Released July, 1991- 25 years ago
Fugazi’s sophomore full-length, and first self-produced album, shudders and quakes with angst and contempt for the government, news media, and the music industry. While receiving less attention than many of the band’s other releases, many critics consider it on par with every other album within their absolutely stellar catalog.
The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4 p.m. Monday-Friday on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar and curated by Kris Kerry. Each Monday at 4 p.m. Kris stops by KXCI’s studio to give us insight on this classic album at 91.3 FM and KXCI.org.
Fugazi formed in Washington D.C. in out of the ashes of the hardcore punk band, Minor Threat. Ian MacKaye, who sang and played guitar for Minor Threat, wanted to start a band that was “like The Stooges with reggae.” While there were some very early changes, Fugazi’s line-up solidified by 1987 with Joe Lally (bass), Guy Picciotto (guitar & vox), Brendan Canty (drums), and Ian MacKaye, who acted as primary songwriter in addition to singing and playing guitar.
Fugazi is often considered to be a post-hardcore band. Post-hardcore shares the same hard-edged melodies, singing styles, stripped down instrumentation, and anti-establishment lyrics seen in punk and hardcore, however there is a greater emphasis on creative expression and musicianship seen in early post-punk (Gang of Four, P.I.L., Wire, etc.), and contemporary indie/noise rock acts (My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Pixies etc.). Other notable post-hardcore bands include Helmet, Big Black, Quicksand, Hum, Polvo, and Jawbreaker.
In addition to their intelligent songwriting and musical proficiency, Fugazi is almost as well known for their community activism, DIY business tactics, and resistance to the mainstream music industry. They never sold merchandise at live shows, and kept retail album and show admission prices as low as possible (sometimes as low as $5.00), believing that higher prices seen throughout most of the music industry gouged their fans. This dedication to the fans, many of which were teenagers, fostered an incredibly dedicated fan base.
Stemming from this same DIY attitude, Ian MacKay formed Dischord Records in 1980 with Jeff Nelson, who was also a member of Minor Threat. Dischord specialized in the independent punk scene in Washington D.C. Along with other indie labels like Touch and Go, Matador, SST Records, and Twin/Tone, Dischord helped develop the underground indie and punk scene. The label was notable for producing, distributing all of its albums at discount prices. Dischord continues to support and produce D.C. bands. In addition to Minor Threat and Fugazi, other bands on this label include Nation of Ulysses, Shudder to Think, Jawbox, and Slant 6 among many others.
Steady Diet of Nothing was recorded in January and February 1991 at Inner Ear Studios in Arlington, Virginia. It was the band’s first self-produced release. Their earlier releases had been produced/engineered by Don Zientara, founder of Inner Ear Studios. Each of the band members have been cited stating that this was a very difficult time as they were so inexperienced with the process of recording an album. All recording decisions were done democratically.
Steady Diet of Nothing was highly anticipated by underground measures, receiving 160,000 pre orders for the album prior to its release date. While it was well received upon release, being included in Spin’s top 20 releases of 1991, it has been overshadowed somewhat by other Fugazi releases, namely Red Medicine (1995), Repeater (1990), and the compilation 13 Songs (1990). This being said, many critics consider it every bit as good as some of these better known titles.
Fugazi was known for putting on a killer show, playing over 1000 concerts between 1987 and late 2002. They haven’t toured since then. Luckily one of their last shows was at the Rialto Theatre on April 10th, 2001.
Fugazi has been on indefinite hiatus since 2003. Ian MacKay is adamant about the fact they haven’t “broken up.” So a reunion may still be possible someday (fingers crossed).
Fugazi has been eligible for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of fame since 2013. Ironically however, the very aspects that helped to develop such a rabid fan base are likely what will keep them out of the Hall of Fame (i.e., their DIY/non-promotional ethos, thumbing their nose at the record industry, etc.).