Ian MacKaye Out of Step

Ian MacKaye Out of Step
When first approached about participating in this Timeline, Ian MacKaye politely declined. A pioneer of punk, hardcore, and independent music, MacKaye has fostered cultural change with the strength of his convictions, playing music on his own terms. Within his revolutionary work as an artist, MacKaye is a reluctant figurehead with no desire to perpetuate his own legend. "The thing you have to understand about me is I care but I don’t give a fuck,” he explains. "That’s just straight up. I really, really care about my work and the people I work with but ultimately, I don’t give a fuck. If you’d never called me and just wrote this story, I’d be like, ‘all right.’ Let me tell you something; I’ve had shit written about me that is so off base, so cruel, that if I cared, I wouldn’t be able to wake up and get out of bed. People are so uncharitable and so poor-minded with such dark aims; it becomes discouraging for me.”

In the end, MacKaye agreed to help ensure that this piece was as accurate as possible, separating facts from long-held fiction. It was a gracious move by a proactive artist interested more in his productive future than his accomplished past. "I reckon there’ll be a point in my life, perhaps, where there’ll be time to reflect on this sort of stuff but I would hope it would come after I feel that I’m finished doing things — so maybe it’ll never come.”

1962 to 1974
Ian MacKaye is born on April 16, 1962 in Washington D.C. to William R. and Mary Anne "Ginger” MacKaye. Both writers, Bill left the Seminary and later worked for the Washington Post for 20 years, including a stint as religion editor. Prior to this, Bill was a White House reporter and was in the motorcade when JFK was assassinated; most recently, he edited the crossword puzzle for the Washington Post Magazine. Ginger was a historical writer ("Ian MacKaye,” Dan Sinker, Punk Planet, #31, May/June 1999, p.41) and later became the unlikely matriarch of D.C. punk. Ian is one of five children and the MacKaye family is close. "When I didn’t go to school, my parents didn’t give me a hard time at all,” MacKaye later tells Punk Planet. "They were totally supportive. They knew that music was so important to me.” (Sinker, 41) MacKaye falls for the idealism and countercultural aspects of rock ‘n’ roll early, repeatedly watching Woodstock and listening to Jimi Hendrix. In 1974, Bill pursues a fellowship at Stanford University and the MacKayes live in Palo Alto, California for nine months.

1975 to 1976
At 13 years old, Ian returns to D.C. to discover his old friends drinking, smoking pot, and committing petty crimes; missing this transition, he is not impressed and abstains. (Our Band Could Be Your Life, by Michael Azerrad, p.120) A charismatic teen, MacKaye stuck out among a fledgling skateboarding posse of Woodrow Wilson High School renegades and neighbourhood kids such as Jeff Nelson and Henry Garfield. (Dance of Days, by Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkins, p.20-21)

1977 to 1978
MacKaye gravitates towards hard rock; at his first concert, he sees Queen and Thin Lizzy on the "Bohemian Rhapsody Tour” and they floor him. Soon after, he and Garfield attend a Ted Nugent show together, marvelling at his gonzo antics. Outspokenly anti-drugs, the Nuge in particular affects MacKaye and his fellow skaters for his intimidating virtuosity. Sensing that playing music is beyond him, the long-haired MacKaye sticks to skating. (Azerrad, 121) MacKaye’s interest in music resurfaces, however, after buying his first punk rock record (Sagittarius Bumpersticker) by a local father-and-son band called White Boy. The single’s homespun sound and look are a revelation. "That was my first inkling of an underground independent music thing,” MacKaye said. (Azzerad, 122) Older Wilson High kids like Nathan Strejcek adopt the British punk look and the skaters take notice. By 1978, Georgetown University radio station WGTB is a punk lifeline for MacKaye and company, who also make frequent trips to a nearby record store called Yesterday and Today, run by knowledgeable punk enthusiast Skip Groff. (Andersen and Jenkins, 23)

