Monday, February 2, 2009

Q & A'S with:
JOHN EDEN (Woofah)
JON DALE (Astronauts)
MIKE MCGONIGAL (Yeti/Chemical Imbalance)
JOLY MaCFIE (Better Badges)

(all interviews done for this Guardian feature on fanzines versus blogs)


Can you first tell me about your early experiences with doing fanzines? This would have been in the industrial years and anarchopunk, right?

I bought my first fanzine in the mid 80s from a bookshop in St Albans where I grew up. It was called Mucilage and was produced by the local anarchopunks. It was a pretty good example of the genre, featuring a big interview with Crass and a review of a Class War "Bash The Rich" march, but also 400 Blows and The Redskins. It didn't look like anything else in the shop, in fact it didn't look like anything I'd ever seen before - a riot of typewritten text (with lots of swearing), cut up pics and
cartoons. A proper underground aesthetic.

I was hooked and tried to get hold of as many zines as possible - sending off SAE's left right and centre and picking them up at gigs, trips down to London to Rough Trade, Compendim or Housmans (lefty bookshop).

I didn't really produce much myself until the early 90s when I was involved with TOPY - we did these little booklets of essays and graphics and such. Then I co-edited Ov Magazine, which was a sort of attempt to make occulture "tabloid" with lots of interviews, reviews etc and a nice design.

I also did a personal zine (which had no name) - for a year I would send out 50 copies of a double-sided A3 sheet with a diary, reviews etc. Almost like a blog on paper. This morphed into Turbulent Times, a newsletter about industrial music, psychogeography and whatever I liked. Then various things with the Association of Autonomous Astronauts and lots of letters and articles which got published in other zines.

I also did a lot of reviews for Bypass - the UK version of Factsheet5 (a magazine consisting only of reviews of fanzines).

Were you a voracious reader of them? What were the key ones for you in
those days? Stabmental was an important one, right, for industrial
fans. And then there was Vague.

Yes, my parents got a little perturbed by the sheer volume of mail I got as a teenager, often including envelopes covered with weird stickers or slogans. Spending wintry sunday afternoons in my bedroom listening to records and reading zines was a key fixture.

I was /completely/ obsessed with Vague (and to a lesser extent with RE/SEARCH and Rapid Eye, they were a bit too professional, ha ha) - such a great combination of underground culture and music, like this window into a strange London-centric counter culture of squats and revolutionaries and occultists and bohemians.

Stabmental was a bit early for me, I think - as was Flowmotion. Interchange was one I picked up a few of, and Force Mental out of Belgium.

I've forgotten a lot of the names, I'm afraid. Of course a lot of the groups themselves would do newsletters or little booklets - Coil did a fantastic one about all their influences. If you bought a record by Crass or The Apostles you end up with a whole fanzine's worth of text in the cover and inserts...

In the early 90s you had EST by Brian Duguid (who went on to write for The Wire) which was great. Gneurosis managed to combine some great pieces on Industrial music with bits on Alan Watts and taoism. Oh and Grim Humour which was another huge mag.

Were there specific important ones for reggae fans and dubheads?

The big on in the late 80s or early 90s was Boomshakalacka. It was produced by two brothers - Lol and Russ Bell Brown who had been inspired by seeing a Jah Shaka session. The zine became really influential in the the UK Dub scene, but also covered JA roots and even some ragga stuff. A lot of reggae denizens like Penny Reel (who wrote for the NME in the 70s and 80s) and Steve Barrow (of Blood and Fire) wrote things for them. Russ now records as The Disciples, and Lol now works at Dub Vendor.

This was followed in the late 90s by one called Step Forward.

In the 80s you also had Reggae Quarterly out of Canada, produced by Beth Lesser who has a book out at the moment through soul jazz. And there was another one from the US called Full Watts as well.

It's perhaps also worth mentioning Pressure Drop - a London zine in the 70s done by Nick Kimberley, Chris Lane and Penny Reel).

Then in the 90s we're getting into things like Datacide, Autotoxicity, Alien Underground--stuff at the intersection of techno culture,
theory, politics--urgent missives from the underground.. You passed
through that scene, right? Were there other key electronic underground

Yeah I was well into all that - I got hold of a lot of that stuff through things happening at the 121 Centre in Brixton which was a focal point for people doing mad subcultural stuff - psychogeography, insane tabloids like "Underground" which were given out for free, the Dead by Dawn parties (which had lectures or discussions beforehand).

Alien Underground was produced alongside Dead by Dawn as far as I could make out - Datacide came out of that same scene later. So yeah those 3 are definitely worth mentioning but also:

tech:Net - deleuzian rave manifestos on leaflets

Break/Flow - really quite heavy pieces on Kafka or Alex Trocchi and
musing on techno as well

Fallout - DJ Scud's zine which was more punky/collagy - rants about why
303s are shit but everybody wants one and rude cartoons by Shizuo

TNT - out of France (in French!)

That was the musical end of the spectrum which also span out into politics, culture whatever - these strange groups like Decadent Action or the London Psychogeographical Association who would circulate newsletters.

In a way that was all quite hermetic I suppose - there were other techno zines (one called Magic Feet or something, can't remember). But again it opened a lot of doors for me in terms of ideas and music, and people I met. A lot of good people had a lot of good things to say then. It was certainly an incredibly successful way of spreading ideas and making connections between people and scenes, you almost had to develop an analysis by default!

