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Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014

Influenced: Volunteer and MKE Punk's Martin Defatte Talks Fugazi

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In Influenced, we talk to Milwaukee musicians about the artists that shaped and inspired them, both as performers and listeners. In this introductory piece, we spoke with Martin Defatte—former member of Stock Options, current member of Volunteer and co-founder of MKE Punk, the online Wisconsin music archiving resource—about his longstanding relationship with Fugazi. Comprised of former members of now legendary Washington, D.C. acts Minor Threat and Rites of Spring, Fugazi became synonymous with DIY in the 1990s. Their $5 ticket charges, absence of merchandise and rejection of major labels set them apart from their arena-bound contemporaries.

Do you remember the first time you heard Fugazi?

It was sometime around 1988 or ’89. I was really into skateboarding at the time, and I had just started getting into punk rock. I had a friend I used to skate with who had an older brother that was into that kinda thing, plus other stuff like Corrosion of Conformity. One day, he sent me home with a tape with the Fugazi’s 7 Songs EP on one side, and the first Danzig record on the other. “Waiting Room” just blew me away. I had just started playing bass at the time, so it was really cool hearing the bass playing upfront. I loved that it was such a departure from typical ’80s hardcore. Their songs weren’t just these fast, 30 second blasts of angst. They had this depth that I had never heard in punk rock before. 


So what led you to check out more of their releases?


I wore the tape out [laughs]. I bought Margin Walker and then Repeater when that came out. It was definitely different. The first song was all sparse and textural and then “Repeater” kicked in and that was it. I was completely sold from that point on. Around then I also got introduced to the concept of mail order. I begged my mom to write out a check, and I just ordered a bunch of records that I thought sounded cool… Embrace, Dag Nasty, Beefeater, all that stuff. It really opened my eyes up to this whole other scene going on that I now had access to.


Did getting introduced to this unique underground scene affect your view of what was happening in the mainstream at the time? Were you too immersed in the DC scene to concern yourself with Seattle?


I bought Nevermind when it came out, but to me at the time Nirvana seemed a little bit too “corporate rock” for me, even though in hindsight they really weren’t. Fugazi and all the Dischord bands tended to stay out of the limelight, and even though Nirvana was great, I tended to identify with the DC bands more on that level.


One of the most unique things about Fugazi was their approach to the non-musical aspects of being a band. They only charged $5 for shows and refused to play shows that were corporately sponsored. Did their ethics influence you?


By the time I started playing in bands, I definitely embraced the whole DIY ethic. We booked and promoted our own shows, dubbed our own demo tapes, all that stuff. I think a lot of bands around here at the time were definitely taking influence from them as well. The early Promise Ring stuff, Compound Red, Forstella Ford, all those bands had elements of Fugazi in there.


I really respected their commitment to DIY, too. Shudder to Think and Jawbox both left Dischord for major labels, but Fugazi stayed and continued making records on their own terms.

 

What was seeing them live like after having listened to them for a while?

I didn't really know what to expect but I was completely blown away. They just had this energy and this presence, and Ian [MacKaye] just commanded the audience's attention while still being very modest. And I distinctly remember him calling out some people for moshing, which at the time I thought was a little weird, but I also thought it was cool that he just wanted everyone there to be respectful of each other.


I think that was one of the things that started to upset a lot of the street punk types.


Definitely. They weren’t really listening to the music, they just kinda wanted to get drunk and be obnoxious. Early on there were a lot more punks that were into them, but I think by the time Steady Diet of Nothing came around, their audience started to change. Most of the people I knew that liked them by then were more college-bound, art class types. I think a lot of the old punks dismissed Fugazi as being too arty or whatever, but those were all the things that I think made them great.


Even though they haven’t been active since their indefinite hiatus in 2001, do you still find yourself drawing influence from them?


Yeah, maybe not so much musically but definitely in their other endeavors. The purpose of mkepunk.com is to essentially serve as a resource that archives Wisconsin music of the past. A good chunk of Fugazi’s live shows have been taped in some form, and in the last few years Ian MacKaye has started to archive them on the Dischord site. He did a talk at the Library of Congress about the importance of digital archiving that was really cool and inspiring. I emailed him about MKE Punk, and he was cool enough to actually respond. He was really interested in that History in 3 Chords comp.
 

Is there a band that you think is operating in a similar way, doing great things on an independent level?


Not so much a band, but two labels come to mind: Halo of Flies and Gilead Media. Both labels are run by rad dudes in Wisconsin and consistently release great records. They may not be documenting just the local scenes, but Cory [Von Bohlen] and Adam [Bartlett] are definitely highlighting a lot of the best bands we have here, like Northless and Protestant and Get Rad. Seeing those guys put out records like that on their own terms is really great and inspiring.


After 25 years, what can you say that you have gained from listening to Fugazi?

Fugazi didn’t sound or operate like any other band at the time. Those two things alone really changed my idea of what a punk rock band could be and what they could achieve while still maintaining artistic integrity. I think I speak for a lot of other people in saying that as well. They’ve just had a huge influence on the world of independent music overall.