On January 31, Georgetown University shuts down WGTB. Three days later, the frustration felt by MacKaye and other teens over the loss of the station manifests itself in a demonstration during the day and a rare all-ages concert that night at the Hall of Nations featuring New York’s the Cramps. Among the teenaged crowd, are four conspicuous black men, handing out flyers for an upcoming basement show by their brand new band, Bad Brains who will soon take D.C. by storm. A near-riot breaks out during the Cramps’ set, as singer Lux Interior taps into the crowd’s rage and chairs and windows are smashed. "At the time I thought Ted Nugent was really wild, so the Cramps show totally changed my life,” MacKaye recalled. "It was everything I thought rock ‘n’ roll should be. I was like, ‘This is it, I’m a punk rock motherfucker.’”(Andersen and Jenkins, 36) Weeks later, MacKaye and Nelson shave their heads and attend the Clash’s first D.C. show, stoking their desire to start a band. Though unfamiliar with their instruments, Nelson plays drums and MacKaye plays bass and they hook up with guitarist Geordie Grindle and singer Mark Sullivan to form the Slinkees. They learn covers ("Louie Louie”) and then write originals like the hippie-deriding "Deadhead,” "I Drink Milk,” and "Conservative Rock” among others. MacKaye later calls these "my first protest songs” (Andersen and Jenkins, 36) but the Slinkees play only one show before Sullivan goes off to college. He is replaced on vocals by Strejcek and, heavily influenced by Brit-punk and the speed and ethos of the proto-hardcore Bad Brains, the Teen Idles (with Garfield serving as an auxiliary member/roadie) emerge in December. (Andersen and Jenkins, 54)

The Teen Idles’ punk look earns them undue attention from straight-laced jocks looking to fight. The band’s raw sound and youth-oriented lyrics inspire handles such as "Georgetown punks” (for the affluent neighbourhood where they hang out and work after-school) and the derisive "teeny-punk,” yet their ferocity is undeniable. The older Bad Brains guide them with their credo "Positive Mental Attitude” (PMA) after Strejcek’s parents’ basement serves as a practice space for both bands. The two share numerous gigs around D.C. and an early Teen Idles flyer promises "young fun new clean rock… no drugs.” (Andersen and Jenkins, 57) Less enamoured with Brit-punk, Georgetown punks soon look to west coast bands the Germs, Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag for inspiration and the Teen Idles crew take a bus to California for shows in August 1980. (Azerrad, 125) In San Francisco, they’re removed from a bill at the Mabuhay Gardens with Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, and Flipper, after the promoter decides they’re too young. They play a mismatched bill the next night instead but learn much from attending the DK show. The bar’s all-ages policy entails that underage kids have a black "X” marked on their hands so that bartenders know they’re not to be served alcohol. Circle Jerks fans also introduce slam dancing and fighting bouncers to the awestruck D.C. punks who are empowered by what they witness and bring it home with them. (Andersen and Jenkins, 66) While a demo session earlier in the year was abandoned, the Teen Idles talk about making a record; Skip Groff takes them seriously and produces a session for them at the Inner Ear home studio run by engineer Don Zientara. As completion of the eight songs winds down, the newly religious Grindle and atheist Nelson fall out, and the Teen Idles disintegrate. The record is shelved and, with MacKaye writing more songs that he wants to sing, he and Nelson resolve to start a new band. MacKaye sways Extorts singer Lyle Preslar to play guitar (the Extorts morph into State of Alert or S.O.A. with Garfield on vocals) and Brian Baker to play bass; the four practice new songs like "Straight Edge” even before the Teen Idles have finished. (Andersen and Jenkins, 70) The last Teen Idles show takes place in November at the new 9:30 Club, with management heeding the band’s wish to allow X-marked minors inside; X-marked hands eventually become the key signifier of straight edge punk. After the show, Nelson and MacKaye resolve that their new band will be called Minor Threat but, along with Groff, re-visit their old band’s recent recording session. Using the Teen Idles’ savings ($600), MacKaye, Nelson, and Strejcek press and self-assemble 1000 copies of the Idles’ Minor Disturbance E.P. seven-inch on their own label in December, which MacKaye dubs Dischord Records. ("The Teen Idles,” Putting DC on the Map, Dischord Records, p.16) Minor Threat play their first show at a house party opening up for Bad Brains in December and, miles ahead of the ramshackle Teen Idles, they floor everyone with their prowess and intensity with a sound soon dubbed "harDCore.”