Certainly there was a yawning chasm between something like Alien Underground or Autotoxicity vs Mixmag or Muzik.

I think in that period between say 1995 and 2000 you had an increased influence of the net - zines would start printing email addresses maybe or even half a dozen urls. But it was still more usual to see a fax number on a record label, wasn't it? A lot of people were thinking about the internet (especially hippy californians like Mondo2000 and boing boing magazines) but hardly anyone was on it, so it wasn't a good way of getting ideas out there.

How did the idea of Woofah arise? And what was it that made you want to do it as print publication rather than go the obvious route of starting a webzine?

I missed that feeling of holding something in your hands, really. Something that impressionable people might read over and over again and get obsessed with like I had. I spend too much time in front of a screen at work and I'm not convinced people absorb material properly when it's read fleetingly on a website (and the boss might be looking over your shoulder). Plus I kept seeing people doing great writing or artwork and have it hidden away on a blog, or people making great music and not
enough people knowing about it. I felt it was a good time to intervene in all that.

I also felt it would open some doors - artists still like the idea of being interviewed for a magazine rather than a blog or website.

People got very excited about Woofah precisely because nobody else was doing it. Nobody else was that fanatical, ha ha.

Can you squeeze into a soundbite, or sound-nugget, the ethos/remit of
Woofah? It seems to be approximately anything that's related to the
Jamaican sound system tradition as it's developed/mutated/offshooted
in the UK. Bass culture, UK style. Well the name says it right there...

It's about UK soundsystem culture, essentially - reggae though jungle up to dubstep and grime. We do cover people from outside the UK but only if we feel like there is a direct connection with what we're about. From the outset the ethos was to make it critical and to have articles which engaged deeply with the culture - either people involved with it like producers or MCs or with issues like the police shutting down grime raves in London.

We are only interested in attracting the hardcore, wherever they may be (someone who ordered issue 1 lived down my road, the next order in the pile was to someone in Russia). We have no plans to increase the print run of 1,000.

What are the difficulties of doing a zine in the Noughties? Distribution, etc. Or has it become easier in other respects, e.g. producing a nice looking magazine thanks to computers and graphic design programs.

One of the main difficulties is that a lot of people expect this stuff to be free - there are a bunch of advert driven mags which people can grab on the counter of record shops, or they can download their music or get information from the web. We've deliberately not gone for adverts because we don't want to be beholden to record labels or whoever.

Distribution is actually pretty good - a paypal button on a website is much less hassle for someone than having to send an SAE, and distributors and record shops generally seem pleased to see us.

The design is amazing and something I am stupidly proud of. We now have several people internationally helping us with design - co-ordinated via email obviously. Our ability to reproduce great quality photos and graphics is certainly not something I could have done with Prittstick and a photocopier 15 years ago. I feel like we are doing the people we cover justice, which wouldn't have been the case with something with that lettraset/collage look - but I do still think there is space for that and would like more of it.

When we first emailed you mentioned the parallels between vinyl's resilience/resurgence and print... do you foresee a kind of massive reaction against the web, back to stuff you can hold and keep...

I think that's probably unlikely and what will happen is a kind of artisan scene where people produce objects (records/mags/books) at a premium while virtually everything else happens online for cheap or free. I regard that as A Bad Thing, which is probably a sign of getting old. It's conceivable that young people will reject the sort of surveillance culture of CCTV, Google and Facebook and want something which is more hidden and tactile instead - I hope so.

Do you think hardcopy magazines have more longevity? Webstuff seems more ephemeral, it can get amazing reach in terms of viral dissemination, but it burns up leaving little residue. Being an old fashioned creature very much of another era, I
save a lot of webzine and blog pieces that I read in my computer, but
almost never go back and reread them . And very rarely search for old
things I read on the web years ago unless it relates to something I
want to blog now. Whereas I do sometimes dig out old magazines or clipped-out articles I've kept.

Without a doubt - I still have that first zine I bought because it meant a lot to me. But I may be an atypical collector nerd type, I don't know (I recently got in touch with the editor and had to email him copies of his own publication because he'd lost them!). Certainly there is a collector market for this stuff now, and also an increased tendency for people to make available their old zines in online archives. But nobody rereads webpages even if they have printed them out for the bus ride home - the same as people never listen to many of the mp3s they have
downloaded more than once.

Most people I know who have this stuff do very much enjoy having a rummage through it now and again, it's a bit like going through old photos or something.

Certain zines from the past have become collectable.. My local record store has boxes of magazines from the 70s and 80s, often really surprisingly pricy, and among them are a lot of fanzines, some going for 20 bucks an issue. I also know a heavy-duty collector of records, esoteric books, every kind of countercultural ephemera you can think of, and he's scarfing up every fanzine he can get his mitts on from
the punk and pre-punk era. Have you noticed this syndrome?

Yes most definitely and I've personally shed a load of my archive via ebay to make some space here - the cost of keeping a lot of that stuff (especially the industrial music zines which I'm no longer really interested in) was far outweighed by the money they were selling for. I have also bought the odd thing myself that I missed, though.

