Fugazi are now lauded as one of the most influential punk bands of all time, both for their contributions to the lineage of hardcore (continuing what Minor Threat started with a little more "post" in the mix for the new era) and for their political standpoints, uncompromising live shows and complete autonomy. 'First Demo', though, charts Ian MacKaye's band before they'd really gotten it together, only a handful of shows in to their inception and without knowing what they sounded like on tape. This reissue takes us back to that turning point in punk rock; there's even "Turn Off Your Gun", an extra, unreleased track from the same sessions thrown in.
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It often felt like Fugazi were narrating the history of hardcore as much as they were contributing to it. With shows that were as revered for their impromptu politics as for their music, and songs that challenged every preconceived notion of what it meant to be implicit in society, punk or otherwise, they felt like a meta hardcore band who fortunately made excellent music on the side. It’s interesting, really, that they felt so important in this way, considering Ian Makaye’s fear of being seen as didactic, or even starting a hxc cult: he invented straight edge with “Out Of Step”, but famously only wrote it as a personal vista, the way a singer-songwriter would write about their break-up.
‘First Demo’ captures the band about ten shows into their existence, when Guy Piccioto was probably still stoked to be playing with Minor Threat’s one and only, and probably before they realised they had the power to kick fans out of their shows and throw the five dollar bill back in their face. It starts with a version of “Waiting Room” that sounds louder and thicker, emphasising literally every instrument and vocal that went into the tune and sounding somehow sludgier as a result. It’s kind of nice, after all this time, to just hear Fugazi playing it fucking loud. It’s obvious, even then, though, that the post prefix was as important as the hardcore tag for Makaye; songs like “Furniture” toy with echo effects and a kind of subliminal ambience, and go for weird, instrumental bridges instead of straight to the breakdown.
The last record proper we got from Fugazi was the tense and intense ‘The Argument’, which marked the beginning of their long, probably permanent hiatus. We’ve heard a lot of archival live recordings since then, as well as a forty-minute compilation of their stage “banter”, but it feels somewhat fitting to go full circle and hear ‘First Demo’ in its place. This is the band at their loosest and most excited, fucking around for the sake of it, rather than to make any point. “Bad Mouth” is a joy to hear, with meek gang vocals that sound both loud and proud and hastily recorded in the best way -- like the backing vocals just felt right in the moment. And while the band changed a lot over their long, torrid course, the guitars stayed jagged, the chords muted, and the bass loose. The politics changed and the people got angrier, but ‘First Demo’ shows that Fugazi were always as great a punk band as they were a vital one.
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