My first exposure to Fugazi was when someone at university lent me a copy of either Red Medicine or End Hits during my first year. The same person also lent me Metal Box, the CD edition that came in a miniature version of the actual metal box the original LP had come in. Both albums were handed over like illicit substances that we didn’t quite know how to imbibe; the Fugazi especially. Fugazi was a name I’d been aware of for years but only vaguely, and it was imbued with a strange otherness and power that scared me off, frankly.
The music press I read barely ever mentioned them – their albums would place in the latter halves of end-of-year polls but I’d never seen an interview or a live review, or read anything which gave me a potential way in. Hardcore, let alone post-hardcore, was alien territory to me, and the culture that existed around it, as far as I could tell, seemed exclusionary and gatekeeperish. I presumed, as an uncool kid from a small Devon town, that I wouldn’t be allowed in. I listened to Red Medicine or End Hits a couple of times and didn’t bite. I wasn’t ready. The first term at university was difficult, and it knocked my confidence in many ways.
Fast-forward two or three years, and The Argument became the first Fugazi record I bought myself. I picked it up in the CD shop (remember them?) that used to be at London Waterloo station. I can’t remember why I’d been in London that day, nor can I remember what confluence of circumstance and opinions made me buy it, given my previous misgivings.
But I’m glad I did, because it soon became a firm favourite. Where I was expecting something ferocious and exclusionary and pious and difficult I got something… that was still all of those things, in some ways, but which was also rich, and clever, and musical, and catchy. I was blindsided by handclaps and female backing vocals and cellos and pianos and acoustic guitars and subtle grooves as much as I was throttled by thunderous dual drum kits and lacerating electric guitars and hoarse-making vocals. I simply didn’t expect songs like “Life and Limb” or “Strangelight” or “Nightshop”, even though I’d vaguely anticipated the likes of “Cashout”.
Pretty quickly I realised that Fugazi didn’t quite fit the mental taxonomy I’d slotted them into, and I bought up chunks of their back catalogue; I loved the brutal minimalism of Repeater and 13 Songs, and the twitchy, catchy experimentalism of Red Medicine. But The Argument, a decade of time and a world of sound away from “Waiting Room” even if clearly the work of the same people with the same passions (albeit wearier, more pragmatic – but no less righteous), remains my favourite. It has a breadth, a scope, which makes it incredibly rewarding to me. I can listen to it anytime and find it thrilling, beautiful, and intriguing (even if I still have no idea what the words are unless I open the sleeve up).
We were lucky enough to get to see Fugazi play live at the Lemongrove (just yards from my workplace at the university) in October of 2002. They were, predictably, scintillating; I remember moving to the side of the stage as much as possible so I could see the twin drummers pounding away in unison, striking the same beats like some weird cybernetic percussion device. Some poor idiot tried stage-diving (as if he didn’t know who he was seeing) and got carried out covered in his own blood from a (minor) headwound when he landed on the floor. We didn’t know it at the time, but after that round of autumn gigs in the UK they would never play live again. I’m so glad I got to see them.