1988: Fugazi - First Demo

People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy… As a band, we’re flesh and blood. We can be ignored, we can be destroyed, but as a symbol? As a symbol we could be incorruptible. We can be everlasting.
– Fugazi (or Batman, we forget which)

The legacy of Fugazi rests on so much more than the sum total of their six albums and sundry EPs and comps. Without minimizing the importance of their discography (which earns every iota of praise lavished on it by fans and critics alike), Fugazi’s greatest function within the realm of independent music is a symbolic one: They are the Band That Did It Right. Adhering to their own strict professional code, they took control of every aspect of their craft — releasing their albums through co-frontman Ian MacKaye’s own label, booking shows at venues where they could set their own ticket prices at reasonable rates, refusing to do press with publications that ran ads contrary to their values. Fugazi entered the music industry on their own terms and somehow enjoyed a long, successful career in it.

It’s fitting, then, that like that other stalwart symbol of justice, Fugazi should finally get its own Christopher Nolan origin-story treatment. Recorded at D.C.’s Inner Ear in 1988, First Demo was originally committed to cassette and given away free at early Fugazi shows, with only a single track, “In Defense of Humans,” seeing release on Dischord’s 1989 State of the Union comp. As a window into the developmental days of one of the most titanic figures in punk rock, First Demo gives us some valuable insights. Since Guy Picciotto had only joined the band a few months prior to recording, most of the 11 songs that make up the demo were all written for a single guitar. Yet despite his newcomer status, he’d already established himself as a critical presence, lending his voice to the likes of “The Waiting Room” and “Song #1” in arrangements that would very closely resemble their final recorded versions, and even taking the lead on “Break-In.” The band’s preoccupation with reggae during this period is also prominent, with Joe Lally’s rubbery bass lines bringing the cool ranch to offset MacKaye’s flamin’ hot guitar.

Fans will no doubt notice that many of the tracks that appear on First Demo were given a second life on the band’s official releases, and the versions that appear here are not, for the most part, dramatically different from their final recorded forms, but some of them provide interesting snapshots of songs still in the process of becoming. The demo version of “And the Same” is a little undercooked compared to the one that appears on Margin Walker, sporting a more leisurely pace, a rather Spartan intro, and an entirely different lyric during the outro. By contrast, longtime fan-favorite “Furniture” packs a little more slow-burn menace in its raw, mono-guitar form than the official studio version recorded decades later. A natal version of a rarity like “The Word” and the never-before-released “Turn off Your Guns” help to sweeten the pot a little, even if neither one is likely to totally rock your world.

So, as far as revisionist origins go, maybe First Demo isn’t quite Batman Begins. Like most demo releases, it showcases some subtle variations on the old familiar favorites and offers a few fleeting glimpses into the musicians who make up the band (the false start on “Waiting Room,” the brief intrusions of studio banter between songs). If nothing else, it will go a little way toward plugging that Fugazi-shaped hole that you’ve felt in your heart ever since they peaced-out back in aught-three. For a little while, at least.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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