With fanzines and college radio supporting Minor Disturbance, Dischord fill orders from across the U.S. and MacKaye and Nelson resolve to put any profits into releasing records by emerging bands like Government Issue, Youth Brigade, and S.O.A. With Ronald Reagan’s inauguration fresh in the air, the Washington Post condemns the Georgetown punks for displays of anger, violence, and defiance of all authority. Minor Threat record their first demo with Zientara and Groff in February or March but return a month later to improve upon the songs. In March, MacKaye and others raise eyebrows with their slamdancing at a Black Flag show in New York; critic Robert Christgau describes them as "muscleheads from Washington” in a review. Dischord later flips the insult for its Flex Your Head compilation. (Andersen and Jenkins, 83/Azerrad, 133) Black Flag are impressed by the antics and a year later audition Garfield to be their lead singer; excited for a fresh start in L.A., he’s accepted and changes his name to Henry Rollins. In June, Minor Threat’s self-titled, eight-song debut is released and its impact is immediate. Combining airtight musicianship, unbridled rage, and tunefulness, songs like "Filler,” "Screaming at a Wall,” and "Straight Edge” reveal MacKaye’s talents as a lyricist and lead singer, and his righteousness and moral stance is equally emulated and derided. Much to MacKaye’s surprise, "straight edge” soon blossoms into a philosophical lifestyle of abstinence from casual sex, drugs, and alcohol. When a 10-date tour with Youth Brigade in August goes awry, Preslar opts to attend Northwestern University that fall and Minor Threat disbands. Before they split, they record a second EP, In My Eyes, featuring the controversial "straight edge” anthem "Out of Step” and MacKaye’s self-conscious chronicle of living in a predominantly black community, "Guilty of Being White,” which is misinterpreted as a white pride song. (On their 1996 album Undisputed Attitude, the metal band Slayer cover the song, and alter one chorus to "guilty of being right.”) Fearing that MacKaye doesn’t enunciate the "I” before the "don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t fuck, etc.” lyric on "Out of Step,” the song causes tension within the band, as other members (who occasionally smoke pot and drink) view MacKaye’s lyrics as dogmatic, while he believes its message is subjective and clearly positions him as a self-reflexive writer. Nevertheless, the band will later re-record the song complete with an explanatory rap by MacKaye and a revised lyric sheet accompanies its release. With Preslar gone, MacKaye and Nelson team up with guitarist Eddie Janney and bassist John Falls and form the short-lived Skewbald/Grand Union; MacKaye and Nelson cannot compromise on the name so they use both. ("Skewbald/Grand Union,” Putting DC on the Map, 36) In October, feature film star and former Saturday Night Live player John Belushi agrees to make a cameo appearance on his old show if producer Lorne Michaels allows L.A. punks Fear to perform on an episode. Procuring his number from mutual acquaintance Penelope Spheeris (director of the punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization and later Wayne’s World), Michaels and Belushi call MacKaye’s home early one morning and ask him to assemble D.C. punks to slam dance on the air. MacKaye complies and, despite a raucous rehearsal in which a small piece of plastic is damaged on one of the television cameras, the punks appear on the broadcast. Deeming the dancers too unruly, producers cut to commercial early; afterwards, SNL lock the punks in a room for two hours and threaten to sue for the damages to the camera. ("Nardwuar vs. Ian MacKaye,” Doot Doola Doot Doo…Doot Doo, Mint Records, 2006) Strejcek reluctantly withdraws from the label’s operations, particularly after MacKaye and Nelson find an Arlington-area home they soon dub "Dischord House.” (Andersen and Jenkins, 98) The two keep straight-jobs to maintain the label’s operations and pay the bills, with MacKaye at one point juggling shifts at an ice cream parlour, a movie theatre, and as a newspaper delivery driver. (Azerrad, 143) After its December release, In My Eyes brings Minor Threat posthumous national attention and hardcore scenes sprout up across the land.

MacKaye believes the band still has fans to reach and, when Preslar drops out of school, Minor Threat re-form in April, 1982. Facing a backlash for reuniting from a once close-knit D.C. community, MacKaye pens the sarcastic "Cashing In” before the band embark on their first national tour. Though questions about "straight edge” hound him, MacKaye is excited by the bands and audiences he encounters. To MacKaye’s chagrin, Baker insists on switching from bass to guitar that fall and recruits Steve Hansgen to play bass instead. The new Minor Threat play few shows that winter but they are filmed for the documentary Another State of Mind and they open for PiL; much to MacKaye’s disappointment, his hero John Lydon arrives by limousine after Minor Threat’s set.

