A crowd of eager punk rockers, hipsters and music fans gathered at UC Irvine last Tuesday to participate in a question and answer session with legendary musician Ian MacKaye, organized by the non-profit campus group Acrobatics Everyday. MacKaye is best known in the music world as the frontman of “straight edge” punk bands such as Minor Threat, The Teen Idles, Fugazi and The Evens. He is also the founder and owner of the independent rock label Dischord Records.
One glance at the crowd of people amassing in front of Humanities Hall 178 and you would have thought you were standing in front of CBGB or the Troubadour waiting for a rock concert to begin. It quickly became apparent that this excited crowd would not fit into the room easily. Once the doors opened, people flooded the seats, leaving only standing room in all corners of the lecture hall. Eventually fans took their seats in the aisles and even on stage, leaving less than a quarter of the stage free for MacKaye.
MacKaye appeared on stage dressed like any other slacker college student in faded cargo shorts and a t-shirt; but at 46 years old, he is more than just your typical ex-punk rocker. MacKaye, pronounced “Mac-KYE,” not “Mac-KAY,” a common mistake he made sure to correct at the beginning of the question and answer, is most famously known for being the founder of “straight edge” punk rock, a feat he is less than willing to take credit for.
Talking about his youth, MacKaye explained how he had seen so many of his friends fall victim to the negative effects of drugs, alcohol, sex and violence — elements that were seen as fundamental to punk rock at the time. MacKaye sought to disconnect himself from the violent “hardcore” style. As he put it, the “straight edge” movement was a rebellion against the sort of lifestyle that so openly embraced these elements and against a culture “obsessed with violence.” Staying true to the movement, MacKaye made a commitment to a sober life and has held strong to that vow to this day.
MacKaye then began to take questions from the audience, leading to a two-hour discussion that strayed on to many different and unexpected paths, from modern music and the corporate greed of record labels to the upcoming election, the separation of church and state and the corrupt state of government.
Throughout the discussion, it became clear that MacKaye had some very strong opinions when it came to the music industry. When asked by a fan what he thought about all the record labels that have been going out of business recently, Mackaye, known for his anti-corporate and mainstream media stance, responded.
“It’s not that record labels aren’t making money; they’re not making enough money … record labels sell plastic; they don’t sell music,” Mackaye said.
MacKaye said that if one day, all record labels were to be destroyed, he would gladly “throw his into the fire with the rest.” And as a lifelong supporter of underground punk music, Mackaye assured that “punk is where new ideas can be expressed … punk will never die. It’ll just keep changing.” In addition to this, he was critical of the role that alcohol plays in the music industry today and how it has become “suffused with the music.”
Another question he tackled was whether or not he would ever consider reuniting with his most famous project, Minor Threat. To this he responded, “Minor Threat would not exist today … if you guys want to hear Minor Threat today, go out there and start a band and blow Minor Threat out of the water … I don’t like to go backwards,” Mackaye said.
Concerning issues not directly related to music, he was asked at one point about his opinion on Proposition 8 and whether or not he thought that the separation of church and state was being torn down.
“The separation of church and state never existed,” Mackaye answered.
In light of the upcoming election, MacKaye went on to speak of the absolute necessity of voting in order to maintain freedom. He told students, “Question authority … because you can’t always trust your government.” Before leaving, Mackaye left the crowd with one final but important piece of advice: “Whatever you do … love it.”
Sam Farzin, founder and coordinator of Acrobatics Everyday, deemed the event a great success, with a turnout that exceeded his expectations.
“Ian is a huge name in the independent music community and has been for about 25 years. He has been involved in two hugely influential bands, and started and continues to run one of the most respected independent labels ever, so I expected a solid turnout, maybe 100, 150 people. I never could have imagined we’d have nearly 300 people come out. I was totally shocked,” Farzin said.
The next Acrobatics Everyday event is a free concert on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 3 p.m. in Engineering Lecture Hall 100.