’s entire live-show career.
Called Fugazi Live Series, the site launched with 130 shows and will eventually uncork at least 800 concert recordings, plus countless photos, fliers and notes documenting the performances. (Fans can submit their own documentary pieces as well.) Downloads will be sold on a sliding scale of $1 to $100 (suggested price: $5 per show), with an all-access subscription going for $500.
MacKaye spoke with Wired earlier this summer about the project. What follows is a condensed and edited overview of how it got off the ground.
Fugazi started playing Sept. 3, 1987. At the very beginning, we had a friend — a sound man named Joey Picuri — tape shows, then give us a copy on cassette, just to get some idea of how things were sounding. [Later], Joey started to travel with us, and set up a recording for every show. And he kept giving us little suitcases of tapes, which I stuck in the closet.
The only reason we’d go back to ever listen to them would be if [there was] a specifically humorous encounter with the crowd. There was a show in Chicago in 1990 — a very, very heavy skinhead era — and during the song “Suggestion,” all these skinhead kids bum-rushed the stage. So I just handed my guitar to them, because this seemed absurd. And Joe immediately handed over his bass to another one, Guy handed his mic, and Brendan gave over the drumsticks. And these four skinhead kids started to play. None of them could actually play the instruments, but they did a song in the middle of ours. Then we took the gear back from them and finished our song.
We enjoyed listening to that stuff, but it not’s like we were listening to all the tapes. In fact, I can assure you that, after you’ve played for two hours, the last thing you want to listen to in the van is yourself.
By the end of [Fugazi's run], we played about 1,100 shows, and we had over 800 recorded, all sitting in my closet. We put out 30 shows on CDs, but it just seemed there was no way to really open up the whole treasure chest; it was like you had a piece of coal that nothing could open. I come from a family of documentarians and journalists — people who think not that what they did was necessarily important, but that posterity is important.
‘We weren’t trying to break down the record industry, and we weren’t trying to suck up to it.’
What happened in America with punk-rock in the early ’80s is extremely significant. We weren’t trying to break down the record industry, and we weren’t trying to suck up to it. We were trying to create a parallel world — one that could exist on its own, and one that wasn’t reliant on cash, but on people’s interests and commitment. I think evidence of that is important for people to be able to check. And Fugazi comes directly out of that world.
At some point, internet speeds started to really crank up, and we were like, “Here it is. This is how you can get to the diamond.” So what we’ve done is created a website that will [catalog] every show we played: who opened for us, what the door price was, how many people were there. Then we’re going to start with 100 new shows, on top of the 30 we already released, with the idea of trying to get it up maybe 25 or more a month.
The only artist I can think of that has done something like this is the Grateful Dead. I’m not a fan of their music necessarily, but I am very interested in the way they did their business. They’re savvy. They gave a fuck. They really cared about their people, their fans. They had an awful lot of shows recorded, obviously, and made all this stuff available. And I think their fans deserve that, because that was the relationship they had with each other.
I have to say, having not played a show in eight years with Fugazi, listening to this stuff, I’m really struck, because we could play. You know, when you’re in a band, you don’t think about that, because you’re too busy playing. But listening to them, I’m like, “There’s good stuff here.” And there’s [also] plenty of moments where I listen and I just cringe. But that’s the way it goes, warts and all. Nothing is being suppressed.
Fugazi spent an enormous amount of money on this. We all like working on these projects. The four of us actually love each other. We’re like a family. We constantly keep in touch. But in terms of, does it make me want to get back in the van with them again? That’s always been there anyway. I think people feel like, “What’s the deal? When are you guys gonna play again?” I don’t know. That’s not the point. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is the four of us: We are who we are, and we do what we do.