A short interview with Nic Bullen (founding member of Napalm Death) on punk zine culture.
1. What for you were the most memorable punk zines around the 1980s? What was so rad about them?
For me, the most influential (and thus memorable) period related to fanzines spans the years 1979 to 1983.
The ‘Do It Yourself (D.I.Y.)’ philosophy which underpinned the fanzines represented a means of creativity and self-expression which existed outside of the sanctioned channels for discourse, and the sense of being part of a likeminded community appealed to me (I made my first fanzine in 1980 when I was 11).
Initial inspiration and motivation came through the local fanzines from Coventry and surrounding areas (particularly Alternative Sounds, Adventures in Reality, Private Enterprise, and Damn Latin) and Birmingham (particularly Smart Verbal and Scrawl) which connected to my own life in a very direct manner and consequently provided a further impetus to create my own fanzines (and – by extension – music).
In the wider context, although fanzines which had a predominant focus on music (groups and reviews) – such as Obituary (Gravesend), Aftermath (London), Fack (London) and Terminal Illiteracy (Derby) – could be both informative and inspirational, the most memorable fanzines were those which developed out of the ‘Anarchist Punk’ milieu of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
These fanzines directed their focus towards a combination of the political and the personal which was thought provoking, informative and inspirational, and – in some measure – were a precursor to what would now be known as the ‘Perzine’ (Personal Fanzine). There were many fanzines which emphasised this approach, but I am referring in particular to Scum (London), Protesting Children Minus the Bondage and Anathema (Teeside), Enigma (Kent), New Crimes (Southend), Kill Your Pet Puppy (London), Pigs for Slaughter (London), Joy of Propaganda (Telford), and Toxic Grafity (London).
Notwithstanding the direction of the initial question, it is important to note many of the most interesting and engaging fanzines had a very tenuous link with ‘Punk’ such as the poetry fanzine All the Poets (London), Rapid Eye Movement (Brighton), Stabmental (Oundle), Vague (Salisbury), Flow Motion (Leeds), Force Mental (Antwerp), Exit (New York), Forced Exposure (Massachusetts), and the range of audio cassette ‘tapezines’.
2. What kind of content did you include in your early zines?
The content of my early fanzines (which included Black Cross, Sine Nomine and Death of Nothing) consisted of articles on music (including articles written by musical groups – as opposed to interviews – and reviews of records, fanzines and concerts), politics and personal self-expression, alongside collage artworks.
Musically, the fanzines featured groups which were connected to the ‘D.I.Y.’ approach, including groups who later went on to release vinyl records (such as The Membranes, Sinyx, The Snipers, and Faction) and those who did not continue beyond the recording of demo tapes (such as The Snails, Bible of Sins, SVD, and S.C.U.M.). Later issues tended to be focused on content related to politics and personal self-expression, so the musical content was reduced.
The visual content of the fanzines consisted largely of collage, photomontage and the occasional photograph (often annotated by handwritten text and Letraset transfer lettering). Unlike some fanzine writers, I did not have any aspirations towards ‘professional’ magazine design, preferring the damaged and frenetic visual aesthetic of fanzines such as Toxic Grafity (London) and Guttersnipe (Telford). This aesthetic embraced disruption (particularly in terms of image content and the relationship between text and image) which reflected the influence of Dada, Futurist and Situationist strategies upon popular culture and graphic design. The use of collage in the magazines produced by the groups Crass (International Anthem and The Eklektik) and Poison Girls (The Impossible Dream) is particularly memorable for the way in which it provided access to a powerful symbolic palette which was available to anyone with images, scissors and glue.
3. How connected were the zines you were making to the music you were making with Napalm Death at the time?
Fanzine writing and music were intimately connected and part of a symbiotic relationship: my first collaboration with Miles Ratledge was a fanzine (Antisocial in 1980) which led directly to the formation of Napalm Death (in 1981). The ‘D.I.Y.’ aesthetic simultaneously inspired us to create and gave us the practical example of how to do it and, as a consequence, we taught ourselves to write and print fanzines and to play instruments and write material for the group without any formal training.
The later developments in the compositional approach of Napalm Death (towards Thrash and Hardcore) also had their roots in fanzine culture through the inspiration provided by the early issues (in 1981 and 1982) of the American magazines Flipside and Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll which gave us access to the developments in different countries across the globe (through their ‘Foreign Scene Reports’ sections) and fostered a global sense of community of purpose.
4. Why do you think zine culture is so big again at the moment? Do you think it’s relevant or a bit passé?
Whilst acknowledging the more cynical assertions (such as the movement of culture in repeating cycles and the element of exclusivity inherent in ‘retro’ stylings), I would suggest that the ongoing popularity of fanzine culture is directly related to its foundations in notions of connection, community and intimacy which speak directly to desire
Current web-based models of communication may not fully address these desires, and also impose demands and restrictions upon self-expression (in terms of potential avenues of expression and the attendant universe of digital monitoring): to reject them may be seen as a politicised act of personal sovereignty. A fanzine remains free of the mediation and compromises inherent in a WordPress blog.
The notion that fanzine culture is passé would seem to be symptomatic of a cultural structure which fosters distraction, disengagement and isolation. Beyond this structure are other possibilities, other worlds.
To see examples of these fanzines look at archive
I have very fond memories of meeting both Nic and Miles when they first started Antisocial fanzine. Fanzine culture in Coventry was perhaps more important than I realised at the time and it hasn’t been replicated since. I’m only now putting together a book on Coventry Fanzines from that period just for the record so if Nic or anyone else has any recollections to contribute, please do get in touch. Alanrider1@aol.com. Head your e-mail Coventry Fanzines so the Spam Filter doesn’t eat it!