Originally published: http://www.independent.co.uk
You could say fanzines came from outer space. In the 1920s fans produced amateur magazines like The Comet, in homage to the burgeoning sci-fi phenomenon and their efforts were tagged ‘fanzines’ by figurehead Louis Russell Chauvenet. A few decades later, Beat writers chose the chapbook as a way of distributing experimental poetry (Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and “Mind Breaths” were among these) and then in the late 60s, a clutch of proto-‘musiczines’ (like Paul Williams’ Crawdaddy and Greg Shaw’s Mojo Navigator) – reared their head.
The rise of the underground press in the Sixties aided the arrival of ‘zine’ culture in the Seventies. Just as the democratic nature of punk taught that anyone could pick up a guitar and start a band – regardless of musical ability –DIY zine communities championed immediacy and positive action, encouraging productive acts of self-expression and self-publication. Anyone could make a zine.
Requiring little more than paper, scissors, glue, a photocopier and an idea, it wasn’t long before people began committing their personal, political or cultural ideologies to paper-led testimonies, cutting and pasting nonconformist voices and circulating them where and how they saw fit.
It was, for many, like putting two fingers up to the establishment and an iron clad challenge to society. Regardless of the existence of the internet, printed zines are still a powerful and invaluable form of socially conscious cultural currency. Hardly comparable to the computerised equivalent – the blog! – which, although still a powerful platform for self-expression, is not without its limitations.
The late Seventies spawned a steady succession of incendiary, thought provoking and painstakingly delivered punk zines, all created with the blood sweat and tears of disenfranchised music fans tired of (and excluded from) the mainstream press. Short-lived UK punkzine Sniffin’ Glue was instrumental in its chronicling of the era and punk sage Jon Savage produced his zine London Outrage in December 1976. In the US, Punk documented the New York scene with passion and exuberance, and over in San Francisco, V Vale’s Search and Destroy was doing the rounds.
Karren Ablaze was a young, eagle-eyed music aficionado living in Manchester in the late 80s. Voracious and ambitious, she carefully documented the defining sounds of the post-punk era in her seminal zine, Ablaze!, between 1984-1994. She recalls her first brush with fanzines: “As a kid I hung out in record shops and discovered zines on the counters there. I had little money but they were cheap enough for me to buy and their editors were happy to engage in intense correspondences with me. It didn’t naturally occur to me that I was entitled to join their ranks; I needed to hear the mantra of DIY, it’s easy, it’s cheap, go and do it, before I could start publishing myself.”
She began publishing tentatively – two folded A4 pages photocopied 5 times – then took on a bigger project that involved interviewing all the Manchester bands she could get hold of, just two years prior to the ‘Madchester’ explosion. During its existence she interviewed UK acts like My Bloody Valentine, The Pastels, The Membranes, The Stone Roses, and then as the US grunge and early post-grunge scene began to take shape, she turned her attention to The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Pavement…
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