Check out - this guy is selling at least 3
things I had a hand in producing. :-)

I think it's inevitable really - people have always collected this stuff (see for the previous wave - lots of copies of books and mags from the 60s!) and zines are one of the things you have to have a physical copy of really - a scan of a zine is much more inferior in my view than an mp3 rip of an album.

Possibly also mentioning that I've been thinking quite a bit about this recently because I'm doing a talk on music blogging at this conference in Berlin in which I'll be comparing my experiences with blogging and doing zines. So your approach is timely, Simon! Details here:

That's all for now - I have some envelopes to stuff :-)


How old are you? And you're from France originally?

I’m 22 and yes, I’m from France (it’s been one year and a half now since I’ve moved to the UK).

When do you remember first coming across zines?

I came across zines without even knowing it. My brother and I made three or four little messy zines together one summer, limited to one copy each. I was about 12 and he was 9. They featured a couple of stories we wrote during the holidays. But my zine life all really started with Jon Savage’s ‘England’s Dreaming’! I read it when I was 17, and because it mentioned zines I wondered where the zine scene had gone. Unable to locate any zine, I started my own. It was called ‘Bloom’. A recto-verso A4 page. I then found out about a girl named Anne Bacheley who was making a perzine at the time. The next zine I read was called ‘Les Hommes Du PrĂ©sident’ (‘All’s the President’s Men’).

Presumably many of your peers do things like blogs or webzines, what was your motivation for going the old fashioned route?

There were a couple of motivations. All very romantic. I wanted to make something that would be visible and material and touchable. I could have made cakes but fanzines last longer. Fanzines can stay. I wanted people to be able to read them and keep them somewhere in their house, swap them, etc. Fanzines are a bit like a currency. I wanted them to be real and to feel real – carry them in my school bag and give them away to people with friendly faces. I actually like to know who my readers are. I’m not interested in having one million people reading my writings online, because then they’re just a faceless, fleshless, distant audience. I like to feel in touch.

The internet is a place where you lose touch, getting lost in multitude, and the fanzinedom is more of a place where you ‘get found’ as it were, a place where you situate yourself in both space and time. Fanzines say ‘hello it’s me, I’m here’. They happen in specific places and inhabit a specific room when the internet is limitless and has no territory/territoriality of its own. The internet is a bit scary to me – it is bigger than us, beyond our control. And because it is beyond control, it is also beyond reach. It cannot be entirely ours. The electronic format doesn’t communicate itself when the paper format do: a fanzine is a means as well as a end. Fanzines are self-contained worlds – spinning on themselves forever. The internet is a means but not an end. It seems that fanzines can be self-sufficient and definitive – perfect circles. They refer to other things but they might as well create the reference, from start to end. The internet is ever-expanding which makes it unsituable and unsituated. Where is it? Where are you?

So I went the old-fashioned route because the ‘modern’ route was a highway with no end at all and I wanted to get somewhere, probably – I like it when things have a beginning and an ending.

But honestly I grew aware of this afterwards. The most important thing was to make something and see it happening and see how it could exist in the world. Because making real things is the only way to feel alive and to know that you’re alive. A kind of proof.

Are you involved in music scenes that have a corresponding interest in tangible analog formats -- vinyl (especially 7 inch single), cassette, and so forth? Do you think there is a politics of analogue versus digital, or is it just about aesthetics for you?

I buy vinyls and make a lot of mixtapes. The anti-folk scene is probably the scene I feel the closest to (especially the Olive Juice music label). I never buy digital music. I would probably do it if it felt right, but it doesn’t. Music is associated with tangible artefacts to me. A MP3 is a file – it can be erased in one click. Empty the trash. Gone. Music is more than a file: it stays, and it has a shape and a volume and a matter. I tend to collect, but never for the sake of collecting. Collection makes recollection possible: it’s your life in music and you can play it again. The albums you’ve listened to, the books you’ve read. They sit on your shelves, and it is memory made visible, memory in motion. Artefacts stay and accumulate, and they mean that you’ve got a past and therefore a story – they make sense. There is no romance involved with MP3s, no real temporality: you don’t keep trace of anything. So I don’t really know what it’s about for me – digital just seems to be a mistake. And it’s not because I live in the past or deliberately choose vintage formats over new ones, just because I need to be able to look back on something. I need references. Call it sentimental capitalism, maybe.

As for the 7’’ singles, I only buy them when I like the songs, but I’m not obsessed with them.

How long does it take to make an issue of Applejack? I was intrigued by your references to ribbons. But that's instead of staples -- so it's actually held together by ribbons?

It took one whole summer to make the last issue of Applejack (issue #4). Yes, it’s held together by ribbons, or by colour strings. The first two issues of Applejack were hand-sewn. It’s fun to try different things. I have no stapler.

You said the scene in the UK for zines is quite "vivid"--so there's quite a lot of people doing them? And not just people who are veterans of the 80s and 90s scene, but young people?

There’s a London zine symposium. I don’t know if it’s “quite a lot of people” doing zines, but it feels a reasonable amount to me (Stephen from Brighton used to review the zines: And yes, they are young people, in their late teens and twenties.

How hard is it to get your zine out there into stores and such like? Are there distributors who take them? Or do you go direct to stores? Is Rough Trade still a hub for that kind of thing?

