Ever since I first heard of Minor Threat in high school Ian MacKaye has been a hero of mine. Let's count the accomplishments...
1. He seems to have invented two genres that have completely altered the musical landscape. With Minor Threat he transformed punk rock into something almost unfathomably fast and loud called 'Hardcore' and then when that grew old real quick he pioneered something called 'emo-core' with his new band Fugazi. Soon the '-core' was dropped and 'emo' was upon us.
2. Started a record label so he wouldn't be beholden to anyone in the pursuit of music. Dischord has chronicled Washington, DC hardcore music since its inception.
Since the 1980's, his bands have sold enough albums to be considered successful by any standard. The possibility of this becoming extremely lucrative has been there for well over 20 years. But his unrelenting focus on music itself has led to some principled decisions. They don't sell merchandise...no t-shirts, no stickers, no mugs, no key chains, nothing but the music itself. This is why you might see a 'THIS IS NOT A FUGAZI T-SHIRT' on the street.
Also, Fugazi refuses to play any show that isn't open to all ages. If you can't legally admit an 11 year old, they will not book themselves into your venue.
In addition, they keep the costs of their music way, way down. If you go to the Dischord website, you can buy a full-length CD for $12.
I never saw Minor Threat while they were together, but if you want to hear where most of the loud music on the radio today comes from, check out their back catalog. Fugazi has also gone by the wayside but I caught them in NYC when they played Roseland.
I remember being struck by how many true teenagers were in the audience. As usual, Fugazi had insisted on an all-ages show. $10 to get in. Which means that Roseland kept almost all of that and Fugazi didn't make much profit because they refused to charge $20 a ticket.
I don't remember who I went with. Fugazi took the stage quite early knowing that the majority of the audience had to get up and go to junior high in the morning. As they tore into their amazing set-list, the inevitable mosh-pit nonsense occurred. From way back up in my seat I could see the swirling mass that I used to participate in when I was younger. I no longer saw the novelty of letting strangers abuse me to a backbeat.
Suddenly, whatever song Fugazi was playing stopped. Ian stepped to the mike and said, "People up front are getting crushed. Everyone has to move back 30 feet." Then Fugazi proceeded to wait silently while the crowd eased up and allowed the people pressed against the stage to get some room. Throughout the show this happened repeatedly.
Now, some people find this kind of attention to justice annoying in a rock band. They claim that a certain level of danger is appropriate in a politically charged high octane performance atmosphere.
I bet the girls up front getting smashed into a concrete divider beg to differ.