1983 to 1984
In January, recording for Out of Step commences with lyrics pondering disintegrating relationships and fractious hardcore purism; upon its March release, the EP sells 3,500 copies in one week. Dischord develops an important business relationship with John Loder’s Southern Records, which manufactures and distributes Dischord’s catalogue in Europe. That spring, Minor Threat play 33 shows in 49 days across the U.S. and Canada and band tensions boil over. (Azerrad, 147) With the band paid minimally for shows, MacKaye is frugal on the road, which frustrates his band mates; their arguments about money on tour lead MacKaye to proclaim that their vehicle is "the van of hell.” (Andersen and Jenkins, 140) Baker and Preslar grow increasingly frustrated with the interactive nature of Minor Threat shows, with fans crashing the stage (and knocking their guitars out of tune) to sing along and dance; conversely, this openness means the world to MacKaye. Hansgen isn’t gelling with the band and on their return to D.C., he is dispatched and Baker is back on bass. To MacKaye’s dismay, the instrumentalists in Minor Threat fall in love with U2’s War, and emulate its sound. Unable and unwilling to sing over such melodic songs, MacKaye begins skipping practices; the ones he does attend turn into prolonged screaming matches and he soon withdraws completely. Weeks after what ends up being their final show on September 23, a band meeting is called and, sensing their commercial opportunities, Preslar and Baker make demands for stage risers and more say in money matters. (Andersen and Jenkins, 148) MacKaye realizes that the band is irreversibly divided and Minor Threat is finished for good; he acquiesces to Nelson’s pleas to record their final three songs and the Salad Days seven-inch is posthumously released in 1985. Overcoming severe depression after Minor Threat dissolved and dealing with Dischord’s mounting debts, MacKaye spends part of 1984 working at Groff’s record store. He focuses on documenting the shifting D.C. music scene and produces young bands, including the explosive Rites of Spring, which features guitarist Guy Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty.

A year and a half after disbanding Minor Threat, MacKaye and Nelson figure it’s time to start a new band together but discover that lingering Minor Threat frustrations exist; after brief get-togethers, they each resolve to work with other musicians. ("Embrace,” Putting DC on the Map, 50) MacKaye hooks up with guitarist Michael Hampton, bassist Chris Bald, and drummer Ivor Hanson. Ironically, these three went through an acrimonious split as Faith, a band fronted by Ian’s brother Alec. ("Embrace,” Putting DC on the Map, 50) Bald christens the band Embrace and their July debut during Washington’s spiritual "Revolution Summer” features an emotionally pent-up MacKaye bellowing over a startlingly moody soundtrack of melodious bass and edgy, atmospheric guitar. (Andersen and Jenkins, 183) Embrace lack the speed of MacKaye’s previous bands but contain a hauntingly stark intensity. The D.C. punk scene is in flux and shows attract ultra-violent skinhead gangs (dubbed "Rambo punks”) that co-opt the empowering, collective release of slam dancing and stage-diving; concerts erupt in riots, vandalism, and serious injuries and stabbings are reported. (Andersen and Jenkins, 171-172) By their second show, Embrace are handing out lyric sheets to audience members and, along with Rites of Spring, discouraging slam dancing skinheads at their shows, championing respect for one another instead (Andersen and Jenkins, 193) Embrace enter an upgraded Inner Ear near the end of 1985 and again in February of 1986 and record 14 songs.

MacKaye’s emergent political lyrics and Embrace’s sound challenges fans and the skate-mag Thrasher dubs it "emo-core.” Though it is eventually shortened and accepted as "emo,” MacKaye calls it "the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life” on-stage at the 9:30 Club in March. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbdh0Qm_5A0) Alas, this proves to be Embrace’s final show, as Bald and Hampton, who frequently butt heads in their friendship, experience a serious falling out. That spring Nelson and MacKaye travel to England on Dischord business and record two songs with Loder; titling the project Egg Hunt after its Easter weekend session, the duo release a seven-inch that fall, marking MacKaye’s recorded debut on guitar and their last musical collaboration to date. ("Egg Hunt,” Putting DC on the Map, 54) While MacKaye is away, Embrace is supposed to practice for a tour but they don’t; after MacKaye confronts them about this, he quits and Embrace is finished. (Andersen and Jenkins, 206) Their self-titled debut isn’t released until September, 1987 but is considered a harbinger of "emo.” Tired of dysfunctional infighting, MacKaye resolves to work with like-minded musicians interested in affecting positive change. From his days in Minor Threat, he maintains a belief in the importance of all-ages shows, low ticket prices, and a disavowal of mainstream rock distractions such as drugs and alcohol. Inspired by activist initiatives in D.C. over the past few years, Dischord donates energy to local organizations, including No Business as Usual who demonstrate against Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (a.k.a. "Star Wars”). (Andersen and Jenkins, 223) Similarly, MacKaye hopes his new band will be "militant” with their music, performing at as many thought-provoking benefits and free shows as possible. (Andersen and Jenkins, 232-233) That fall, he meets Joe Lally, a former metal fan and harDCore convert who roadied for Dischord band Beefeater that summer. The two hit it off, sharing a mutual interest in local metal band the Obsessed, the Stooges, James Brown, and Jamaican dub reggae. On September 24, they practice together with Dag Nasty drummer Colin Sears; MacKaye plays guitar, Lally bass. (Azerrad, 385)

