Thursday, 9 April 2009

Psychopedia Feature: Punk Is Hippies

Here is an interview with Tony Gunnarrson, the guy behind the amazing Punk Is Hippies blog in it's uncut form.

How old are you? Some of the 'zines on the site are very much of theirtime, were you there at the time or have you come to it

I’m not actually sure what the oldest fanzine on PunksIsHippies is, but I know that there are a few early Norwegian and English ones from late 1970s, maybe as early as 1977. I was born in 1979 so obviously I have come to fanzines as well as punk retrospectively.

How many years have you been collecting for?
I have certainly been aware of fanzines since I was at school, say at about the age of 10-11 or so -which was around the same time when I discovered punk music. It's actually a misconception that PunksIsHippies is backed by one large collection of fanzines owned by me. The archive is largely run by contributions from various people. I like reading fanzines so not surprisingly I have stacks of randomly acquired ‘zines laying around at home. Obviously since starting PIH I have started to collect ‘zines with the more of an intention to make them available online. Many of the ‘zines on the site were purchased at an auction last year, perhaps 30-40 old and mainly UK fanzines which set me back more than what could be deemed acceptable from my partner's point of view! I used to own quite a lot of ‘zines from when I was making them myself and tape trading as a teenager but sadly my poor mum decided that she'd clear up some of my stuff laying around in her house in Sweden, and they all got recycled. Imagine how pissed off I was. In fact I still am.

What originally attracted you to the 'zine format?
I think the initial attraction had to do with it simply being different. ‘Zines belong to a sphere removed from one's parents. Obviously the do-it-yourself aspect was a definite attraction before I had even heard the term or understood what it meant fully. When I was a kid, fanzines were much less about serious music journalism, 'punk constructs' or politics. Put simply, you did not even have to be able to spell to be a fanzine editor. Hands-on layout using marker pens, newspapers, scissor and glue represented a total sense of freedom. I mean you could exaggerate this, but I think fanzines were extremely exciting little things especially at that young age, before you grew up and saw things from a more mature perspective. Being a grown-up means inevitably interpretating everything as post-ironic pretentious crap.

What came first for you: punk or the 'zines?
Strictly speaking fanzines, for me came after punk music. On the first day of school in 1989 my friend Ola Beglert were handing out mix cassette tapes to us other seven year old kids. His older brother Henrik was a punk and Ola must have copied tapes when Henrik wasn't around as Henrik used to beat on Ola and his friends whenever he could. This first tape I got from Ola had Blitz, Discharge, Black Flag, Rovsvett, Cortex, Asta Kask, Ramones, Protes Bengt, Johnny Thunders and GBH on it. Pretty fucking great mix-tape to get when you're 7 years old. A year or so later there was a travelling museum exhibition in my hometown, Tidaholm, Sweden, called "To Be Do". It was about the rise of separate youth cultures and sub-cultures in the decades after the Second World War. The exhibition had this hang-out area with a turntable and a bunch of singles that you were allowed to play and there were tons of punk fanzines. Where the curators got hold of these I have no idea. Obviously we stole all we could from that exhibition and we all went on to reinvent ourselves based on what we'd nicked. My friends and I began making our own punk fanzines the same year. Previously we'd been doing comic fanzines and stuff like that.

If you weren't collecting 'zines what would you be collecting? Are you a collector by nature?
I am not a collector type of person, I think. I am too spontaneous and impatient to be a serious collector. Even when it comes to music and records what is most important to me is having the music. When it comes to fanzines it is all about the information, 'the content', as opposed to having collectable pristine or 'mint' copies of ‘zines. That said, I studied history at university and my mother is an archivist so I suppose it'd be pretty weird if I did not have some lasting sympathy for archives, conservation and historical artifacts.

