Washington, D.C. post-punk fulcrum Fugazi quietly adjourned in 2003, leaving behind a substantial body of work, as well as operating on a highly principled mindset that respected the band, the music, the fans and the greater underground music culture of the planet. Now DJ/producer Chris Lawhorn is paying it forward with Fugazi Edits, a recontextualized look at the band’s output, where elements of songs are combined and restructured to create new pieces. The project received the blessing of guitarist/vocalist Ian MacKaye, and all of the proceeds are going to charities aiding both senior citizens and people whose lives have been affected by global unrest.
Lawhorn’s musical career has included everything from playing drums in a Fugazi-inspired punk band (Cataract Falls), starting an independent folk label (Case/Martingale) and DJing Top 40 hits in front of drunken revelers spending spring break in South Padre Island, Texas. When he launched an extensive online database cataloging the BPMs of hit records, he became the resident DJ at Marie Claire magazine. After his tenure at the publication ended, he began work on Fugazi Edits, reconciling his early punk influences with club music mixing skills. He talked with Jason Pettigrew about the birth of the project and what he hopes to achieve from it in the long run—besides the derision of punk-rock policemen.
INTERVIEW: Jason Pettigrew
How were you envisioning Fugazi Edits? It’s not really a mash-up aesthetic, because it’s more about editing texture, or jarring musique concrete than it is trying to draw parallels to certain things. What was your motivation?
There were two things. One: I love Fugazi, obviously. There’s times over the years when I listened to their stuff, like there was a phase in college when my stereo crapped out and only one of the speakers worked. The way they had mixed the stuff—their guitar parts are sort of famous for locking, if you will—and because one of my speakers was broken for a few months, I was only listening to Guy’s [Picciotto’s] guitar parts and was thinking about the way they mixed with Ian’s stuff and the way they could mix with other [instruments]. I wanted to do something with the stuff that was already interlocking and [do] it in a different way. So mixing Guy’s guitar parts from one track with another Guy song, having him interlock with himself instead of with Ian or have him interlock with Ian’s guitar, but from another song.
Generally, rock music is pretty hard to mix and keep everything in time if you’re dealing with stuff that was recorded by live musicians, but [Fugazi were easier] because their rhythm section is so tight. It also made it interesting because for being a punk band, they’re also pretty groove-oriented. The other thing, most practically, is Fugazi are one of the only bands with which this could work because they own all of their material. I like [Bruce] Springsteen, but licensing this through Springsteen would never happen.
I can only imagine what your first conversation with Ian MacKaye was like. He’s a great guy, but he shoots from the hip and because of that, he terrifies a lot of people.
He knows what he wants, for sure. It was interesting because I had sent him this idea, and he was like, “I’m intrigued, but I really don’t know what you mean,” so I sent him a longer explanation. It was the worst explanation ever. [Laughs.] It was so long and emotional, and it wasn’t at all a concrete answer, which was what he needed. I knew what I wanted to make, but when I explained it, it was all flowery. He was still interested, but still [said], “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Finally, I just made a demo, sent him that and he was like, “Oh, okay. You go do that, and then follow up with me.”
When you presented the final tracks and gave them to Ian, I guess he was pleased and intrigued by it or else you wouldn’t have gotten the go-ahead to do it.
Yes. This is my only concern. I know Ian is keeping mum on the matter, so I don’t want to talk to much about what he’s had to say. He’s very keen for people to know it was authorized, but it was not something [the band] worked on. It’s not a Fugazi album coming out on Dischord. They weren’t involved at all in the production. I sent Ian everything along the way. I ran all the artwork by him. The title was his idea because originally it was called Fugazi Remixes. And he was like, “These aren’t really remixes.”
Fugazi galvanized punk-rock and political communities, while having principles that were the pinnacle of DIY. Because their music symbolizes a particular culture and its values, a lot of people might not take too kindly to having their culture tampered with. What’s the response been? Has it been positive or “This is a travesty. Let’s go find this guy’s house and burn it down?” Given how much this band means to people, weren’t you terrified by that?
Maybe I should have been. In terms of response, all the general music media seem to be giving it favorable reviews. The Onion wrote nicely about it. Giant Robot wrote a nice piece. However, everything from punk or DJ magazines, [commenters] hate it. On the DJ end of things, people think I cannot produce an album and that it sounds like a mess.
Was there any solid criticism from anyone? Let’s face it: There’s inevitably a level of purism, as well as a nostalgia factor kicking in.
One of the more balanced things I saw on one of the punk sites was someone who posted, “This is okay, but I’d rather just listen to Steady Diet Of Nothing.” They don’t mind if it’s out there, but I’m not in any danger of eclipsing what Fugazi have done.
But that wasn’t your intention in the first place. I understand Fugazi Edits is a homage to a band that has made a lot of impact on your personal mythology. Do you think because of the realm you did it in, the people who dismiss your release are far too precious?
Have you seen the Fugazi documentary Instrument? It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I might get this wrong: There’s a passage where the cameraman is interviewing people outside of a Fugazi show who are waiting to get in or just came out, and he’s just asking them their thoughts on the band. A lot of them are just bitchy. These are people who are going to their show. Fugazi, at that point in the late ’90s, were not the band who put out 13 Songs anymore. [Those people being interviewed] are already mad at Fugazi for not being the Fugazi they were five years ago [before the movie was filmed]. Especially at the end, Fugazi didn’t turn into a jam band, but the songs definitely got longer and more atmospheric. So I thought, in a way, this record was sort of a fictional extension of that. If there aren’t going to be any more Fugazi records—and there haven’t been in a while—I was trying to make something that sounds like a fictional Fugazi album. I think people are going to be unhappy with that, because people were already unhappy with the evolution Fugazi were undergoing. So it’s normal that they’d be even more unhappy with me kind of bending that further.
Sounds like you’re furthering the mission.
That’s how I feel. I think it’s presumptuous to say that, because who knows where [Fugazi] would have gone. But yeah, if they’re not going to make a new record, I wanted a new way to listen to their stuff, and I figured there might be other people out there who would, too. Alt
For more details and ordering information, visit Chris Lawhorn’s site.