Ian MacKaye Discusses Fugazi Live Series Concert Archive: 'I've Always Been A Bit Of A Documentarian'

WASHINGTON -- Legendary D.C. post-punk band Fugazi hasn't played a show since 2002, but languishing fans can now revisit their favorite performances online at the Fugazi Live Series, an ongoing archival project that when complete will feature up to 800 audio tapes recorded by the band.

Singer-guitarist Ian MacKaye now co-owns Dischord Records, which launched the series. On Wednesday, MacKaye dropped by WAMU-FM's "Kojo Nnamdi Show" to talk about how Fugazi wound up recording their shows in the first place and muse on the band's place in the annals of D.C. music history.

"I've always been a bit of a documentarian," MacKaye said on the program, adding there wasn't a whole lot of method to the madness when it came to recording. "At some point, a couple hundred tapes into the process, we kind of realized: Wow! We kind of have to keep going."

Fugazi's music is remembered as having a slant toward social activism, which translated into many shows performed for charities and protests.

Early in life, MacKaye became aware of social issues and the importance of questioning authority, not disrespecting it, through the church attended by his family, Saint Stephen and the Incarnation. The Episcopal congregation was active in liberal causes throughout the 1960s and '70s, including black and women's rights. "The effect on me musically ... was profound," MacKaye said.

Band members once infamously played a show for the inmates at the now-closed Lorton Correctional Facility in Virginia. They were never once paid, according to MacKaye. "It took away any kind of discomfort in terms of who's going to get paid what," he joked.

In its heyday, shows were priced at around $5 with proceeds usually given away to needy groups. It's also the suggested price of downloading a show on the Fugazi Live Series, although fans can pay anything between $1 and $100 if they so choose.

"Our position on the free thing, ... You can't make new things for free," MacKaye explained. "We're encouraging people to become patrons of the arts in their own special way."

The sound quality of the recordings isn't always perfect, but the band doesn't feel that detracts from its significance.

In November, singer-guitarist Guy Picciotto told The New York Times that the band "liked this idea of, 'Let's just let it be everything.'"

"There doesn't have to be the idea that this is the great, golden document. It's all there, and it's not cleaned up. You get what you get."

The sound quality also varies, and taken as a whole, the project also tells a story about musical technology from the 1980s into the 2000s. The earliest recordings were made on cassettes, then came digital DAT tapes, then CD-R's and a few hard drives. Sorting through it involved not only the process of formatting and mastering the audio but also even more tedious chores like scouring hours of onstage banter to identify unlabeled tapes.

Fans wondering if Fugazi will ever play another show will have to wait a while longer. "Whether we play again, I just don't know," said MacKaye. "Let me know if you find out!"

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