Why is it that you think that 'zine has been so synonymous with punk?
It is absolutely the DIY aesthetic of self-publishing, but also fanzines had a very significant historical role to play in the development of the punk scene. Punk was an underground subculture and if you wanted to hear about some band or record then you can only find out about it from underground fanzines. Bands and fanzines feed off of each other. On a personal level, I have always been into stuff that is removed from 'the mainstream'. But sure, there is also this 'other' fanzine culture, what with graffiti artists making little art zines, art college fanzines, official band fanzines, paper clipping fanzines, pornographic fanzines, serial killer fanzines (Peter Sotos' Pure for example), skateboard fanzines, comic fanzines, film fanzines, fringe group political fanzines (neo-Nazis like Combat 18 as well as far left groups and animal liberation groups use fanzines as part of networks) and so on. Dduring the rise of the counterculture in the US from the 1950s there were literature fanzines, or 'small magazines'. These were the breeding ground for avant garde literature with authors like William S. Burroughs, who published lots of his stuff first in 'small magazines' before going on to revise texts for novels. I would guess that the whole Detroit and motorcity music scene that coincided with the 'New Left' on American universities in the late sixties and early seventies would have been when historically small magazines and proto-punk meet. I am speculating here but musically punk inherited a lot of that scene so it follows that the first punk ‘zines could have come from this era and geography. I guess nowadays fanzines are increasingly synonymous with non-punk subcultures, particularly the arty types I mentioned. I mean, see Publish of Be Damned for example. I've been there a bunch of times and I have yet to see a punk fanzine there. Same thing goes for Facebook fanzine events and such. That said there’s tons of punk ‘zines still around.

Where do you keep them all?
Well for the last 2-3 years I have been living with most of my stuff in various boxes and stuffed under beds because of space restraints. So today I have a box with some 50 or so zines on top of a wardrobe in the hallway, totally disorganised. Next to this box is my girlfriend's scanner. As it is a bit of a hassle to get everything down, it goes some way to explain why I haven't been able to scan as many ‘zines as I would have liked to this year. Stacks of books, zines, records, patches, badges and correspondence are everywhere in our flat. But I'm buying a house now so hopefully when we move I'll be able to have some sort of 'designated fanzine storage'.

How wil you organise them once you get the space?
I don't really have anything organised as of now. Of course I have some sort of system, like at the bottom of the big box are zines that haven't been digitalised yet. I should also mention digital storage of fanzines, but unfortunately I haven't been very good here either. I guess I have 4-5 GB of scanned ‘zines stored across two laptops, an external hard drive, on DVD-Rs and obviously what's on PIH is stored on fast host providers. The long-term idea for PunksIsHippies has always been to get a server to store high-resolution scans of fanzines.

What originally gave you the idea of archiving 'zines on a blog?
There has also a whole new slate of punk histories coming out like in recent years, such as American Hardcore and Ian Glasper's brilliant books on the UK scene. A few years ago when I started a punk blog called Only In It For The Music I was using a lot which is a really good punk and hard core reference site made by some people from Maximum Rocknroll magazine. Having observed that there were some scanned fanzines already circulating on P2P networks and such I started thinking about making a website that would do what KFTH does for bands and records but for ‘zines.

Underlining this there is so much punk music and related stuff being distributed online and I think that interest in punk culture is on the rise. So I reckoned that there would be a lot of interest in making some sort of permanent archive for fanzines. This could be particularly useful in correcting much of the repeated misinformation about bands and records, as well as helping writers or researchers of punk histories to source material for books. I mean Wikipedia is a great thing and I use it everyday but if you check out a band like Terveet Kadet or Gauze’s Wikipedia pages they are bound to be grossly out-of-date and misleading and in turn the same out-of-date Wikipedia info being reused on Myspace and LastFM etc.

It also seemed strange to me that fanzines were not considered serious historical artefacts. I mean, why quote from NME about some early punk record when there were thousands of ‘zines that had a much richer take on a record, and most importantly a take on a record that is not bound by mainstream agenda.

How has the internet changed the nature of the 'zine? Are 'zines still relevant and will they continue to exist?
Yes, in some ways absolutely. The internet works to discourage people from making fanzines, as people turn to making online ‘zines or increasingly to blogging. But I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. Thanks to the internet ways of communicating with bands are much easier and faster. The bottom line is that the vast majority of fanzines get read by so few people, the internet could easily be used to significantly increase readership per ‘zine.

The problem is what to do with the tools the internet offers as well as the information you get from using such tools. But on the other hand there are still tons of fanzines being made, as I said before. Hopefully people will make better webzines in the future and perhaps people's perceptions will change as a consequence. The point is that both physical and digital should exist alongside each other and supplement each other.

There are increasingly signs that punk bands are beginning to release demos and releases on cassettes again so I think if people are willing to deal with the trouble of tapes then paper ‘zines still have a long lifetime.