Though the trio gets closer to the reggae/funk rhythms and intense, driving guitar that MacKaye is striving for, he is unsure he can sing and play guitar at the same time. Sears leaves after a couple of months and the drummer’s seat is vacant. As his latest band (Happy Go Licky) with longtime friend and band mate Picciotto disintegrates, Canty begins to drop in on MacKaye and Lally in February, sitting in on drums on a "temporary basis” and the three practice relentlessly, honing an unusually intense sound that swings. That summer, MacKaye is approached to assist with State of the Union, a benefit compilation and concert for Positive Force, a Washington-based activist group working for social change and youth empowerment. Not only will Dischord help with the comp, MacKaye decides that his new band will be called Fugazi — Vietnam veteran’s slang for "a fucked up situation” — and will be ready to play its first show. With Canty in tow, that September Fugazi debut their first batch of songs ("Waiting Room,” "Furniture,” "Song #1,” "Turn Off Your Guns,” etc.) at the Wilson Center. Early Fugazi shows are open, inclusive celebrations, with hordes of people singing along, dancing non-violently on stage, and adding instrumentation. Picciotto is often present as a singer/dancer/roadie and is soon invited to join the band, which he resists initially out of respect for the trio’s tight chemistry. In the winter of 1987, MacKaye produces the Rollins Band’s Life Time in Leeds, England. While there, he meets industrial music pioneer Al Jourgensen of Ministry and the two collaborate together as Pailhead, releasing the electro-punk Trait EP on Chicago’s Wax Trax label. (Azerrad, 387)

Picciotto soon sees a role for himself as vocal foil to MacKaye, singing back-up and dancing frenetically before becoming a full-time member in 1988 when Happy Go Licky finally collapses. Many shows are filmed or recorded in some way. In the New Year, Fugazi play countless benefits for Positive Force around D.C. and set out for the road where van troubles and discussions prove to be bonding experiences. A demo begins circulating but Fugazi light out for the west coast without a record; this is the earliest indicator that the band will never sell records or t-shirts at their shows, and MacKaye’s song "Merchandise” derides consumer culture. Eschewing the rock club circuit, they book their own all-ages shows at unconventional venues, charge no more than $5 per show, and play for door deals rather than guarantees. If their conditions aren’t met, the band simply refuse to perform. Promoters are told not to mention Minor Threat in advertising shows and Fugazi halts concerts that become too violent, politely admonishing trouble-making "dancers” to respect those around them to ensure a comfortable environment for all in attendance. Unruly dancers who ignore the band’s request are offered a refund from the diminutive but seemingly fearless MacKaye who, on some occasions, personally escorts assholes out of the venue in the middle of a set. Essentially, Fugazi enter the rock music game but write their own rulebook, downplaying the marketplace vibe at the shows specifically (i.e. records will be distributed for sale by Dischord but will never appear on-sale at a concert merchandise table; they will never create Fugazi t-shirts, stickers, or buttons to sell, etc.) and making the music the focus. Each show seems to elicit a new song, including evocative Picciotto compositions such as "Break-In” and the AIDS-inspired "Give Me the Cure.” MacKaye writes a powerful song defending women’s rights called "Suggestion,” and his original vision of Fugazi as a politically provocative and ideas-oriented band seems to be coming to fruition. (Andersen and Jenkins, 259) In June, Fugazi record a seven-song EP at Inner Ear with Ted Niceley producing and it’s released in November. After the session, Fugazi head out for a long, hard European tour; in December, the exhausted band record the Margin Walker EP in London with Loder at Southern Studios. (Azerrad, 398) Dischord release a remarkable video called Minor Threat Live in August; it will be expanded as a DVD in 2003. On their most extensive U.S. tour, Fugazi find a sister city in Olympia, Washington, home of kindred spirit/old friend Calvin Johnson, founder of K Records.

Picciotto begins to play second guitar, offsetting MacKaye’s dense rhythmic patterns with trebly Rickenbacker complements that free up the band to improvise. Aside from having two of the most electrifyingly intricate guitarists around, Fugazi also boasts the stunning rhythm section of Lally and Canty and the band conjure a dramatically fresh and influential sound, with stop-start songs whispering and screaming at will, bound by no rules. Fugazi is also ultra-collaborative, with all four contributing to each other’s instrumental parts and lyrics. In April the State of the Union comp is released on Dischord with Fugazi contributing "In Defense of Humans.” Margin Walker is released in June; in September it is combined with the band’s debut for the CD 13 Songs. In September, they return to Inner Ear with Niceley and record their first full-length album, Repeater, a classic collection of songs about how personal decisions can affect political change. Picciotto songs like "Turnover” and "Blueprint” continue to be abstract, while MacKaye’s "Merchandise” and "Shut the Door” (about a friend’s heroin overdose) are more direct.

