Fugazi Rocks the Boat of Corporate Culture
Byline: Mark Guarino
The shows sold out with zero advertising. About 6,000 fans filled the venue, sponsor-free, over two nights. Tickets were kept at $6 each and sold without service charges. Volunteers worked the hall to keep down costs.
To the sports fan, this would be like the Cubs winning the World Series; or to the politico, finding out which presidential candidate won the Florida ballot count once and for all.
For the music consumer in the year 2001, it's a phenomenon just as unrealistic. But at the Congress Theater last weekend, that's exactly what took place, more in spite of the music industry than because of it. That's because the headliner was Fugazi, the Washington, D.C., punk band that has made it its policy to bypass the conventional trappings of corporate rock culture at whatever cost.
Because of its anti-corporate position - which was shared Saturday and Sunday by the Chicago band Shellac and the Amsterdam band The Ex - Fugazi has relegated itself to the fringe, where it stands with less and less company. Now more than ever, doing business outside of the mainstream means being the black sheep.
Consider these facts: Five companies (Time Warner, BMG, Sony, Seagrams and EMI) control all the major labels in the world. The artists on those labels are broadcast over the 1,200 major market radio stations owned by one company (Clear Channel Communications). That one company also owns the company (SFX Entertainment) that operates the majority of the nation's concert venues, whose tickets are largely brokered by another single company (Ticketmaster).
That means the fees you pay, the music you hear and the venues you attend are all chosen for you and controlled by just eight corporations. While a band's popularity can be due to its own merits, more and more often a band becomes a household name thanks to the millions of dollars spent to make it that way.
In other words, your kid's a fan of Limp Bizkit because they can't avoid not being a fan of Limp Bizkit.
Fighting the system has not been popular. Pearl Jam famously tackled ticket surcharges in 1994, when band members argued before a government committee that Ticketmaster was a monopoly. The U.S. Justice Department ruled not so.
The current lawsuit railed by Hole's Courtney Love against Seagrams/Universal is being closely watched because her case maintains that so much corporate merging makes artist contracts invalid after seven years.
She is even calling for artists to unionize to protect their rights from what she considers fraudulent accounting practices that have become the norm.
Don't expect that to happen any time soon. Most marquee artists have responded in silence to the recent corporate grip on the music industry, mostly because their careers are so closely twined inside the system.
The majority of activism has been found in the indie rock community, where convictions are more sacred - and plentiful - than big paydays.
"This is the probably the largest (show) we can do in the country," said Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye before his two-hour set Saturday. …