I know from experience that zines are quite often put a very long way below bands or record labels in terms of importance within the “scene”. Strangely though it’s the world of zines where there are almost as many girls actively involved as there are boys. It’s certainly far more equal than the number of girls in bands. As such when we decided to do this issue this was one of the first things that I wanted to do, especially since I’d wanted a pretext to interview all these people for a while now. For the record the four interviewees run like this: Chris who write ‘12-oh-5′, Chris(tine) who runs ‘Slug and Lettuce’, Isy who authors ‘Morgenmuffel’ and Laura who puts out Synthesis. Details of each zine are at the end of the interview. [Web note: These interviews were done in late 2003 over email and then compiled for the zine.]
When did you get involved in doing zines? And why did you get involved?
Chris 12-oh-5: When I was about 14 I picked up my friend Barny’s zine ‘Accident Prone’ and another one ‘Stray Housewives Handbook’, which were knocking about in Kingston at the time. I don’t think I had ever thought it was possible to do something so creative by yourself and I really admired those guys. Once I realised that literally anyone could put pen to paper and make something really simple, but infinitely special to themselves, I just had to have a go. That being said, it was also a great way to kill free periods at school and meet new people who were nothing to do with my school life, which seemed like such a difficult task at the time. I didn’t know anything about computer graphics, so I just cut stuff out and stuck it together on my bedroom floor. I had no money, so my Uncle, who sadly died before he could see what my zine became thanks to his help, copied all the first issues up on the sly at work. So basically, it was fun, it was easy and I felt like I was actually doing something!
Chris(tine): I started Slug & Lettuce in 1986. At the time it was because we had a good local punk scene, and no zines and I was reading other zines and wanted to do my part to contribute. Slug & Lettuce has evolved quite a bit since then from a xerox copied band interview and random stuff zine to a tabloid sized zine that focuses mostly on reviews with columns, photos and art, always emphasizing communication.
Isy: I only came across zines pretty ‘late’, about 5 or 6 years ago. I made my first zine a bit before that, which was a cut and paste affair in German (I was still living in Germany at the time). That was done by friends encouraging me, later, I came across more and more amazing zines and just wanted to be part of that.
Laura: My first zine was Synthesis 1 and that came out in 1995. I did a zine because I was not musical but wanted to be more involved in the scene. With a zine to trade and express myself with I figured I could get to know more punks and feel like I was making a contribution.
What do you hope to achieve by being involved in zines? Does the zine you write have any particular aims?
Chris 12-oh-5: I really got involved with zines as a way for me to express myself without having to feel pressured to change any of my views to please other people. I also realised it was a great way to find a niche in the ’scene’ and meet new people, which is harder than it looks for a young girl who doesn’t know anyone, or much about anything if I’m being entirely honest! So, that was what I hoped to achieve personally. On a bigger scale, I guess I just had all these silly drink related stories and ideas about friendship, society and nonsense that I thought people might like to read, and it turned out that my friends had a similar desire to share a little piece of themselves. So twelve-oh-five was born! I don’t really have any fiercely political agendas because I don’t wish to try and brain wash people, but when something bothers me, you can be sure I’ll vent about it. Other than that, the main aim I have is to keep people entertained. I genuinely feel like there is something for everyone in each issue I churn out, so I just hope I can keep it going with the help of my friends and my finances. As long as weird things happen to me and morons come to power, my mind will remain a source for scribbling.
Chris(tine): Since Slug & Lettuce settled into it’s current format around 1990, the focus has been on communication and networking. I see it kind of as a bulletin board for the punk scene. The classifieds used to be a very important part of that – but as times have changed with the internet, not very many people rely on classifieds to find pen pals or announce new demos or to look for certain records. I still think that the communication and networking ideas are very important though and the structure of S&L stays the same. It’s been around for a long time and it comes out consistently and regularly (4 times a year now) and it’s distributed free across the world – so I think it does have a regular voice that people can rely on picking up at their favourite spot.
Isy: I like it that your own zine that you make is entirely your own product. You have complete control, and that’s not something you can have in society very often. I hope zines help people feel they aren’t mindless automatons, that they can express themselves through them, and that people reading zines can get an idea of the diversity of people’s thoughts, passions and opinions. My zine’s mostly made up of cartoon stories from my life, with the odd anarcho rant thrown in. I enjoy drawing, I enjoy the weirdness of life, and I hope people reading it can relate to and be inspired by my zines.
