by Stephen Perkins
Punk zines were the indigenous and insurrectionary
voice of a whole generation of English working class youth alienated
and marginalized within England's class ridden culture. The initial
vacuum caused by punk's lack of empathetic coverage in the established
music press, combined with its antipathy to the whole industry,
opened up a new and exciting space for a homegrown or 'insider'
coverage of this rebel music. And like the alternative record
and distribution companies that were formed out of this '3 chord
garage band DIY aesthetic,' so did the punk zines rise to meet
the challenge through a fusion of accessible and cheap technology
(xerography), coupled with the excitement and enthusiasm that
this new musical expression generated in its fans.
Mark Perry the
editor of Sniffin' Glue, one of the first punk fanzines in England
explains how he started it:
...All that stuff about Glue being the first
fanzine is crap. Brian Hogg's Bam Balam, which was all about
sixties music, was in its fourth issue by then: it showed that
you could do a magazine and you didn't have to be glossy... It
was the first time I'd ever done anything like that: I approached
it like a project in school. (1,2)
Lacking any pretensions of professionalism, written,
pasted-up and welded together through the energy of his newfound
conversion to punk, Perry's punk zine was the first in what would
become a deluge of similar zines in the following years.
from the point of the view of someone involved within the punk
scene, the zines chronicled the rise of a punk subculture that
would spread throughout England during the early years between
1975-76, and later internationally. The most basic ingredients
of punk zines were the ubiquitous gig reviews, interviews with
bands, record & tape reviews, personal rants, letters from
readers and a healthy dose of undigested leftist/libertarian/anarchist
tracts, manifestoes and pronouncements, all strewn together within
a potpourri of collages, montages, ransom note lettering, and
banal mass media images juxtaposed against assorted taboo imagery.
The speed with
which the zines were pasted-up and Xeroxed, combined with the
appearance of new zines as if overnight, helped define this movement
from within its own unique perspective, defiantly creating its
own history without the help of outside intermediaries. It was
at this level that the visual assault that was such an integral
part of punk, crossed over into a visual assault on the page.
No image, text nor taboo were too extreme for inclusionit
all got cutup, re-combined and re-imagined. Malcolm McLaren,
chief architect of the Sex Pistols echoes these anarchic sensibilities
when he described the Sex Pistols in a handbill from 1978:
They are Dickensian-like urchins who with
ragged clothes and pock marked faces roam the streets of foggy
gaslit London pillaging. Setting fire to buildings. Beating up
old people with gold chains. Fucking the rich up the arse. Causing
havoc wherever they go. Some of these ragamuffin gangs jump on
tables amidst the charred debris and with burning debris play
rock 'n' roll to the screaming delight of the frenzied pissing
pogoing mob. Shouting and spitting "anarchy" one of
these gangs call themselves the SEX PISTOLS. This true and dirty
tale has been continuing throughout 200 years of teenage anarchy
and so in 1978 there still remains the SEX PISTOLS. Their active
extremism is all they care about because that's WHAT COUNTS TO
JUMP RIGHT OUT OF THE 20TH CENTURY AS FAST AS YOU possibly can
in order to create an environment that you can TRUTHFULLY RUN
WILD IN. (3)
And it is perhaps only in the pages of the punk
zines that this utopian vision was ever close to being realized.
The raw and uncompromising aesthetic that emerged from the Sex
Pistols through their Situationist inspired graphics and publicity,
found a fertile environment in punk zines. Jon Savage describes
the frenetic activity involved in putting together a zine:
In the lunch hour, I sit on the bog attacking
bits of paper with Pritt glue in a very real fevergot to
do it now, now. 'It' is a fanzine. I need to give voice to those
explosions in my head. Cut-up bits of the NME, 60s pop annuals,
Wilhelm Reich and 'Prostitution' handbills, are slashed together
around a long improvised piece about violence, fascism, Thatcher
and the impending apocalypse. (4)
This proliferation of punk zines did not guarantee
a consistent quality, however these were seen as minor impediments
to the would-be publisher empowered by the efforts of others
working out an accessible and affordable aesthetic. Publishing
a punk zine gave the editor an identity within this subculture,
it allowed him or her a voice within the community, and more
importantly access to the bands themselves.
In relation to
zines in the '80s, punk zines played a pivotal role in establishing
an aesthetic territory which was to be the inspiration and starting
point for many underground zines during this decade. One representative
example of the visual aesthetic fostered by punk was the zine
and Destroy, edited by Vale in San Francisco from 1977-78.
