Fugazi - First Demo (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


First Demo (2014)

Dischord Records

26 years ago, after playing only ten shows together, Fugazi decided to make a cassette tape to distribute free for their earliest fans to enjoy and share with others between gigs. First Demo, the 11 tracks recorded at Inner Ear Studios in January 1988, is now available for the masses on LP, CD and digital download -- making for a fun look at Fugazi's beginnings for old and new fans alike. It is somewhat of a surprising move from the post-hardcore band that has been on hiatus for over a decade, but nevertheless the album serves as a refreshing take on some classic Fugazi tracks that fueled their entire career.

What is most striking about First Demo is the quality of the "demo versions" of the songs -- the tracks don't sound rough at all; rather they sound closer to impromptu live recordings, as Fugazi seems to have found their comfort zone quickly and effortlessly for such a young band. "Waiting Room" aptly begins First Demo since it is the first track of Fugazi's official debut EP; the demo version is a bit grittier and looser but has the same biting strength to it as its later-released version. "Merchandise" is another quality recording -- not the cleanest but it captures the band's tight yet experimental energy in its rawest form: Ian MacKaye's guitar work and vocals that contrast Guy Picciotto's vocals perfectly, Joe Lally's busy, expressive bass lines and Brendan Canty's drums that conduct the band's shifting from driving intros to loud outbursts to sudden silences and back again.

It's fun to hear the original eleven songs together on one recording, since they appeared on Fugazi's later releases at different points in their career. "Furniture" here centers on the bass riff, with the guitar grooving around and drums gradually dropping in and out -- a much more subdued, almost eerie take on the tune in comparison to the more guitar-driven, straightforward version on the 2001 EP. The demo version of "In Defense of Humans" -- the album's only track that had been released before (on a Dischord compilation) -- is a solid punk song with a fast melody, punchy vocals, and the band playing in distinct, powerful unison. While "Turn Off Your Guns" is the only song from First Demo never to make it on a subsequent Fugazi release, it is another great example of Fugazi's unique, recognizable sound even as they were still making a name for themselves.

First Demo is a crucial piece of Fugazi history -- abruptly brought to the attention of the band's fanbase -- just like how the songs were first recorded and distributed at their late '80s outbreak. For fans who go so far back that they still may have that cassette tape, the record is a reminder of Fugazi's natural momentum fueled not only by the musicians' talent and instant ability to play together well, but also by the band's devotion to keeping the punk scene going. Songs like "Break-in," "And The Same" and "Bad Mouth" are fun chances for diehards to note the minor differences between demo versions and studio album releases, and to understand the exact progression these songs took according to Fugazi's precise intentions. But for newer fans, First Demo is an awesome starting point to really get to know Fugazi's principal material at their first shows -- and the foundation of their debut releases.

First Demo reveals Fugazi's creation of their signature style and approach to songwriting and their unique ability to allow the music to assist them in expressing their emotions and ideas. The release itself -- a posthumous one at that -- is evidence as to why Fugazi developed the way it did -- they were a live band primarily, and recording artists as well -- but ultimately, they were professional punks who were truly in it for the fun of making music.