Laura: Through my zine I have met many great folks around the world so my initial goal has certainly been reached. After the first couple of issues I realised I could also affect other people’s outlooks with what I write and how I write it so that is a newer goal for Synthesis; to influence readers and maybe even inspire. The sorts of ideas that Synthesis now represents are things like veganism, anarchism and feminism. I try to put these across in a very accessible way so people can understand what I am saying and hopefully feel sympathetic towards the politics even if the ideas are new to them.
Do you think it’s still important to address feminism? Is this something that you do in the zine you work on?
Chris 12-oh-5: I definitely think that feminism is an issue that more people should take an interest in, mostly because it’s something that is often associated with men hating, bra-burning Amazonian types, rather than just a concept that a woman can think for herself and take charge of her own life without the help of a man; the idea that women have power as individuals and should be valued equally in society. However, as my Dad rightly pointed out the other day, you get far too many women who play the feminism card, but cause a fuss when they find they really are being treated equally and don’t like it as much as they thought they would. As for addressing it in my zine, I have to admit that I take the frame of mind that someone like Betty Friedan can articulate herself much more insightfully on the subject than I can. However, I like to think that girls can read my zine and believe that it is possible to be an active, thinking and individual female without conforming to any ideals set by men.
Chris(tine): Absolutely. And as a female, it’s always been an underlying issue for me, but at the same time it’s not the subject that I champion the most. I think it’s important to address, deal with and discuss, but it is one of many important issues we have to deal with on a regular basis.
Isy: I think feminism is a very real and important issue. Feminism is addressing the way half the world is treated, after all. Western, civilised, capitalist society is based on inequality, of which the inequality between the sexes plays a major role. This ranges from male domination in the ‘public life’, socialisation and the way women are trained to feel and act inferior to men, the treatment of female sexuality, institutionalised sexism, birth control programmes, sexual harassment, imagery in the media, gender stereotypes, to domestic violence, murder and abuse. The oppression experienced by women is also influenced by their specific situations, but it’s more or less a worldwide phenomenon that we live in patriarchal society and it sucks. It’s not necessarily something I deal with in my zines as a separate, specific thing but I’m a feminist and this is probably pretty obvious. Though one issue I feel strongly on and am involved in is women learning self defence, and I’ve published stuff round that.
Laura: Feminism fundamentally challenges all hierarchy and oppression and particularly in the areas of gender and sexuality. Patriarchy oppresses everybody and these challenges can benefit everybody. Sexism never went away and the worst forms of sexism are certainly not in decline – sexual violence, domestic violence and trafficking are few examples. Only feminism challenges the double standards imposed on women and only feminism encourages positive alternatives to traditional masculinity.
Have you experienced sexism within the punk/ zine community?
Chris 12-oh-5: I think that’s a really interesting question because one would have thought that girls experience a lot of sexism in a scene, which appears to be male dominated. But, personally, I find it the complete opposite. 90% of the friends I have made are male and it’s always the men who are going out of their way to help me get interviews or just meet me in the pub before a show to chat about music. Obviously, there are some great women around doing brilliant things, like Kafren from Household Name, but I think there are far too many girls interested in going to shows to pick up guys and stand around looking pretty. I’m sorry if that’s a little harsh, but it seems a sad reality to me that so many girls spend too much time tearing each other down and not really contributing anything, when they have so much potential to do so. I would really like to see more girls getting in the pit, writing zines and putting on shows, I think so much could be achieved. On the flipside of what I just said, my friend told me about how his girl mate was nearly beaten up by other girls solely cause she wore a skirt to a Poison The Well show, so try not to take my ’standing around looking pretty’ comment too seriously! Sorry, I don’t think that was the question you asked.! I’m not saying sexism is not an issue, but from my point of view, I’ve had a lot more trouble from girls than I have had from guys!
Chris(tine): In general not really. I feel like I have been very fortunate to have forged my way and found an equal ground to stand on. I think a lot of that comes from my upbringing – that of basically being told that I can do whatever I want and that gender is not a boundary. Sure there have been a couple times where a guy I wanted to interview in a band looked at me a nothing but a chick, and I was insulted. And I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to get people to know that Chris is not a guy, but in fact I’m a girl, hence my use of Chris(tine) just to make a point. I think the point is very important, but again, I don’t dwell eternally on it cause at the end of the day, we should all be equal, ya know.
