Fugazi Opens The ’90s With ‘Repeater’ And A DIY Ethos

Looking at the albums released in 1990, this is the first of these articles that really feels like a blast from the past.  Mariah Carey released her self-titled debut. Warrant dropped Cherry Pie on us. Hall & Oates released an album. Not a greatest hits or anything, just a straight-up release. This was a noteworthy year for hip hop. 2 Live Crew released Banned in the USA. We had albums from Ice Cube, Public Enemy, Run DMC, and Erik B & Rakim. Also, this was the year of MC Hammer’s Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em and Vanilla Ice’s To the Extreme, the album with “Ice, Ice Baby” on it. A notable year indeed.

There were albums up my alley as well, of course. Guided By Voices released an album, but that’s true of basically every year since the dawn of time. Superchunk debuted, and Sonic Youth dropped Goo. Honestly, there was part of me that wanted to cover The Simpsons Sing the Blues, the first-ever Simpsons album. Bear in mind we’re talking 1990, and The Simpsons debuted as its own show in December of 1989. In the end, though, the album at hand is the full-length debut by the legendary DC punk band Fugazi. Let’s talk Repeater.

I must admit I’m not the biggest Fugazi fan, though I do like them. I am not among their dedicated devotees, though, and they are a band with a passionate fan base built out of an intense, passionate scene, so I don’t want to act like I’m on that level, because people who are on that level would probably be annoyed with me. In fact, there are probably people already annoyed I called Fugazi a punk band, as opposed to, say, a post-hardcore band or an art punk band or whatever. I grew up in the punk scene, so I know people in that scene can be weird and territorial. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t feel like that, but not everybody grows out of it.

Repeater is Fugazi’s best-loved album, even though it is their debut. However, in terms of releases, I think it is only second best, after 1989’s 13 Songs, which is a compilation album. It’s also the one that has “Waiting Room” on it, probably the best-known Fugazi song. It’s the one those kids at that music camp played and then that one guy online got made and he got ratioed to hell by people who were just like, “Let the kids play music!” The internet can be a tedious place.

Of course, one assumes Ian MacKaye and the guys from Fugazi would be totally happy with having kids playing one of their songs. I don’t mean to single MacKaye out over the rest of the band, especially the vital guitarist/songwriter/vocalist Guy Piccioto, but he’s the one who has become something of a de fact deity in the world of punk. Fugazi is an admired band, even among those who don’t necessarily dig their music. The group grew out of the DC hardcore scene, and they built upon that with an ethos of inclusivity and DIY ethos. Famously Fugazi would tour extensively and also did their absolute best to keep ticket prices low. Their goal was to have tickets cost a mere five bucks, and when that wasn’t possible they went as low as possible. They would play random venues, as opposed to normal clubs, and were supporters of all-ages shows. Also, leaving their hardcore roots behind, they would try and keep a cap on slam dancing and violence in the pits.

I know I didn’t talk about Repeater much, but I never really intended to. It’s a strong punk-ish album. None of the songs is as good as “Waiting Room.” Maybe I just wanted to take some time to talk about admiring Fugazi’s ethos with this article. Maybe I just didn’t want to write about some REO Speedwagon album or No Fences, which I think was a big release for Garth Brooks. I don’t have anything to say about “Ice, Ice Baby” that hasn’t already been said. Repeater is a remarkable release from a remarkable band. Fugazi operates on the opposite end of the spectrum of bands like, say, New Kids on the Block, who released an album in 1990 as well. Many consider Repeater one of the best albums of the ‘90s. If I were doing a top-100 list, I would likely agree. I might also put The Simpsons Sing the Blues on there, just because that would be fun.

About Chris Morgan

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