It actually depends a lot on stores, apparently Jumbo records in Leeds is very good for fanzines. Total Heaven in Bordeaux (France) is excellent too. There are zine distros such as Ricochet! Ricochet!, Marching stars and Caramel. But what I generally do is take my zines to record stores directly and leave a few copies. They are always welcome. Mainly it is hand to hand or mail order distribution. I’ve never seen a fanzine in Rough Trade, not in the shop on Talbot Road anyway. Sister Ray on Berwick Street used to have a lot of fanzines, including American ones.

JON DALE, Astronauts

Were you a voracious reader of fanzines What were the key ones for you in the early days? (That would be early nineties right?)

I don't know if I'd quite say voracious – back then I found a lot of zine culture wanting. Nothing's really changed in the intervening years, I guess! But I certainly found zines were a good alternate outlet for information on music. I'd been raised on/by the late 1980s English music press –I was living out in the country, in a village with a population of fifty, and the only way I could find out what was going on was through the three-month-old surface-mail copies of NME and Melody Maker I used to get. That delay prepared me well for the inevitable time-lag of zine culture, come to think of it…

I only really started reading zines when I moved to Adelaide in 1993, at which point they became more readily accessible. Record stores like Big Star and Thrash Grind Grunge would always have a pile of them floating around. I remember the gateway drug for some of us was Spunk – which presented somewhere between zine and music mag. So it was 'prof' in outlook but covered more zine-friendly acts – this was the early-to-mid 1990s so it was the American lo-fi thing, really, Pavement, Guided By Voices, Superchunk, that kind of thing. As is the way with so many zines, Spunk turned into a record label and suspended their publication arm, but the label's aesthetic feels like a natural extension of the zine still which is admirable I think, even if it means they don't release much good music anymore, the bottom falling out of that 'scene' a long time ago. (I guess the inverse of the positive aspects of self-publication, 'doing your own thing' is that you can spend the rest of your life obsessing over the same, increasingly culturally irrelevant things, year in, year out.)

From there I remember discovering Guy Blackman and Richard Forster's Salty & Delicious, which really changed a lot for me, most importantly realizing how much great music was happening in Australia that I had no idea about, like Molasses, Minimum Chips, Small World Experience, etc. (Guy now runs Chapter Music, who did those Australian post-punk compilations, and writes for The Age.) And then finding old copies of Forced Exposure, discovering Nick Cain's Opprobrium (that was an important one), then Ptolemaic Terrascope, Popwatch, Yakuza, From The Same Mother, Kindling, Year Zero, The Broken Face, Bananafish, and my personal favourite of those years, Patrick Marley's incredible Muckraker.

See, I didn't even know you did a fanzine! Can you give me a quick breakdown of Astronauts publishing history, what the initial spur to do it was ? The kind of thing you covered. And is it all self-authored or did you have contributors…

You'll have to excuse me for this, I'm not being disingenuous, but I really can't remember too much. All of my belongings are in a storage container in Melbourne so I can't flip through my archives, and anyway I threw out my old copies of Astronauts a few years ago, perhaps rather hastily, but I don't like looking through my own writing, it's bad enough that other people had to read it, the poor things.

But the initial spur was maybe that simple moment of clarity, that self-publishing wasn't particularly hard if you had access to a photocopier, and I had just started university so that was pretty easy. I wonder if it had something to do with studying Commerce back then as well, writing about music/arts/etc to balance the grind of learning about accounting principles. Around the same time I started working at Student Radio so that fed the zine quite well; interviews I'd broadcast would also be transcribed for the zine, etc. I remember doing a few radio specials on New Zealand music back in '96, interviewing Bruce Russell, Alastair Galbraith and Roy Montgomery, and then using those interviews in the zine.

So there have been four issues so far; the first two are eminently forgettable, the third pretty close to dismal, and maybe the fourth started to get somewhere but it's been a number of years since then so who knows what the fifth will be like. I really tired at some point of zines full of Q&A (both my own and others'), so the next one will hopefully be fairly different. I've gotten rid of the 'record reviews' section, to everyone's benefit: who needs another record review in their life?

As far as what was covered, it was probably a pretty good indicator of my obsessions at the time. The fourth issue I remember having interviews with Matt Valentine and PG Six of Tower Recordings, Tim Barnes, Hall Of Fame (by James Jackson Tothe aka Wooden Wand), a reprint of a Shirley Collins interview that originally appeared in Ptolemaic Terrascope, a piece on David Behrman written by Simon Wickham-Smith, and a few other things besides. I've been blessed to have some pretty amazing contributors in the past – Byron Coley, David Keenan, Bill Meyer. The next issue has a huge Supreme Dicks interview done by Adam Lore (whose 50 Miles Of Elbow Room is another all-time favourite zine of mine), a story on Eastern European traditional music by Steven R Smith, and a bunch of other things I'm still working on. Maybe something on Czech New Wave Cinema, I dunno. This next issue will feature a lot more non-music related stuff, I hope.

It sounds from your description of the plans for the fifth one that it has quite a strong design aspect -- a wooden box!

Yeah, well, if I can get it organized! I figure if everyone's gonna harp on about fetish objects, you may as well make a good one. But I do like making limited editions of things, it's good, feels like you've hand-blessed each thing individually. Kinda like artist repros. That's an aesthetic I'm well into – not that that would be a revelation to anybody!