Isy: Of course I have. The punk/zine community may have all sorts of aspirations but it’s not full of perfect people, and loads of work needs to be done to create a community that can live up to its ideals. It’s male dominated – which means more than the fact more blokes are involved than women, or more blokes go to gigs or whatever, it means that it’s mostly the blokes who do all the talking, organising and taking credit, which makes it hard for a woman to feel inspired to or actually get into these roles. There are efforts to address this, which is better than no effort, but they can seem really token when you end up going to a gig and get intimidated by all the large smelly sweaty guys pushing you toward the back, and having your bum touched up, and overhearing sexist comments about the female band member; or when you open a zine and it’s written by boys for boys with pictures of boys and boys are interviewed etc etc…
Laura: Very little has been directed at me personally although I know women in the scene who have experienced much worse. I have been touched at gigs and have seen and heard enough to know that the punk scene is not that different from mainstream society as far as sexist attitudes go. Sexism is far more tolerated than, say, homophobia or racism. It is the sexism of ignorance rather than conscious hatred though; I think a lot of these boys just have never been presented with alternatives to the attitudes of their parents’ generation. The early punks deliberately challenged gender roles but that has disappeared from most of the hardcore scene that instead tends to be a playground for boys to give public display to dodgy masculine stereotypes. This tuffguy macho scene is pretty alienating for people who don’t worship these outdated gender roles.
Do you see a problem if only women tackle feminism, queers homophobia, blacks racism etc. etc.?
Chris 12-oh-5: I could definitely see it being a problem if that was the case and to be honest, women generally are more openly sensitive about these kinds of issues, but I don’t think it’s solely women addressing them. Sadly a lot of them get pushed to the backbench with zines when there is so much material about war, terrorism and animal testing currently in debate. Racism, homophobia and feminism are timeless issues and although their prominence has faded in light of recent events, they definitely are something we should all be aware of and trying to keep a bit of focus on, not just from a woman’s perspective.
Chris(tine): [For some reason I didn't email Chris this questions – yes, I am an idiot!]
Isy: I think it’s up to women to look at their situations, figure out what they want and how they want to get it, and then up to men to support the women’s decisions, and think about how they can help. I get a lot out of occasionally organising just with other women and I think having that opportunity is essential. Same with other specific oppressions – you know best what you need but others should be listening to you and trying to support you.
Laura: Of course, feminism has failed because it always addressed women and ignored men. Now many of us see that the only way to end patriarchy is if men are making as much effort as women to challenge their own gender roles. All these social categories are a form of divide and rule that harms everybody. Sexism, racism etc. harm our whole society and they are totally artificial stratifications that have been created to preserve power relations.
Why do you think more guys are involved in the ’scene’ than women? How do you think this can be changed?
Chris 12-oh-5: Well, I think things are definitely improving, even from a couple of years ago. But I don’t really think there is one simple reason why there seems to be more guys involved. I guess it could be just the fact that the music can sometimes be a bit too ‘hard’ for girls. I know the idea of going to dingy punk venues in North London and being knocked around by sweaty men whilst listening to thrashing guitars and what can sound to the untrained ear as ’strangled yelping’, is pretty much a nightmare scenario to some of the girls I know at college. I think that things are already changing with the pop punk sound being more easily accessible to people. I always see bands like Blink 182, Green Day and Sum 41 as a kind of stepping stone, so with them becoming more popular, perhaps we can look forward to more girls in the scene. The only thing people can really do to encourage them is get more girls who are already involved to take an even more active stance by putting on shows and writing zines, showing that it can be done and it’s pretty damn easy!
Chris(tine): Well this is an interesting thing cause I don’t always feel that this is the case. I think that there are more women involved in the scene overall that a lot of people seem to give credit to. Sure, different factions of the scene have a higher ratio of women involved or visible, but most shows I go to have loads of women right next to the guys – whether that be watching the bands, or selling merchandise. I think that there are a lot of women doing zines, running labels and a lot of times I think that they just don’t seek out the same visibility and credit that a lot of the guys get automatically. If there is a girl and a guy behind a record table, you’d be surprised how many people automatically assume it’s the guy who runs the show and who they direct their questions. You might be surprised that in my experience it’s actually that girl partner who carries more of the weight of the work getting done. I think the thing that is important to do is treat people equally – do not assume that the guys do all the work. Recognise the women who are involved and around and give them credit where due. I think one of the most subtle things that anyone can do is talk to, and address both genders equally. Ya know, if you’re talking to the guy who you know is in a band, or does a label, or a zine and there is a woman standing next to him don’t just assume she’s an uninvolved girlfriend – treat her with respect – direct your eyes and your conversation to both of them inclusively. There is nothing more annoying than being written off or ignored or just assumed to be no-one.
