Monday, 10 December 2007

Print Workers

Here is a cutting from Melody Maker, circa 1987, by some unnamed writer, which gives quite a sharp overview of the indie fanzine culture of the time. Can you imagine a piece in today’s NME using words like ‘acculturation”? Images are of my ancient school folder, I apparently went beserk with the old graffiti-writing during English lessons. I especially like the random mention of 'Heroin' amidst the biro-based indiepop explosion.

‘The fate of fanzines is intertwined with the music for which they evangelise. Media attention for the whole C86 chimera (a lumping together of jangly feypop, Creation’s nouveau rockism and sub-Beefheartian shamble-thrash) peaked between 1985 and ’86 and, since then, bands and ‘zine writers have faced the same dilemma – crossover or exile. The “best” writers have entered the music press, just as the “best” bands have signed to majors.

The horns of the dilemma are peculiarly painful because, just as indiepop defines itself against chartpop, so fanzines define themselves against the music press, which they see as senile/corrupt/lazy/trendhopping/careerist/out-of-touch-because-metropolitan. Like the groups who seek to regenerate a lost “pure pop”, fanzines espouse “pure” writing – a gush of naked enthusiasm/vitriol unmediated by theory, speculation, or indeed any of the protocols of criticism (objectivity, balance).

Just as anti-pop needs the charts to dramatise itself against, so fanzines need the music press to lambaste for its “deficiencies” (of passion, responsiveness). Fanzines are hooked on the heady mindset of paranoia/martyrdom/in-the-know one-upmanship/exile. But as the media actually gets more and more comprehensive, to sustain that feeling of superiority means evangelising for ever more uncorrupted, virgin, frankly unlistenable musics – zines like THE ROX and RUMBLEDYTHUMP celebrate the sub-sub-Beefheartian scramble of Ron Johnson type bands, while THE LEGEND!, TROUTFISHING IN LEYTONSTONE and ADVENTURES IN BERESNIK rave about the hyper-fey romanticism of the post-post-Postcard groups.

The supreme dead end to this acculturation, this post-modern constructed “innocence”, comes with the flexi-zines. Starting with their anger at Creation for bringing out 12-inch singles (when all their band’s songs are two minutes long), fanzines like ARE YOU SCARED TO GET HAPPY? moved towards the idea of the seven inch flexi as a statement – the idea being both that cutiepop’s flimsy, tiny rush sounds best on flexis played on jumble sale mono Dansettes, and that lo-fi is a Luddite gesture against the yupwardly mobile CD-conscious sound of chartpop. What a vainglorious retreat from the future!’

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