This magazine, and the one that would follow it, REsearch, served
an important function in facilitating the crossover of punk attitudes
& sensibilities into broader areas of cultural investigation.
Vale says of Search and Destroy:
I started working on Search and Destroy in
January '77. Our approach was really minimalist, we felt that
that was the new philosophy. It wasn't just going to be a documentation,
it was going to be a catalyst. We felt that the music was the
fun part but that it was an entire lifestyle, you don't spend
your entire life playing music on a stage, so we gave book lists,
we tried to encourage people to read, we listed films... I soon
realized that Punk was total cultural revolt. It was a hardcore
confrontation with the black side of history and culture, right-wing
imagery, sexual taboos, a delving into it that had never been
done before by any generation in such a thorough way. The Punks
were the first to examine the Vietnam war after the 1960s, reading
Soldier of Fortune magazine: there was a lot of Burroughs in
In conclusion, and leaving aside discussion surrounding
punk's eventual success of failure, or its final assimilation
into the mainstream as rebel fashion accessories, I want to list
here some of the important functions that punk zines played within
the movement, with particular emphasis on their legacy for 80's
- They provided support and a sense of identity across geographically
diverse punk communities.
- They were important vehicles for dissemination of information,
and provided a mouthpiece for their own particular communities.
- They were a vital form of participant observer chronicles
of an unique mid-70s subculture.
- They established new and influential aesthetic paradigms
for underground zines into the next decade.
- By their example they empowered fans and others to self-publish
their own zines. This ethic of accessibility would contribute
to the accelerated zine activity of the early 80s.
1. Savage, Jon. England's Dreaming. New York:
St. Martin's Press, 1992.
2. Mark Perry is correct in asserting that Sniffin' Glue was
not the first fanzine, but it was the first punk zine. Michael
Golberg in an article, 'Rock & roll fanzines: a new underground
press flourishes,' Rolling Stone, March, 1984, claims that the
first rock & roll fanzines were published in 1966 and called
Crawdaddy and Mojo-Navigator Rock 'n' Roll News, by Greg Shaw
and Paul Williams respectively. At the time these were the only
non-commercial magazines dealing with rock and pop. It's interesting
to note that Paul Williams had previously published a science
fiction fanzine prior to his conversion to rock & roll.
3. See ref. 1, p. 279
4. Savage, Jon. "The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle."
Impresario: Malcolm McLaren and the British New Wave: The New
Museum of New York & The MIT Press, New York & Columbia,
Sept. 16 - Nov. 20, 1988.
5. See ref. 1.
Burchill, Julie and Parsons, Tony. The
Boy Looked at Johnny: The Obituary of Rock and Roll. Boston:
Faber & Faber, 1987.
book contains a couple of brief and critical passages about punk
zines. "Started by working-class kids at the end of 1976,
fanzining soon became a fashionable public-school sport. My mid
'77 the fanzines were wallowing in the mire of a golden age long
gone; duplicated, sated drivel written by obnoxious whiners for
over-grown wimps. Half-full of tin-pot tirades against the thriving
orthodox rock papers, half-full of the golden calves of punkcollages
of the Queen, the Pistols and second-hand newspaper headlines
blaring unemployment and anarchy but meant to imply Armageddonthey
were nothing for something at an average price of 25p. You would
have done better putting your pennies towards a picture-sleeved
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture:
The Meaning of Style. London & New York: Methuen, 1979.
sees punk zines as one arena in which punk and what it stood
for could be communicated directly without the intervention or
mediation of the mainstream press or the established music press,
and that it was the first attempt, "...by a predominantly
working-class youth culture, to provide an alternative critical
space within the subculture itself to counteract the hostile
or at least ideologically inflected coverage which punk was receiving
in the media. The existence of an alternative punk press demonstrated
that it was not only clothes or music that could be immediately
and cheaply produced from the limited resources at hand."
Savage, Jon. England's
Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond. New
York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.
relating the history of the Sex Pistols and punk culture in general,
Savage emphasises the importance of punk zines in providing an
insiders' account of the development of the punk subculture.
"At the end of 1976, the mainstream media were closed to
Punk. Fanzines used the freedom they gained from this exclusion:
the people who put them together could say whatever was on their
mind, without worrying about censorship, editorial lines, subbing,
deadlinesexcept the deadline of pushing your product into
an arena that was still being defined. The result was a new language."
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