Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Fugazi - Steady Diet of Nothing
THE HISTORY: At the very start of the Eighties in Washington D.C. Minor Threat rejected the drugs and alcohol sector of the punk scene and pummeling their personal values in their lyricist through fast intense hardcore founded the straight edge sub-genre. However despite their length of influencing hardcore bands Minor Threat only lasted four years (1980 –83). Ian McKaye was later in short lived bands Embrace and Egg Hunt before forming Fugazi in 1987.
Rites of Spring were another punk band that were knocking around the Washington DC area around the same time and are often cited as being the originators of the emo sub-genre whether they like it or not. They, of course, don’t like it. Frontman Guy Picciottio stated that using the term, emo to describe a genre of music is retarded. When Rites of Spring disbanded in 1986 three members formed a band called One Last Wish with the bassist from Embrace. These roads led to Fugazi forming as a trio comprised of Ian McKaye, bassist Joe Lally, who was from Rites of Spring and drummer Colin Sears from melodic hardcore band Dag Nasty. Colin Sears returned to Dag Nasty and apart from their “Field Day” album has stayed with that band. Rites of Spring drummer, Brendan Canty, replaced Sears. After playing as a trio, Guy Picciotto also from Rites of Spring found a place that he longed for in Fugazi, since seeing their early practices, as both a guitarist and vocalist despite the band all ready having both although on the band’s first EP he only plays guitar.
The band released two EP’s “Fugazi” and “Margin Walker” and then conveniently and keeping prices to a minimum re-released them in album format as “13 Songs”. Then came the first full proper album release of “Repeater” in 1990. Their second full album “Steady Diet of Nothing” dropped the next year. FUGAZI took the term independent music so seriously that all their releases are still only on Ian McKaye’s Dischord Records label. Fugazi refused to sell band-related merchandise like T-shirts. The best known clothing representation of the band is a T-shirt with the slogan “This is not a Fugazi T-shirt” which was made and sold by an enterprising fan and advertised in a number of magazines during the early nineties.
THE MEMBERS: Joe Lally - Bass Ian McKaye - Guitar, Vocals Guy Picciotto - Guitar, Vocals Brendan Canty - Drums
THE PRODUCTION: Fugazi weren’t able to get their usual producer, Ted Nicely, as he was starting a career as a chef so the band furthered their DIY ideals and produced “Steady Diet of Nothing” themselves so this is much more of an independent album than its predecessors. The producton itself is sparse but efficient. Ian McKaye cut his teeth co-producing Rites of Spring’s album in 1987 so at least one member of Fugazi about production techniques, results and the expectations of other band members. The rhythm section is often the most noticeable feature. The drum sounds are clear and Joe Lally’s bass is high in the mix. On a song like “Stacks” the vocals are buried in places but that may well have been intentional as on songs like “Long Division”, the vocals are clear, as are all the other instruments. A remastered version was released in 2004.
THE GUITARS: The guitar sound is thick and full of chunky goodness due to the way guitarists Guy Picciotto and Ian McKaye complement each other. The riffs recall Gang of Four, dub reggae and jazz while alternating between a tranquil quiet and a distorted wall of noise.
THE RHYTHM SECTION: The combination of Joe Lally’s bass and Brendan Canty’s bass comes off like a high precision tempo keeping roller coaster with starts and stops that can take the listener on an exhilarating surprise ride at any given moment.
THE VOCALS: An admirable tradeoff between Ian Mckaye and Guy Piciotto There is a large shadow of Minor Threat in Ian McKaye’s however there is much more of a laidback approach taken at times as his vocals alternate between talking and gruff shouting. Guy Piccioti’s vocals are more understated and abstract but the two weave and trade off their vocals together like their guitars. The use of dual vocals and abstract subtle lyrics come off as another musical instrument adding a further dimension to the band’s sound.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO JELLO BIAFRA? There’s a short route and a longer route. First, let’s take the scenic drive. “Steady Diet of Nothing” is a quote taken from deceased stand-up comedian, Bill Hicks. Hicks’ stand up was often anti-establishment and he described his comedic routine as being like Noam Chomsky with dick jokes. Jello Biafra has often been described as the Naom Chomsky of punk and there is also a Naom Chomsky spoken word album on Jello’s Alternative Tentacles record label. The short route is simple and can be summed up in a sentence. Both Ian McKaye and Jello Biafra are punk icons who emerged in the eighties.
SOME KEY TRACKS:
“Exit Only” This song reveals that there has been quite some thought into song order as it is an opener that gets your attention the way the first song on an album should. A somewhat quiet intro with some great guitar interplay. The drum sound always causes head bobbing although the bass sound is the highlight and the dynamics between the bass and drums set the tone for the rest of the album. The song picks up in speed, distorted noise and ferocity when the vocals kick in. The lyrics are more than somewhat baffling. Not that it really matters but I’ve listened to this song more times than I’ve had roast dinners and still have no idea what the song is about.
“Reclamation” Somehow this track manages to open quietly with an intro based on distortion and then nears being a pro-choice anthem and the quiet/loud dynamics in the shared vocals and guitar sound are great. The vocals start off quiet but finish with an effective short burst of repetive shouting of “Carry My Body”.
“Nice new outfit” There’s great guitar riffing at the start of this song but it’s really all about the chugging rhythm section. The bouncing tempo is expertly kept and changed a few times but it’s so subtle you don’t really notice until it speeds up a lot at the end of the song. There are some understated dual vocals on this song that work really well. Due to this the line “Sorry about the mess” convinces and sticks in the head for days after listening.
“Stacks” “Language keeps me locked and repeating.” There’s a feeling that imitates a factory conveyer belt in this song. Hypnotic and always working. It’s the feel that many industrial bands go for but often can’t attain. The worker rushes off at the end of the shift and the tempo change at the end of the song reflects this.
“Long Division” Check out that huge bass line at the start of this track! It carries on all the way through the song and it’s reminiscent of “Oil and Gold” period Shriekback, which had a huge funk element in the bass sound. The vocals are somewhere between spoken and sung over some great drum and bass work.
“Polish” This one plays out the quiet/loud dynamics in the vocals. Ian McKaye shouts, then quietens down, shouts again and quietens until the end of the song.
“KYEO” The album closer is easily the catchiest track and most accessible. There is a steady simplistic rock beat kept throughout the song. The lyrics are still somewhat vague and open to interpretation but they’re the easiest to make sense of. Due to the time of the release the song could be interpreted as a statement on the Gulf war but it could also be about more personal battles.
IN CLOSING: Fugazi has always been a band that has been a band that has been about the music more than anything else. “Steady Diet of Nothing” with its strong rhythm sound differs greatly from their first album, “Repeater” and is the successful experimentation and progression of a band. Fugazi have since released four albums. Well, five if you count soundtracks. The CD doesn’t do Lucy Capehearts photos of deckchairs and a teepee justice. They look a lot more appealing on the LP insert. Dischord fairly recently made all of their releases available for download or a free album download with the purchase of a 12 inch record so getting hold of a copy of this album should be easy.