Dischord releases a Minor Threat discography collection in January 1990. Later that month, the startling seven-inch 3 Songs is released, Repeater follows in March, and both are combined on CD; it goes on to sell 100,000 copies — an astounding number given the minimal promotion that Dischord chooses to invest — through the year. (Azerrad, 405-406) Fugazi tours throughout North America and Europe for most of the year, gaining a loyal audience and drawing interest from major labels like CBS, which they ignore. (Andersen and Jenkins, 288) At home they continue to play benefits, including one for the Washington Free Clinic and a show for inmates at a prison. While they are a powerful musical force, they are almost better known for their ethics and sense of equality, particularly in their valued relationship with their audience. MacKaye handles virtually all of the administrative aspects of Fugazi, right down to insisting that he drive the van. (Azerrad, 404) Dischord continues to foster bands such as Soulside and Nation of Ulysses and release records that rarely exceed $10 postage paid.

On January 12, Fugazi perform in the freezing cold in Lafayette Park across from the White House; originally meant to draw attention to D.C.’s homeless, the event develops into an anti-war protest against President George Bush’s Operation Desert Storm. 3,000 people attend and Fugazi’s set is legendary. That month they enter Inner Ear with Zientara engineering but produce themselves. Songs like "Exit Only,” "Reclamation,” "Long Division,” and the fierce "KYEO” are darker and the unpolished production give them a very direct feel. In June MacKaye produces and pays for an Inner Ear session by transplanted Olympia-based band, Bikini Kill, who help foster the riot grrrl movement; the results appear on the band’s self-titled EP. (Wikipedia, Bikini Kill, 2007) As he did in the ‘80s, MacKaye will produce countless D.C. bands throughout the 90s. Fugazi’s new record Steady Diet of Nothing is released in August 1991 with pre-orders of 160,000; that same month they headline the legendary International Pop Underground Convention organized by Calvin Johnson in Olympia. (Andersen and Jenkins, 304)

The mainstream success of Nirvana (originally from Olympia) pushes underground rock into the spotlight; Fugazi are suddenly the cool band to namedrop for their steadfast allegiance to independent music, which is in vogue. The attention makes the band members uncomfortable, and they repeatedly turn down interview requests from Rolling Stone and Spin in favour of fanzines and independent media. Their long-held belief in personal, grassroots connections manifests itself in their relationship with their audience; they continue to answer every piece of fan mail they receive as quickly as possible, but reject notions that Fugazi is any sort of musical moral compass. On its relatively small scale, Dischord flourishes, releasing records by Lungfish, Circus Lupus, and two bands who jump ship to alterna-hungry major labels, Jawbox and Shudder to Think. As more fans gravitate towards Fugazi, MacKaye is forced to book shows at larger, conventional clubs and halls but maintains the all-ages/$5 ticket requirement. MacKaye plays guitar on Sonic Youth’s "Youth Against Fascism” for their DGC album Dirty. Having road-tested a collection of songs, Fugazi break from tradition and work with recording engineer Steve Albini in Chicago on their next album In on the Kill Taker but the results are unsatisfactory; they scrap the sessions and re-record the songs at Inner Ear with Niceley and Zientara. (Andersen and Jenkins, 351)

Released in May 1993, In on the Kill Taker is a blast of experimentation, energy, and masterful lyricism. Picciotto’s dramatic stage presence comes to the fore on songs like "Smallpox Champion,” "Rend It,” and "Cassavettes,” while MacKaye roars his way through "Facet Squared” and "Great Cop.” The band’s exciting improvisational skills are captured beautifully in squeals of feedback and guitar meltdowns, while the subtle instrumental "Sweet and Low” is jazzy. With minimal promotion, the record appears on Billboard’s Top 200 chart (#153) and quickly sells 200,000 copies; though denied an interview, Time magazine runs an article on the band entitled "Not for Sale or Lease.” (Andersen and Jenkins, 393) Though irked at the cult of personality they’ve attracted, Fugazi continue to operate the way they always have and tour the world for six months of the year. ("Silence is a Dangerous Sound,” Dave Fisher, Filler, vol.1 Fall ’94, p.12) Armed with formidable archive footage, they begin working with MacKaye’s old friend, filmmaker Jem Cohen, on a documentary about the band; he and a camera accompany Fugazi wherever possible.