This seems to be a big part of the resilience and possible resurgence of the zine in this digitized era, the desire for something tangible, something you can keep…

Absolutely, and if digital culture has done anything it's been to help privilege the notion of the 'hard copy', an interesting turn of events. I don't know too many people who are so keen on the dematerialization of the markers of their corporeal existence, but maybe I just know a lot of freaks.

The music cultures you're involved in -- noise, drone, free folk, improv etc -- tend to have a similar approach -- love of the handcrafted and customized, the limited edition, the music + packaging/personalized … the solidity and permanence of the zine seems to fit right there, and the fact that it can be an intensely personal expression, quirkily designed…. And to get hold of it you also have to put in a bit of work, explore "other channels".

Yes, the day there's an Ikea 'fanzine rack' is the day it will be all over. (Not that I'd really complain – not enough people talk about the tyranny and trauma of storage/shelving for the collector.)

I never had much problem with putting in a bit of work and exploring 'other channels', I figure that's one of the more interesting things in being involved with music and art and culture and etc. Handcrafting and the limited edition can really be financial imperatives, too – I've witnessed enough friends living on welfare who channel most of their benefits into their music, they can't afford to do a vinyl run, so the cassette's the way to go. Of course they're pretty cognizant of the historical and aesthetic meaning of the cassette too, we're not talking about noble savages here…

Zines are similar, though interestingly they're much more a gateway to 'the profession' – how many music writers came up through zines, I wonder? Well, there's yourself, for one… I was talking with my friend Lee Tran Lam last weekend, who did a really great zine called Speak Easy for a while, and she talked about how music writing is much more flexible than most – if you've some idea about music, honed maybe by some years writing for zines, then places will give you a chance. With film, book criticism etc it seems a lot tougher. That's interesting.
I'd also like to note that I'm also involved in techno, house etc cultures in some regards, and they're just as fetishistic in their own ways. While there's a more utilitarian/functional aspect, the privileging of the 12" single (particularly the original pressing) is just as much about the 'limited edition/music + packaging' aspect as drone, noise, etc.

To wax theoretic, it's also like there's this slippage of "aura" that occurs when a new medium of distribution/recording supplants an earlier one -- so once upon a time it was the original painting that had aura, or in music terms, the live, one-time-only-performance…. But now with the emergence of mp3s etc, the vinyl recording (and the cassette mix tape) has become auraticized….. or old print magazines, once the ultimate in disposability, mass-mediated, become fetishised in the face of the infinite dissemination and ephemerality of the web.

That slippage of 'aura' is an inevitable part of our tendency to valorize our past, I'd think. Nostalgia, eh? I wonder how many zines were born with their own historical presence in mind? I certainly never thought about my zines ever being re-read by anyone five years down the track, but occasionally someone mentions Astronauts, it's a real surprise. But that's a little off topic…

I think a good example of this is Pat at Sunshine & Grease in Melbourne, who is making a very concerted effort I feel to support the music zine in the digital age. I've not really heard him rant much about too many blogs or whatever, but he's crazy about Bixobal and O Sirhan O Sirhan – plus they're beautiful objects to have in the shop. But he's very pro- vinyl, artist editions, etc. It's a great shop, and it's all about 'aura' in some ways.

Do get the sense that the zine is making a comeback? Obviously there's people who were veterans of that era who have kept with it, or gone back to it--Mike McGonigal and John Eden, who I'm talking to, and the people you mentioned. But are there younger music fans who are going back to the print, hardcopy format?

I don't know if the zine is making a comeback, and I'm really not sure if younger music fans are going back to print. I guess you'd have to ask a young music fan, and I sure ain't one of them. It has been intriguing to see stuff like Bixobal, Yeti, Bread etc turn up around the traps, but it doesn't feel quite as vital/vibrant as back when zines were how the underground communicated. If anything, the zine's making a serious comeback in other realms, particularly the personal zine. But those are generally a bunch of self-indulgent wank, so I don't pay attention to them.

Do you follow any other kinds of zines? Obviously back in the day there were all kinds of movie-idol zines, and as far as science fiction fans are concerned, they were THE original zinesters. Is there an underground of gay zines?

There is an underground of gay zines, but I never really got into it. I suppose it's partly the Groucho Marx thing of not being a member of a club that would have me, but also just that I didn't find them… rigorous enough. I remember reading one that mentioned Guy Hocquenghem, and I thought, 'right, now we're getting somewhere', but it was just really tiresome polemic, nothing particularly interesting, some potted history and a bit of quasi-incendiary post-May-'68 language. Political zines are the same – they're often all front, no substance, a bunch of little Daniel Cohn-Bendits without the intelligence or fire.

Some friends of mine write food zines, and I find them quite good actually, they're very unpretentious. Interestingly some of them have moved online while keeping the print thing going as well, and I wonder if that kind of co-habitation is the way to go. My friend Jessie Lymn's food zines are always great fun and really informative, and her website is nice if for no other reason than that I can keep up with her travels…

What are the difficulties of doing a zine now compared with when you started? Distribution must be easier in some respects with paypal etc, but also less record stores that will take them, simply because less record stores EXIST…

Hmm, maybe it's tougher now re: distribution, but I was very selective with who I sold to anyway. I've only a few places in mind for the next issue, basically like-minded souls like Volcanic Tongue, Eclipse, Sunshine & Grease – if they'll take the zine, that is. I don't want to presume anything. Someone suggested this was elitism, but I'd rather think of it as keeping control of some aspects of the process. I think the most difficult thing is finding the time! Back when I was an undergrad student it was really easy to set aside a couple of weeks to work on a zine, now it's impossible.

