Visualizing the History of Fugazi – Carni Klirs


During the 1980s and 90s, in the era before the internet, fans of punk music discovered new bands through obsessive documenters. The mainstream music press did not cover the majority of punk music, and they weren’t played on MTV. fans documented their favorite bands through underground informational networks that included fanzines, which contained show and record reviews, band interviews, show photography, and random musings of the creators. Fanzines were idiosyncratic, printed in limited runs, and were traded around like contraband.

Fanzines were a co-creative act. Punk is a participatory culture, in which the divide between the “creators” in the bands, and the “consumers” i.e. the fans blurred or did not exist. Fanzine culture impacted the music’s reach, and led to a culture of collectors, who often held on to these fading printed documents for years.

Punk music is temporal & ephemeral.
It represents a time & place.
It exists within local & social contexts.

I found out about my first punk show in Washington, D.C. because someone at my high school handed me a flyer. A black and white photocopied quarter-sheet of paper, cryptic and intriguing. One show led to another, and at 17 I found myself at Fugazi’s last DC show at Fort Reno. It was an incendiary, powerful performance. I was hooked.

Fugazi documented everything. They kept ledgers. They recorded their live shows. In 2011 the band put together a Fugazi Live Series website that includes information on every show they ever played. They’ve consistently been adding live recordings to the archive, and are now up to more than 800 shows. There is an obsessive amount of detail on each show, such as how many people attended, who they played with, and a comments section where attendees that show can share their experiences.

So I decided to scrape data off of that webpage and try to visualize the history of the band, to convey why they were important to me, and to so many others. Fugazi is a lens into a multi-generational subculture that is still active today. They helped foster a community of bands through Dischord Records, which was co-created and still run by Ian MacKaye of Fugazi. They only played all ages shows, and kept door prices to five dollars, making sure every show was as accessible as possible.They decided very early on that every local show they played would be a benefit show, raising money for causes that would directly impact in the community.

This is my fanzine, an obsessive documentation of a band I love, told through their own data. It’s my contribution to that legacy of precious ephemera, the printed matter that gets collected and obsessed over, or perhaps perused briefly then tossed in the bin.

Any data visualization project involves some subjective choices. That is especially true for this project. I decided what data was interesting or relevant to me, how to aggregate or summarize it, and how much anecdotal info to include. I tried to show the connections between D.C. music scene in the late 1980s to the community around me today. Several of the venues Fugazi played at 25 years ago are still around, still hosting benefit shows. My own band performed at the very spot I saw Fugazi play their last DC show, roughly a decade later. There are young bands active today who are only three or four degrees away from Fugazi (when looking at connections between bands by shared members).

These visualizations are meant to be read slowly, not glanced at. There are no high level insights, no key takeaways, but they are full of small discoveries, personalized insights, details that may inspire or delight. Each visualization is printed as a fold-out poster, and does not need to be read in sequential order.

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You can buy a copy of the fanzine—12 page color printing on newsprint, each foldout poster is 26" wide by 20" tall—by sending $15 to ship in the United States, or $18 to ship Internationally. It will ship in January 2019.

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Fugazi played 1,048 shows in 372 cities, on 5 continents, and in all 50 U.S. States. They booked their own tours, and played only all ages show. They carefully routed tours through smaller towns and countries they had not visited before. Here is a map of all their shows, threaded together from origin to destination.

Click the image to make it full screen, and click again to zoom in. Click and drag to pan around the image.

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Fugazi often played non-traditional venues in thier home town of Washington, D.C. They played outdoors or in community spaces like churches just as often as they played rock clubs. Here are all the venues Fugazi played in D.C., color coded by type, and vertically sized by number of shows at that venue.

Click the image to make it full screen, and click again to zoom in. Click and drag to pan around the image.

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Fugazi played around 80 benefit shows, most of them in Washington, DC, raising around $250,000 for charities for local grass roots organizations. Here are all the shows, grouped by beneficiary, each circle sized by how much money was raised.

Click the image to make it full screen, and click again to zoom in. Click and drag to pan around the image.