In late summer, Fugazi travel to Brazil for the first time after MacKaye is contacted about performing at an independent music festival there. The trip comes after a period of relative inactivity, due in part to Canty’s relocation to Seattle to start a family. (Fisher, p.7) Fugazi assemble at MacKaye’s grandparents’ house in Guilford, Connecticut to practice and begin demo sessions for the album Red Medicine. (Instrument, Dischord 1999)

Fugazi spend the second half of January with Zientara at Inner Ear recording Red Medicine. More of a studio creation, the album is somewhat poppier than its predecessors, with "Do You Like Me,” "Bed for the Scraping,” and "Target” bolstered by catchy, danceable guitar licks. The dense "By You” marks Lally’s first lead vocal and the instrumental "Version” is led by Picciotto on clarinet. Less abrasive than In on the Kill Taker, the record is an inventive step for the band. Between April and November, Fugazi tour extensively throughout Europe and make short jaunts around North America; with this trip, Fugazi have now played in all 50 U.S. states. (http://www.worldoffugazi.org/) Red Medicine is released in June and, again Fugazi lands on Billboard’s Top 200 chart; though mainstream interest in independent music wanes, it’s their highest entry (#126).

1996 to 1997
1996 is marked by extensive touring across the U.S. and parts of the Pacific Rim. (http://www.worldoffugazi.org/) Beyond putting out fine records by the likes of Bluetip and the Warmers, Dischord celebrates its 100th release in October with a seven-inch of the first six songs recorded by the Teen Idles. In March 1997, Fugazi enter Inner Ear to record their next record with Zientara. On September 3, they play a tenth anniversary show at the Wilson Center, where they first performed publicly.

In April, End Hits is released and Fugazi embark on a strategically planned North American tour. Band members’ schedules pose some logistical issues but all are committed to making it work. D.C. stalwart Jerry Busher joins Fugazi on-stage, adding percussion and trumpet on the road. End Hits is a tight collection of punk songs and studio experimentation that finds Fugazi sounding as vital as ever. The surf-y "Break” is a welcome opener and "Recap Modotti,” "No Surprise,” and "Floating Boy” are tautly wound. "Closed Captioned” explores multiple, processed drum kit sounds and "Arpeggiator” stands as the band’s most glorious instrumental. On a whim, MacKaye purchases a baritone guitar and brings it to Fugazi practices; unsatisfied with its sound in this configuration, he sets it aside for home use. Heather Whinna organizes the first Independent Rock Music Label Festival at Chicago’s Congress Theatre in May; the bill features Blonde Redhead, Shellac, and is headlined by Fugazi.

1999 to 2000
Fugazi tour heavily in 1999, crossing the world in two-week batches to accommodate family commitments. In March, the film Instrument is released. An impressively comprehensive document, Instrument spans Fugazi’s first ten years together with artfully crafted footage of the band travelling, playing live, practicing, in the studio, and interacting with fans. A complementary "soundtrack” of fascinating demos and experiments is released in April. Dischord’s release schedule slows down considerably, with only three active bands on the roster; a 20th Anniversary retrospective is planned for 2000 but isn’t released until 2002. Fugazi tour sporadically in 2000, including Scandinavia. WorldOfFugazi.org

Fugazi spend January and February at Inner Ear working on The Argument. The sessions subtly reveal the band’s affection for the Beatles; the record is hazily dreamy, moving from one song to the next with all the cohesiveness of the White Album. Female voices, acoustic guitars, and Busher’s extra percussion add new layers to Fugazi’s sound. MacKaye rages through "Epic Problem” and "Ex-Spectator,” but renders the brilliant title track quietly. Busher and Canty lock in on "Oh,” Lally’s strongest lead vocal comes on "The Kill,” and Picciotto is mesmerizing on dynamic songs like "Life and Limb” and "Strangelight.” Perhaps sensing this session will be their last for some time, Fugazi re-visit "Furniture,” one of its earliest non-recorded compositions, for apparent posterity. They tour the U.S. throughout April and participate in the second Independent Arts Festival in Chicago with Shellac and the Ex in June, before crossing the Canadian prairies for the first time in ten years. A three-song Furniture seven-inch and The Argument full-length are released in October to rave reviews. In November, "Waiting Room” is added to the P.A. play list at Washington Redskins games after a producer discovers the song for the first time.