Certain zines from the past have become collectable. Have you noticed this syndrome? Ever sold off some of your zine collection?

Wow, is this really happening? That's news to me. I guess it's an inevitable end point for the zine process. I've never sold off my collection, no, I don't think I could do that, plus they're so well-used they'd not go for any money anyway. I still read Forced Exposure, Opprobrium, Muckraker pretty regularly, so they're all well-thumbed and dog-eared. I wonder how these old zine editors feel about their publications selling for well beyond their original price and that money going to third and fourth parties. Probably the same way all those artists felt when zine writers were going on about rare records that they'd paid record dealers hundreds of dollars for…


What are the noticeable differences about doing Yeti compared with Chemical Imbalance? Is it technically easier, with computers now ? Harder to get distributed (less record shops of the kind that would be sympathetic) or easier (mail order/paypal via the net)?

Everything is much technically easier now, yes. I am self-taught at many things I do, for better and (often) for worse. I used to do layout with Scotch tape. I started Chemical Imbalance in 1984, and while my father had purchased the very first MacIntosh computer I didn't have layout software or learn about laser printers for years after that. What you can simply do with a word processing program now is amazing compared to typing up text, trying to have it in one column, deciding whether or not you wanted to go back and Liquid Paper/ fix that error…

I do miss the look I'd sometimes get with headlines, as I'd buy these press-on pages of headline-sized type and use those. It was a nice effect, and very hands-on. That said, my business partner Steve Connell does all the layout for our 'zine and the books we publish. He edited and published the 'zine Puncture back in the '80s and '90s and early '00s. That's how we met, after I did a cover story on Neutral Milk Hotel for him a dozen years ago.

Direct sales are far easier these days, while larger distro is definitely more problematic. We're in a weird place too where we should sell to more book shops and to museum stores than we do. It's something we need to work on. Distribution to record shops is definitely harder as record shops go away or simply order less new stock. We have the most basic website right now, but it works – paypal is a wonderful thing; it's always best to be paid upfront, and directly!

I'd say the two biggest ways that we move the units via the web are our mailing list (simply culled from past buyers) and well-placed news items. We've learned over the last few years how to get information out to various websites-that-matter, so we feed them press releases or tidbits about who's on the CD or whatever, and when they link directly to us for pre-orders that's a huge help. The Pitchfork effect really can be tremendously helpful in terms of $$.

To get back to the differences between doing a 'zine now and when I started 25 years ago -- when I did the third issue of Chemical Imbalance, I made this very crude little tribute to D. Boon. I loved the Minutemen, saw them a few times and briefly corresponded with D. and they were pretty much my favorite band then. So, I typed out my favorite Minutemen lyrics on my Mom's Selectric typewriter, and made the middle pages into just a little poster-tribute. That issue had been out for a year, and of course it took months to be published after D. had passed. But this girl picked up the issue and came up to me to thank me so much for telling her about D.'s death. The point is, a year and a half had gone by, and she was a fan, but she'd not heard about his passing. That's unthinkable now, of course, for obvious reasons.
My old 'zine had all these record reviews; it didn't have news sections or anything but it functioned in the littlest way as "news." This is because there was an actual subculture – you had to physically seek out a little record shop on some out of the way side street and go in, and try to figure out what's what. You had to risk being judged...

What distributors take zines and independent, irregularly issued periodicals? And what kind of places can they get the publications into?

We mostly deal with record distributors; a lot of 'zine distros turn us down! They think we're not 'ziney enough, whereas some fancy art distros who get publications like Cabinet around seem uninterested in what we're doing as well. Last Gasp in San Francisco distributes our 'zine and some others, too. So many distributors have died in the last decade or so, and thankfully only one or two have done so while owing me any money.

It really pays to go direct as much as possible. There are really cool little shops that seem equally interested in marginal music, comics, and graphic art – every city seems to have one these days – Needles and Pens in SF, Family in LA, Reading Frenzy in Portland, Quimby's in Chicago – these places are more important than ever…

Do you sense that the zine is making a comeback? Obviously there's people who were veterans of that era who have kept with it, like yourself or John Eden. But are there younger music-fans who are going back to print?

Man, I see 'zines in museum shops now, and they're often not very good! Like, really, not good. But it's exciting to see them there. So, clearly younger artists are very interested in Doing! It! Themselves! And the 'zine is a clear way to do that, it's a statement the same way that starting a cassette label is (I'm doing that myself this month, actually, starting up the Social Music Tape Club, or else I'd totally make fun of the little hipsters and their silly little cassette labels – hmm).

I do not see many new music 'zines, but that of course doesn't mean they do not exist. I'm an old now; I have no fingers on pulses. I do see 'zines thriving, but a very particular kind. It's all from the art/ literary side, that I can see. It's more of a… curio. A semi-disposable thing that's more aware that it's art. It's less of a form of communication now, it's less necessary, so it's fully freed from the need to print an Idaho Scene Report. Now you have far more little 'zines with silkscreen covers, maybe made by someone in a band but there are forty made, half got sold probably.

