Fugazi Use 'Instrument' To Cut Through Myths

Experimental documentary looks at life and music of fiercely independent punk band.

No scene in Fugazi's upcoming film and home video "Instrument"

seems to sum up the resolutely independent band's intentions for the

project more than an episode filmed in singer/guitarist Ian

MacKaye's grandparents' kitchen.

Drummer Brendan Canty sits across a Formica table from the video

camera, describing a conversation his sister had with a Fugazi fan.

"He thought we all lived in a group house without any heat," Canty

says. Then he bursts out laughing. "Like we didn't need any [heat]."

And that's the crux of perception/reality issue for one of the world's

most popular independent rock bands.

Fugazi may be as well-known for their principles as for their

intricate, post-hardcore punk music. They release their albums on

their own label, put caps on CD and ticket prices, and eschew

mainstream publicity.

That last principle occasionally haunts them. By not yet telling their

own story, Fugazi have allowed myths such as the no-heat rumor to

take root among fans.

"If you don't say anything, then people place your thing on you," says

MacKaye, seated next to Canty at the table.

"But then if you try to steer it all," the singer continues, "you're

manipulating it. So, we [end up] just a bunch of monks eating rice

with no heat." And now MacKaye laughs, too.

The 115 minutes of "Instrument" mark Fugazi's stab at a middle

ground between hyping themselves and letting others define them.

The project will be released on home video March 29 and tour art

houses and college campuses later this year.

Directed by the band with longtime associate Jem Cohen -- whose

recent portfolio includes work with R.E.M. and Elliott Smith --

"Instrument" creates a portrait of Fugazi told in part by themselves

and in part by fans, but mostly through the band's music.

"If I were to make an analogy with music, it's more of a kind of dub

film project, in that it's loose, and it has more to do with different

grooves and different experiences," Cohen said as shooting was

drawing to an end in 1997. "It's not an attempt to tell people the

history of the band and have people talk about how great they are."

Compared with the orderly nature of most music documentaries,

"Instrument" unfolds in crazy-quilt fashion.

The film includes live footage of Fugazi -- MacKaye, Canty,

guitarist/singer Guy Picciotto and bassist Joe Lally -- performing

songs such as "Great Cop" and

href="http://media.addict.com/atn-bin/get-

music/Fugazi/Repeater.ram">"Repeater" (RealAudio

excerpt of studio version). But much of the concert footage, shot on

16 mm and Super 8 film and on videotape, is used as a visual

backdrop for new songs.

MacKaye's restrained dance steps and Picciotto's frenetic,

face-in-the-floor stage grinding are synced to instrumental

explorations and improvisational demos that laid the groundwork

for such songs as "Arpeggiator"

(RealAudio excerpt of later version) from last year's End

Hits.

"The whole idea of being able to link music to images in a way that's

not music video -- which to me is a really dull and bankrupt form,

just making ad spots -- doing something in that line that feels more

interesting because it's extended," Picciotto said last year.

Cohen has filmed the Washington, D.C.-based Fugazi since their

1987 inception, lending "Instrument" a sweep not offered by most

documentaries of working bands.

At times, Fugazi and Cohen let others sketch the image of who

Fugazi are. In one segment, eighth-grader Jamie Valdez interviews

MacKaye and Picciotto for her Maryland middle school's TV show,

"Personal Profiles." One can easily imagine that Valdez's questions

are at least as enlightening as those the band would be posed on a

show such as "Dateline."

Of course, the fact that the band would accept an interview from a

student at Eastern Middle School while turning down such

mainstream outlets as MTV says as much about the group as does

Fugazi's trademark low ticket prices and all-ages shows.

Not all Fugazi's fans seem to care about the band's fierce

independence.

"Instrument" includes scores of interviews and silent fan portraits

shot outside the band's shows. The film contrasts a married couple

who met while analyzing Fugazi lyrics and a woman who brought

her family to a concert after hearing about the band on National

Public Radio with more jaded fans, who dismiss Fugazi's recent

work as insufficiently punk or wish the group would stop lecturing

from the stage.

Images of concert-goers being allowed to watch the group from the

side of the stage are compared with footage of Fugazi calling out the

fans they see as disruptive.

More than anything, "Instrument" documents interaction. The band,

MacKaye explains at one point, aims to look out into the crowd and

see full human beings.

"Heads and bodies are just consumers," he says. "I want to play to

people."

A companion album,Instrument Soundtrack, will be

released April 26 on Dischord Records, the label MacKaye

co-founded in 1980. Of the 18 songs on the disc, six are early and

substantially different versions of songs later released on albums.

New tracks include "Lusty Scripps," "Turkish Disco" and "Me and

Thumbelina."