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If there’s one local band whose music has inspired experimentation of the most forward-thinking caliber, it’s Fugazi. Remember Wugazi, the surprisingly fluid 2011 mashup album of Fugazi cuts and Wu Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)? Or Chris Lawhorn’s Fugazi Edits, in which the artist edited multiple Fugazi tracks together to create entirely new songs? Or Drew O’Doherty’s mesmerizing “I Spent It All,” which stretches the last note from the band’s last show ever into an eight-and-a-half-minute drone epic. The point being: Fugazi inspire some truly wild shit.
Enter It’s All True, an “opera-in-suspension” by the Brooklyn-based performance group Object Collection based, at least in part, on Fugazi’s comprehensive Live Archives series.
It’s hard to say what It’s All True is, exactly. It’s an experimental opera, but there’s no set story or narrative. It’s a performance piece based not just on the band’s Live Archive series—which contains the recordings of every show they played between 1987 and 2002—but more specifically, of the stage banter and incidental sounds in between the songs: Tunings, noodling, feedback, speeches, calling out hecklers and clowns in the audience.
There’s no story or narrative in It’s All True; writer and director Kara Feely calls it a “sort of collage of material that knows no time or space.” She says that the performance, which features four vocal performers and a musical ensemble composed of four guitarists and two percussionists, is structured into sections “that are just centered on a theme or idea that was brought up repeatedly in the concerts.”
During their time, Fugazi—who went on an “indefinite hiatus” in 2002—were known as a fiercely political band, often performing benefit and protest shows opposing the Iraq War, police brutality, and a host of similar social justice issues. And they were known for being quite vocal about these issues when put in front of microphones.
Feely and composer Travis Just combed through more than 1,500 hours of the Fugazi Live Archives to cull the best of those incidental moments for their piece. “I tried to gravitate toward … anti-Iraq War protests, or things that that Fugazi would routinely bring up in concert,” Feely says, “issues that would resurface a bunch, like the way the audience was behaving, or violence that was happening, people being aggressive during concerts, or women’s rights.”
During its 100-minute runtime, the four performers—Catrin-Lloyd Bollard, Avi Glickstein, Daniel Allen Nelson, and Deborah Wallace—deliver speeches and diatribes originally delivered by Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto in bursts of frenetic, convulsive cadence. In one section, one of the performers recites a MacKaye monologue about chronic homelessness, and in another section, another performer recites a speech from an infamous Fort Reno concert in which Picciotto calls out an unruly audience member for being an “ice cream-eating motherfucker.”
“The whole piece is just kind of lifted a bit in the air and never really settles,” Feely says. “There’s a lot of it that feels kind of repetitive, it comes back, it repeats in different variations. It feels, in a way, kind of cyclical and moving, but always kind of containing this explosive energy but never really having a full-on climax, and never really releasing any of that tension.”
For Feely and Just, It’s All True was nothing short of a labor of love. Originally conceived in 2014, the piece took about a year to put together. Feely says it was a “multi-stage process,” the first of which involved going through the entirety of the Fugazi Live Archive, “skipping through the songs and sort of finding the in-between stuff.”
After logging all the moments they thought could be used, Feely put together a script that encompassed the dialogue and moments she felt best worked thematically. Just then set out on the arduous task of developing a score.
It’s one of the more striking aspects of It’s All True, setting a frantic, anxious pace that lands somewhere between improvised free jazz and bursts of feedback and distortion. It hardly sounds like something performed from musical notation, but that’s exactly what Just did.
“Out of the 1,500 hours, I then made audio snippets of all the material that I wanted to use,” Just says of his process. “Then I made these collages in Logic Pro. Stack, like, 10 of these on top of each other, cut them all up, moved them all around. I knew I wanted to have an ensemble play it. It’s fully notated, but I had no idea [at the time] how I was going to do this. It was all so insane and there was so much of it that I had to write it down so we could actually get through it and stay together. But I knew the musicians that were going to play it—they all have experience. They can play notated stuff, but they’re all also improvisors.”
The concept of It’s All True seems like something conceived by the most diehard Fugazi fans, but both Feely and Just don’t consider themselves such. “I would say [I’m] a definite fan,” Feely says, “but I wouldn’t say I’m a diehard.”
Like Feely, Just feels a particular reverence for the band, but doesn’t consider himself a fanatic by any means. As a teenager, he was a saxophonist that mostly devoured free jazz records. Still, “Fugazi was always a band that, to me as a musician, I always listened to,” he says. “Even when I was, like, totally 100 percent Sun Ra, I would also have my Fugazi records out. They never got put away the way that other stuff I listened to when I was a kid did. It never went away. Because musically, they’re so fucking dope. It’s not just the stuff they sing about.”
And while both express a great amount of respect for the band, who gave their approval for the opera, they’re adamant in expressing that It’s All True isn’t about Fugazi. Rather, it’s sort of an extension of a lot of the ideas the band represented.
“I think, generally, it circles around a couple of thematic ideas,” Just says. “The primary one being the intersection of art and social justice and activism. The piece that we tried to make, and the ideas that we’re engaging with, are not 20 year-old-ideas that are of a time and a place. Police brutality doesn’t go away. A militaristic country does not go away. These ideas are a permanent factor.”
Object Collection performs “It’s All True” on Saturday, Jan. 27 at Rock & Roll Hotel. 1353 H St. NE. 8 p.m. $20.