Trinie Dalton's been very successful with her themed 'zines; Picture Box just did a nice book of them. For music, blogs are clearly the way to go – you can get an entire artist's discography in less than five minutes on a music blog. Or hear about the very latest thing that the skinniest guy from that band of all skinny dudes did while they're on tour now, in Norway.

Certain zines from the past have become collectable. Have you noticed this syndrome?

Really? I didn't know that, I guess. Well, I did see an issue of 'Sniffing Glue' – never ever a very good 'zine -- sure it was definitely "important in punk history" -- but still it was never even as good as Holmstrom's Punk—but there it was in a glass case for several thousand dollars, in this ridiculous ephemera/ art/ book shop on the Upper East side last year. I'd gone there to see an opening of these collaborations that Richard Hell and Christian Wolf did, and there was this one little punk 'zine, priced for absolute crazypants amounts. I thought it was just one insane person trying to scam a trust funder who didn't know any better.
The only run of 'zines I really wish I had that I used to own is a complete set of Gerard Cosloy's 'Conflict.' It was so well done and harsh and funny. I never liked the way a lot of 'zines would enter the realm of snark, largely because it was just so half-assed and obviously coming from some little white boy living in his mom's basement and he'd call someone he didn't like an "artfag." 'Conflict' had a taste of that, but Gerard started it when he was like 13 or something! They should make the kids who do 'Gawker' now sit down and read 'Conflict.' Well, they'd have to explain who most of the people were, but that was for me the pinnacle of a certain kind of snark. Cosloy is/ was a genius.

These days I do spend a bit of time in my research on old gospel and sanctified blues going through old blues fanzines and newsletters, usually while visiting special collections like the one at Old Miss. And I think that there really is such a power to when someone who's not an expert but is just a super enthusiastic obsessive feels the need to tell other people about what he or she loves.

That's to me the real thing that fanzines have to offer – this very particular and ideally highly personal glimpse onto obsessive, true, fully dorky love for one particular thing. The '90s showed us that even 'zines that had high production values and proper grammar and nice design could retain that sort of sense of vision – I'm thinking of 'Halana,' 'Music,' 'Badaboom Gramophone,' and 'Sound Collector.'

Fuck, I miss each of those a great deal.

JOLY MaCFIE, Better Badges

You were involved in the whole pre-punk underground press, the print arm of the British counterculture, right?

I was music editor of International Times from 1976. IT went until 1977, and then closed. It wasn't punk that ended it, in fact it was on the case with punk early. Actually we even did a cover that declared Punk Was Dead, cos it had been co-opted. But yes I was involved in the whole West London underground scene. I roadied with Pink Fairies, did a whole bunch of different things. Then in 1973 I opened up a music agency on Portobello Road. International Times shared the space with me, that was where the connection began. Then it folded for a while and then this guy who owned the publishing on the Rocky Horror Show reopened the magazine. And not long after that I became the music editor.

Were the underground magazines--IT, Oz, Frendz, et al--something like proto-fanzines, or were they much more like newspapers, with offices and salaried staff?

IT was an underground newspaper, definitely. In fact it was a member of the Underground Press Syndicate. Originally it was the hippy newspaper. Mick Farren took it over at the end of the Sixties and while he made it more political and revolutionary, he also made it more tabloid. When the three day week came in 1972 or 73, and the whole economic crisis of that time, it ended that whole lifestyle of living on the dole and not having to worry about money. But before that there was a whole bunch of underground magazines--IT, Oz, Frendz, Ink, which was put out by Oz--and they were really like weekly or fortnightly newspapers. Then some of those people started to work in the music press, like Caroline Coon joined Melody Maker, Mick Farren went to NME. Which is like how people left the punk fanzines to join the music papers. But the underground press was much more analogous to proper newspapers than fanzines. The way I'd put it, it was still going from the top down to the bottom, as a transmission of information and opinion. Fanzines was the first time stuff from going from the bottom upwards. Or from the outside into the middle. It was like the notes that people passed around the back of the classroom. That was setting the agenda now. And badges, which is what I got involved with Better Badges, was actually part of the same thing. It was a grass roots expression.

But what underpinned fanzines was a technological shift that was really analogous to the arrival of the Internet. Duplication suddenly got a hell of a lot cheaper. Xerox had been 50 p a sheet, now it was 10 p a sheet. This is around 1975. You started to get the first copy shops opening up all around the country.

Oh yeah, I'd never thought of that. Xerox machines used to be something only a big company would have in their office. And people used things like carbon copies if they wanted to duplicate things.

Gestetners was what corporations used. Around 1975 it suddenly got a lot easier to do a lot of things in terms of printing. In the Sixties when I was promoting shows and I wanted to do posters, the only thing means I had was lino cut. As well as Xerox getting cheaper, Kodak introduced instant printing. They were even experimenting for a while with using paper plates instead of metal plates as part of the process. It used to break down after 200 copies, but it was much cheaper. You could make a plate for one pound, not 100 pounds.

Fanzines weren't a total invention of punk rock, though. Obviously there had been science fiction fanzines, and kind of pop fan club zines.

The word "fanzine" existed for a long time. You had science fiction ones going back to the 1930s. And in the Sixties you had things like Beatles Monthly and newsletters, and these A5 letter-press things. But with the Fifties and Sixties fan club zines, everyone was much more concerned with image. You had magazines like Rave in the Sixties, with lots of photographs.