As relationships and family commitments slow Fugazi’s schedule, MacKaye begins playing with the Warmers’ drummer Amy Farina in his basement; he soon switches from electric to baritone guitar. In April, Fugazi do a short U.S. tour and travel to the UK in June; these are the band’s last shows to date. With personal commitments playing a greater role in their lives, Fugazi announce an "indefinite hiatus” and members embark on different projects. Aside from concentrating on Dischord, which releases new records by Q and not U, MacKaye is asked to give lectures and participate in panel discussions and he obliges.

2003 to 2004
In June 2003, Dischord unearths Minor Threat’s First Demo Tape; the little-heard recording is the most illuminating look at the band in 20 years. Lally launches the Fugazi Live CD series in 2004, offering fans recordings of selected Fugazi concerts in their entirety. Earlier in the year, MacKaye and Farina appear as the Evens in the first volume of Canty’s DVD film series, Burn to Shine. After a long battle with lung disease, Ginger MacKaye passes away in July. (www.dischord.com/news) A week later, the Evens begin recording songs at Inner Ear ("The Evens,” Trevor Kelley, Punk Planet, #68, July/August 2005, p.32); the self-titled result comes out in March.

The Evens reveals a markedly quiet duo writing deeply personal and political songs. Things like "All These Governors” and "Mt. Pleasant Isn’t” sugarcoat frustration with biting humour in a manner that MacKaye hasn’t really explored since Minor Threat. The low register of MacKaye’s baritone guitar and Farina’s extraordinary approach to drumming, coupled with their unique interplay as dynamic, emotional vocalists, has no real precedent. Still able to eschew convention, MacKaye books the Evens in art galleries and other uncommon spaces, and the band brings its own small P.A. to each show. In June Nike Athletics appropriates Minor Threat imagery and iconography for their "Major Threat” skateboarding campaign; after Dischord threatens legal action and organizes a letter-writing campaign, Nike apologies and discontinues the promotion. (minor_threat_vs_Nike)

In the winter and spring, MacKaye and Picciotto play on Lally’s first solo album There to Here, which Dischord releases in October. That same month, the self-recorded Get Evens is released, presenting a more spirited and indignant collection of songs by the Evens, many of which disparage political apathy. Again, there is an undercurrent of satire to songs like "Everybody Knows” and "Dinner with the President” that sharpens the serious tone of the record. Though their sound is neither loud nor particularly energizing, the Evens thrive within a punk network MacKaye helped cultivate more than 25 years ago. Affordable all-ages shows, independent bands, and DIY record labels may be the norm now, but their origins stem from instigators like MacKaye, who challenged the major label music machinery and proved an alternative was possible and potentially more viable and fulfilling than any standard route. His newest band is similarly daring; while MacKaye could easily have strapped on an electric guitar and formed a roaring rock band in the vein of Fugazi or, less likely, Minor Threat, he grabbed a baritone guitar instead and pursued something rather unexpected. At 44 years old Ian MacKaye continues to demonstrate just how open and eclectic punk can be with the Evens.

The Essential Ian MacKaye

Minor Threat Complete Discography (Dischord, 1990)
Following Bad Brains, Minor Threat took punk in new directions, arguably inventing hardcore. The unprecedented blend of speed, skill, and emotion is all the more astonishing considering the young band’s limited musical experience. Minor Threat’s presence is revolutionary, channelling teenaged alienation and energy into an empowering, pulverizing force. Though deeply personal, MacKaye’s thought-provoking lyrics inspire generations to question cultural norms, engage with new ideas, and respect themselves. Even compiling all of their still in-print releases onto one CD signals the band’s unselfish, egalitarian ideals.

Fugazi Instrument (Dischord, 1999)
Together with filmmaker Jem Cohen, Fugazi created a band documentary unlike any other. With abstract images and audience portraits mingling with footage of their first ten years together, Instrument captures Fugazi from intimate angles. It’s illuminating to see Fugazi interact on the road and in the studio, but it’s something altogether experiencing them play music on-stage. Fugazi were the most emotionally engaging, challenging live punk band of the past 20 years and their evolution as players was a thrilling ride for fans. Instrument is a gift for those who missed the trip.

20 Years of Dischord (Dischord, 2002)
A huge aspect of MacKaye’s legacy is Dischord Records, the inadvertent punk label he co-founded in 1980. When MacKaye and Jeff Nelson wanted a label to release their Teen Idles debut, they started one themselves. Twenty years later, Dischord had fostered 50 bands from the incestuous DC musical community, all of whom are featured over three discs. Beyond MacKaye’s six different bands, stunning songs by the likes of Faith, Scream, Rites of Spring, Soulside, the Nation of Ulysses, and Hoover make this an integral punk archive.