Fugazi's Ian MacKaye Talks to Congress

Read quotes from his inspirational talk to the Library of Congress here, on topics from punk culture to the importance of digital archiving.

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Inspirational punk legend Ian MacKaye has been speaking to the Library of Congress about his unusual interest in digital archiving, and as usual he's full of fascinating quotes.

MacKaye made his name in the 1980s with bands like Fugazi and Minor Threat, and remains a figurehead of DIY punk culture. Today he continues work with legendary DIY label Dischord, where he's been patiently archiving over 1,000 live Fugazi shows for fans to access now and in the distant future.

His experience archiving media for the internet led the Library of Congress to call on him for a 90-minute talk on how people can help look after our digital heritage so it's not all lost forever when someone decides to hit delete in the future.

Spin have pulled out some great quotes from his talk, and his words are still a motivating force after years. Read on to find out about the influence of punk on his life and the impact technology has on those ideals in the future.

On How Skateboarding Shaped His Musical Sensibilities:

"Skateboarding is not a hobby. And it is not a sport. Skateboarding is a way of learning how to redefine the world around you. For most people, when they saw a swimming pool, they thought, 'Let's take a swim.' But I thought, 'Let's ride it.' When they saw the curb or a street, they would think about driving on it. I would think about the texture. I slowly developed the ability to look at the world through totally different means."

On Playing in the Short-Lived Teen Idles:

"Teen Idles played for a year and then broke up. We saved every dollar we ever made. It was in a cigar box. So, when we broke up, instead of splitting the money between the four of us - each getting two-hundred-and-some dollars - we decided that we would document the music that we had been making. You can imagine, by the way, the interest that record labels across the country had in a teenage punk band from Washington, D.C. that had broken up. There was no interest whatsoever."

On the Early Days of Dischord Records and Going DIY:

"We had no idea how to make a record, so we just asked one of our friends who put out records at the time, 'How do we do that?' And he said, 'Here's a phone number, call them.' So we called National Record Productions down in Nashville, Tennessee, and they said, 'Send us a tape and a check for $500.' We got a Money Order, sent it down, and got a thousand 7-inch records. Then we took apart a picture sleeve from a 7-inch record from England to see how it was configured. So you can imagine, a 7"x7" sleeve - a 14-inch paper with little flaps on the side that pulled in - we just opened it up, we sketched it on a 11"x17" piece of paper, and then we put our own art into that and took it to a print shop and said: 'Can you give us a thousand of these?' The guy ran them off and in a week we picked them up: a thousand 11"x17" pieces of paper with this weird-shaped art. And then using scissors and glue, we cut and folded every single record sleeve. That is the way Dischord Records worked for the first 10,000 records. By hand, cut-and-folded, every one of those sleeves. That, my friends, is the record industry. The is the true record industry. It was incredible to sit with people - your friends - and make records together. It was an amazing experience."

On the Beginnings of Dischord Records' Massive Archive:

"We decided we were going to document something that was profoundly important to us, and that is our scene; the punk scene in Washington, D.C. And that's how it really began, in terms of 'The Collection.' The idea that something important was happening that we were a part of - not important necessarily to the world, but important to us."

On Smartphones and Oversharing:

"I think that people are constantly thinking about capturing things that they're not actually present for the moment they're trying to capture. I'm quite sure of this. I think it's insane how many pictures have to be taken these days. We have to realize there's a level of documentation that's just chatter, it's noise, and beyond that, people who are truly documenting are going to have to find a way to puncture that."

On the Role of Record Labels:

"Record labels sell plastic. That's what they sell. They're not evil, they're not bad. I have a record label. The plastic they sell has become more attractive to you - or to the buyer - because of the information that has been infused into it. It's essentially the same as the difference between having a baseball cap that's blank, or having one that has the Washington Nationals 'W' on it. Why you would pay more for the Nationals one is because the hat maker - in theory, at least - is paid to have the rights to put this 'W' on the hat."

On How the Internet Has Impacted the Record Industry:

"They enjoyed a hundred-year monopoly, and then the Internet came along and screwed things up for them. But they're still trying to figure out how to erect the tollbooths. And they'll do it, because they've got Congress on their side. It's just for those of us who don't want to engage in that to figure out how to get around their silly tollbooths."

On the Fugazi Live Series:

"There's a lot of these shows. We've been working on this for about four years, and we have about 300 shows up - we still have 500 to go. This is an insane project. It involves the digitization of all of the cassettes. Then, those files are mastered and edited, so they're individual songs. It's a crazy job. And honestly, the amount of money we put into it - not counting the hours - it's not making any money. But somewhere down the road, some kid very much like me will be interested in what was happening during this time. Because, most of the time, what was happening in the past has always been curated by the mainstream media industry. They're the ones that decided about the history of rock."

On File Sharing:

"Every song I ever wrote, I wrote to be heard. So, if I was given a choice that 50 years from now I could either have a dollar or knowing that some kid was listening to my song, I'd go with the kid listening to my song."

On the Definition of Punk:

"People ask me: 'What is punk? How do you define punk?' Here's how I define punk: it's a free space. It could be called jazz. It could be called hip-hop. It could be called blues, or rock, or beat. It could be called techno. It's just a new idea. For me, it was punk rock. That was my entrance to this idea of the new ideas being able to be presented in an environment that wasn't being dictated by a profit motive."

33 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Honestly, I've never listened to Fugazi, but I instantly respect this guy forever after reading this.
    You should go and listen to Fugazi now then, brilliant band. Great article, great quotes.
    If you're into punk, you have 99,99999% chance of liking Fugazi. Start with Repeater and 13 Songs, if you're willing to know them.
    One of my favorite bands ever. In fact, just the other day I went and listened to all of their albums in a row. All just very high quality music.
    also watch the Fugazi: Instrument movie. that my friend, is punk rock.
    Listen to them immediately! I do not care what anyone says The album 13 songs is a freaking classic and will always be one of my top 25 albums of all time!
    Ian MacKaye is awesome. I especially love what he says about Smartphones and Filesharing... dead on.
    Come on, don't lie. The first thing that came to your mind when you saw the headline was "1, 2, 3, REPEATER!!!!!". Ian is the ****ing boss.
    "Every song I ever wrote, I wrote to be heard. So, if I was given a choice that 50 years from now I could either have a dollar or knowing that some kid was listening to my song, I'd go with the kid listening to my song." A true artist.
    ****in A what he said about phones file sharing and best off all as close as anyone will get to a good definition for punk, which is full of paradoxes in any other so called definition
    greatest man in rock music. especially when it comes to the business part
    "I think that people are constantly thinking about capturing things that they're not actually present for the moment they're trying to capture." So true. I love my smartphone but it doesn't leave my pocket during a gig (unless the pit is quite messy). I hate looking up to see the band and seeing people watching through their tiny screens in low quality.
    Ian is a man of true integrity and vision. He will never get rich but he has so much more.
    He's actually worth an estimated 25 mill. Turns out you can sell without selling out.
    Dude's right up there with Ted Nugent in terms of biggest blowhards in music.
    I'm deeply sorry to see that you're so wildly misinformed, I genuinely hope that your day picks up from here
    Well that makes sense. Having strong opinions gained through actual life experiences, instead of reading about them second hand, = being a blowhard.