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During their 15 years of active touring, Fugazi played with over a thousand bands. They often invited like minded bands, friends and label mates on Dischord Records to play with them. Here are the bands Fugazi played with the most, and how often those bands shared the same bill.

Click the image to make it full screen, and click again to zoom in. Click and drag to pan around the image.

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The four main members of Fugazi—Brendan, Guy, Joe, and Ian—have all been key players in the D.C. music scene since the early 1980s. Being a tight knit community, many of the bands shared members. Here we see Fugazi’s connections across bands from Dischord Records, the D.C. area, and beyond, by threading together bands that have shared members. This network quickly expands exponentially with each degree of separation, encompassing many scenes and genres.

Click the image to make it full screen, and click again to zoom in. Click and drag to pan around the image.

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List of shows scraped from the Fugazi Live Series website, using the Data Miner Chrome extension. I then used a geocoder to generate latitude and longitude coordinates for each show, based on the city, state, and country fields. For the shows in Washington, I replaced the generated values with more precise values, by looking up the lat + long coordinates for each DC venue based on their street address.

Detail pages for each show often noted when the show was a benefit. I manually added benefit show information into the data table, and then used the following calculation to figure out how much money they raised: Door Price multipled by the Number of Attendees, minus 20% to pay the sound person and other incidentals. These are approximated amounts. I also pulled “Bands played with” data from the show detail pages, and used Tableau Prep to separate the list out to individual entries, correct any misspellings or duplicate entries, and then get counts.

For the Family Tree visualization, I sourced the data from bandtoband.com, an online database of connections between bands, by shared members. Bandtoband.com considers a band member to be someone who played on a recording, so someone who was only part of a live lineup or just joined for one tour are not in the database. Technically Fugazi had a fifth member for their last years as an active band: Jerry Busher. He played a 2nd drumkit and other instruments, both live and on the album “The Argument.” I left him out of the first ring as a he is not a “main member” of Fugazi for most of their career, but represented him on the Family Tree by his appearance in the bands French Toast, All Scars, and Fidelity Jones.

Acknowledgments

Thank you to Rosendo Flores for letting me bounce ideas off of you, for proofreading and error checking. Thank you to Anna Hovland for being an amazingly supportive partner, putting up with the long hours I worked on this during evenings and weekends. Thank you to Ian MacKaye and Nichole Procopenko for taking the time to show me around Dischord house, and answer my questions about the archive. Thank you to Mark Kennedy and Kevin Finn from bandtoband.com for answering my questions about the database. Thanks to my grad school cohort and professors at Maryland Institute College of Art for the constructive feedback and encouragement.

Flyer images by Unknown, courtesy of the Fugazi Live Series website

  • Kepler.gl: This is an open source online mapping tool for visualizing large geospatial datasets. It’s particularly well suited to representing “trip” data, anything with an origin and a destination.
  • Tableau: Used to build the bar charts from counts of the number of shows in each country, and then each U.S. State
  • Photoshop: The map output was a raster file, so some color-correction work was needed
  • Illustrator: After rendering the map and the bar chart, I brought them both into Adobe Illustrator for the annotation layers
  • Kepler.gl: Used for the base map and isometric perspective, and to geolocate markers for each venue
  • Photoshop: Color-correcting the map, and feathering of the edges.
  • Illustrator: Creation of the “flag poles” and type labels
  • Tableau: Used to create the bubbles sized by the dollar amounts
  • Raw graphs: The circular hierarchical layout, called a dendogram, was generated using this free online tool
  • Illustrator: The outputs from Tableau and Raw graphs were both brough into Illustrator, where I dragged the bubbles into place on the dendogram
  • Tableau: Used to create the main chart structure of Bands across the top, and Timeline going down the side, with correctly sized bubbles
  • Charticulator: Free online tool for bespoke chart forms, used to create the arc diagram interconnecting the bands across the bottom of the chart
  • Illustrator: Merging of the two chart forms, styling, and composition
  • InDesign: Entirely manual process within InDesign. Data collection happened concurrently with building of the visualization. As I added more bands, I tweaked and reworked the composition to fit, experimented with styles for the connecting lines.