Instrument (2003)


Directed by: Jem Cohen

Woven together with classic live footage ‘Instrument’ is a fine introduction as to why Fugazi were another one of those “only bands that mattered”. They cared about their crowd in a humanistic way, not as fans and consumers, but as equals who were there for a shared experience. They were principled and tended to practice what they preached unlike some ‘political’ bands like **cough cough*** Rage Against The Machine.

Director Cohen is a friend of the band and is able to weave an intimate narrative, but this isn’t a warts and all documentary, and that is both a strength and a weakness of this film. On one hand voyeuristically speaking you kind of what to see moments of in-band tension like in ‘Some Kind of Monster’ or ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco’, but since Fugazi were all about the music, perhaps the drama is redundant.

It’s tricky to be anti-establishment within what is ultimately a business. When you record and release as a band you are playing the game. The difference with Fugazi is that they kept the moneymen out of their business. They had a do it yourself ethos which would be hard (impossible?) to replicate today.

Back to the film, I had to watch it in four bursts, mainly because it is a bit of a chore to get through, as it serves up too much of a good thing. The live footage is full of verve and energy but it is like eating a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, a strawberry cheesecake and a bag of jam donuts in quick succession. In the hands of a better editor this film could have held a much sharper focus. Arguably it is half an hour too long. It is also top heavy, we don’t really get a fair appraisal of the band (no band is wholly good) until towards the end when a few dissenting voices are heard representing the diversity of the band’s fan base.

If you’ve never heard of Fugazi before then you’d be left with a number of questions. How and when did they form? Why are they important? Who were their influences? How did they fit in (or indeed what set them apart) with what was around at the time?

Nowadays a band like Fugazi would likely be lost in the mass of music that is available to us, their story would be untold amongst all the superficial jargon that clutters the internet music wise on Soundcloud, Spotify, YouTube, Itunes etc. etc. Cream doesn’t really rise to the top so much anymore. So for all their good intentions it would be unlikely that they would be noticed, particularly if they shunned social media. Worst still they would probably be written off as hipsters. Many bands are now brands, and lifestyle has a different meaning then it did back in the eighties and nineties. Fugazi were a band apart.

We see Fugazi play high school gyms, parks, benefit shows but we don’t see enough of life on the road, the grind that was so eloquently revealed by Henry Rollins in his book ‘Get in the Van’. I’d really have known more about what it’s like out there on the open road. See the truck stops and service stations.

One of my favourite clips of live footage from the film is taken during a cramped sweaty performance in some dive. A few lads are acting a bit unruly as the band play and between songs Ian Mackaye picks one of the trouble makers out, gets him on stage and tries to get the man to apologize to everybody. Sadly the man is blitzed and Mackaye escorts him out of the building. The band expected a lot of their fans. They were not strictly performers who entertained, they wanted to be more than that.


Instrument on IMDB


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