Isy: It’s kind of self-perpetuating (have I spelt that right?), i.e. it’s a male dominated scene within a male dominated society, so women are put off from the start or put off within/don’t feel encouraged/fall into supportive roles rather than active ones/etc etc. It’s hard to change this but with women actively supporting and encouraging other women, plus men becoming more aware of the situation and being more inclusive, and shutting up/taking the back seat sometimes, you’d at least be trying to.
Laura: For a start, groups reproduce themselves by example. We join people who we think are like ourselves. Most hardcore kids are white and male. Most are also brought into the scene by someone else and since young people usually have single-sex friendship groups that keeps the line of influence pretty male. As I wrote above, the scene is now largely about displays of masculinity so that makes it more likely to attract boys who are into that sort of thing. Unfortunately the masculinity of the scene is what makes it so exclusive. The character of hardcore is somewhat similar to other mostly-male cultures like science fiction fans for example. Involvement in this scene often hinges on a nerdy extent of knowledge of and interest in a specific and limited strand of music and if you have little interest in record-collecting and discussing the family trees of bands and labels you can get bored pretty fast. Most of the hardcore scenes I have come across have been pretty unwelcoming in the first place – cliquey. One does not have to look very far to find women just outside the hardcore scene – riot grrrl, animal rights and other activist scenes are largely female. These scenes also tend to be more holistic and relevant to real life than hardcore is – there is more going on than music and empty slogans. The main way the scene can be more attractive to a diversity of people is if it becomes more fun. Go to an event organised by radical queers or road protesters and you will find out what I mean by fun. Hardcore has very little celebratory spirit, limited creative expression and absolutely no colour.
Do you think other people see zines as a valid part of the ’scene’?
Chris 12-oh-5: I’d like to think so. Sometimes I feel a bit disheartened when trying to sell zines outside shows to people who act as if they couldn’t really care less about the little booklet I have poured my heart into. However, for every 10 people who probably throw it in the bin on the way home, I’ll get a really lovely e-mail from someone saying that they found inspiration in something I wrote, or checked out a band I was raving about. Or sent me post (I love post!). Although I think webzines are taking over paper zines, which I think is a little sad cause they seem more impersonal and paper zines are something tangible and real, I believe they still have an important place in the ’scene’. They are great way for people to meet and work on something together and, despite webzines being able to offer more up to date information, they provide a source for debates, information and entertainment. I guess people who write zines themselves have a greater appreciation of other zines, but there’s enough people doing that these days to make it seem worthwhile.
Chris(tine): I think that some people think zines are important and some don’t care. I of course think they are very important and always have been. I think that zine people will still keep on making zines and that many will not recognize the value, while others will, and hopefully those that do show their support in word and deed. It’s a rather unaccredited format in many ways, but I think it’s essential.
Isy: Some people do, mainly those who are pretty active in the scene or make zines themselves. Some people just seem to ‘consume’ zines mostly for record reviews, which is a shame. I do think zines could be more present, at gigs, in distros, on websites.
Laura: Sure, even the most ignorant macho prat wants to see his opinions in print and to read what his favourite Christian metal band has to say in an interview. On the bright side, many folks have had their lives transformed by a good zine or even an inspiring column in MRR.
Has writing a zine helped you find a voice?
Chris 12-oh-5: Most definitely. Firstly, I don’t think I ever would have found such an amazing release as writing has been for me if I hadn’t started my zine. I wouldn’t have met so many truly brilliant people or been able to articulate and collect my thoughts as easily as I can now. As cheesy as it sounds, writing my zine makes me feel like I have a place and have the power to make myself heard; to give people something to laugh about, cry about, agree with or disagree with. If that’s what having a voice means, then my zine has helped me in more ways that I can express in a couple of lines.
Isy: I guess so. Drawing cartoons about your life is kinda weird – it makes you think about what you’ve done (I hadn’t drawn very much recently and then realised that’s cos I’d only done dead boring things – which I’m making sure is changing), and it puts you in a position where you have to make up your opinion, and I think that’s good for me. I’m always amazed people are actually interested.
Laura: I think I had one already, but the zine gave me a great focus and discipline. I am very grateful for that and for the excellent feedback I have had from people I respect.
Contacts & details
12-oh-5: firstname.lastname@example.org. 12-oh-5 issue 6 should be out when you’re reading this.
Slug and Lettuce: Po Box 26632, Richmond, VA 23261-6632, USA. Issue #78 should be out imminently.
Morgenmuffel: Po Box 74, Brighton, BN1 4ZQ, email@example.com. The latest issue is #13. Get in contact as well for Isy’s small (but good) zine distro.
Synthesis: Is no longer printed/ in print. Laura is involved in the Pogo Café project in East London.