In 1976 the music press was still very nongraphic, you had acres and acres of text, long interviews and reviews. Whereas the zines were very graphics and photo led. Partly because you couldn’t reduce photographs in size without using a process camera, which was expensive -- it cost one pound a shot. It's hard to imagine but there was a time that you couldn't make images bigger or smaller. So the zines would
were forced to adopt collage style more or less by circumstance. Also improved Xerox allowed unprecedented and sexy gradations of grey without halftoning. Another constraint that they turned into a sort of aesthetic was with headlines. If Letraset cost one pound a sheet and could only be used once, they would do blackmail style lettering -- letters cut out of magazines and newspapers.

But with photocopiers and instant printing, it was the first time that the technology became available to create stuff on a mass level. It was very much similar to the way that the Japanese in the early Seventies started flooding the world with cheap tape recorders. That led to the whole thing of mixtapes, personal compilations, and also people duping things like John Peel sessions, swapping them in the playground. It was the first peer to peer network, tape trading.

The thing I felt about badges was, there had previously been a clear line between the producer and the consumer, but now that was going: you could now be part of the process. Because it wasn't just people like me making and selling the badges, it was people making their own badges, painting stuff on their clothes.

When did you start the print now, pay later scheme for fanzines?

I bought my first printing press in 1978. But really 'print now, pay later' kind of came out the approach with badges. Initially when I started doing badges, I paid a royalty to the bands. But that proved too hard to administrate. It was actually Rob Gretton who said "we don't care about the money". One thing was that everything they put out officially had to have a FAC number. But he said, "really the badges come from the outside." So anyway I stopped paying royalties, but I did a thing where I'd give 200 badges free to the band, out of the pressing of 1000, for them to sell at gigs or give away promotionally. So we'd be covering the entire production costs. And so I continued that policy with fanzines. The deal was we'd make 1000 copies, say, and they'd come in and take some whenever they needed some more copies, and then they'd pay cost price--probably 10 p--and then sell it for 20 p. I worked out at the end that I just about broke even on doing the fanzines.

It was Jamming, Tony Fletcher's zine, that started me off. I taught myself to print on one of his issues. Then we had people like Tony D with Ripped and Torn. So the editors would bring them in and I'd print them. I was doing badges by day, fanzines by night. It was tough to do. We had about 40 zines at one point, and I had three printing presses going. Tony Fletcher actually wrote a rant in Jamming complaining that we'd lowered the level of quality of fanzines by homogenizing the look of them!

One of our clients was iD, I did the first eight issues for Terry Jones. That magazine is still going today. But we'd also be doing things like Toxic Grafity, which had the flexi from Crass. Flexis seem punk but they weren't a new thing, they'd been around for a while: Private Eye used to do them, and also the Beatles fan club zines.

When did you wind down the whole fanzine operation? And why?

It began to run out of steam. It was the same with the badges--the market became flooded in 1979, especially with the 2-Tone stuff. So it became devalued as a method of underground promotion. The same thing happened with fanzines a little later. Smash Hits took some of the ideas of fanzines--the idea of lots of pictures, and lyrics.

At Better Badges over the course of five years I'd turned over a total of a million pounds. But I was owed money by distributors and about fifty different record stores. And at the same time I owed money--to the badge pressing company, to the NME for the ads I was taking out. So it was at that point where it could have gone bankrupt for cash flow reasons. So I sold the company to the workers, for a fraction of what it was worth.

At the same time the New Romantic movement, it wasn't so ziney and so badge-oriented, compared with punk and postpunk. For instance I was selling huge quantities of Adam and the Antz badges. Ants with a Z. But then he went on Top of the Pops and my sales plummeted. That was because all the punx were painting out their Antz logos on their leather jackets. They all switched allegiance to Theatre of Hate. And Crass.

In the early Eighties I moved to America. And I got interested in computers. I had this portable Commodore 64 computer. At that point, in California, it was all about bulletin boards. It happened in America partly because they don't have phone calls by the minute, a local call is a flat amount for an indefinite amount of times. So you had all these bulletin board operators. But the American hardcore scene wasn't into technology. So it was still all about fanzines. In fact it was a new generation of zines, things like Flipside and Maximumrocknroll. The golden age of zines in America was hardcore.

One thing I tried later on was a phone-zine, via digital voice mail. I got half a dozen voicemail boxes and you could switch from box to box, and there'd be news, interviews. The hip hop people were really into it, so I'd have stuff in there from KRS1 or Chuck D.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Melody Maker, January 24th 1987

by Simon Reynolds

FANZINES: The Lost Moment
Monitor, issue 1, 1984

by Simon Reynolds

Author's Note 2009: an early effort this,written when I was 21 and to be read with a forgiving eye. Decidedly jejeune in its verbosity (if you think I'm wordy now, well below is dictionaries-for-breakfast) and in its emphatic tone (chronic over-use of underlining, which looks much worse than italics, which for some reason we couldn't do at this early stage of Monitor's production history, if someone could gesticulate wildly through the medium of print then this is what it would look like). And YET there are some passages here that don't make me cringe and cower my head under the duvet, the raw discourse data derived from my scrutinising many issues of mid-Eighties fanzines is interesting, while the basic argument still has some pertinence and also seems.... characteristic. Read it kindly!