Has the internet made the acquisition, dissemination and reading of 'zines easier?
Yes of course. I purchased a medium collection of zines on eBay earlier this year. Before the internet I doubt I would have been able to do so, or indeed bothered. But like for records, the internet works both ways. Some records are sold out on the day they are released only to be appearing on eBay for ridiculous sums shortly after. This has been the case for all recent releases from Japan's Overthrow label, with Extinctos and Isterismo 7" selling in the region of $50-100 only weeks after being released. But I think that as the world gets used to the internet as it is today things like this will probably slow down a little.

Has the blog bought you into contact with a lot of 'zine fanatics?
Yes it has. But less so than I expected to be honest. Record collectors and ‘zine collectors are infamously nervous about sharing their precious collections, and people like this I think are generically suspicious of new technologies. The fact that PunksIsHippies is at present a blog tends to discourage some collectors. But at the same time, the response to the blog so far has been exceedingly positive. But the point is that you really have to prompt people to give feedback about something and that can be a bit discouraging. I get emails from people asking about the zines or the blog every week, if not day.

Which country do you think produces the best 'zines?
I think US, UK and Sweden have produced some truly amazing fanzines, but then I am biased as I am Swedish as well as bound by English-language. I know for example that Greece, Norway and Japan had some fantastic early fanzines. I have noticed that Indonesia and Russia are hot spots for fanzines today. But I don't think it is right to generalise as most countries and regions with active punk scenes have had their own share of ‘zines. As a rule of thumb you can perhaps say that wherever there are punk bands you shall find good punk fanzines.

What do you think was the halcyon period for 'zines?
I think the golden age for ‘zines was in the mid to late 1980s and into the 1990s right up until the internet. That is to say, at the tail end of the second generation of punk when heavy metal and cross-over took the place of punk as the biggest musical subculture. ‘Zines during this period were crucial in maintaining networks and it coincided with the golden age of tape trading. That said, the ‘zines of the early to mid 1990s that were inspired by late 1980s ‘zines were really good too. It kind of goes in waves, the next bunch of 20-something nerdy punks looking back on what had gone on a few years before and thinking that it was much better back then. So you have all these ‘zines at various points of time which are partly in homage to earlier ‘zines and partly new innovative things that mix in whatever is new and immediate in the scene that they are part of. Just like the music really. You could probably write a PhD to argue the case that zines were virtually as important as the records because the two expressions of punk have so many correlations.

What 'zines that are being produced today do you think are comparobleto the great 'zines of yore?
To be brutally honest I am not that informed about ‘zines today. The best ones I can think of are Distort from Australia and Not Very Nice, Warning and Evil Minded from the USA. Skitliv! from Sweden is of course very good but they just sadly made their last issue. Many ‘zines that started around the same time as webzines mushroomed have turned into magazines now, like Short Fast & Loud from the States, or Denimzine from Sweden.

What are the rarest ‘zines that you own?
From the 1980’s ‘zines I acquired earlier in the year some of them appeared to be quite obscure and rare, but it's hard to say. Because most ‘zines are printed in fewer than 100 copies any ‘zine that is older than 5-10 years is bound to be rare although I know of ‘zines printed in 1000 copy runs that are still sought after collector items.

What 'zines that you don't own do you wish that you do?
I would love to own complete runs of the great Swedish fanzines from the golden age of Swedish ‘zines: Trasket Gloder, Brutal Chaos, Crash Mag, Fetvadd and Profit Blaskan. These were the ‘zines I grew up looking to. Also I would love to get hold of full runs of the legends of UK second wave and hardcore ‘zines like Filthy Trash, Ripping Trash and Ripping Hell.

What production qualities does a 'zine require to be termed a 'zine?
Well, none! You can make a zine that is hand written on a toilet roll, if that is what you're into, and this is the whole beauty of fanzines. So yeah it follows that I think that overproduction tends to move a publication out of being a ‘zine to becoming a magazine.

Do you collect 'zines not related to punk?
Not really. I have some ;zines which are not punk, for example my friend, the artist Dave the Chimp does art ‘zines occasionally and copies always tend to mysteriously end up in my flat. If I see a good looking fanzine I will want to read it. But based on what I have seen at Publish or Be Damned fanzines as a collectionable end in itself is not desirable to me. Last time I got a bunch of literature ‘zines from there and without naming the publication in question the writing was terrible and what is worse it seemed to aspire to the literature pages of UK tabloid media.

Do you produce you own 'zines?
Sure, though I always tend to fail at making the ‘zines available to people! I made my first punk fanzine around 1990 or so, it was called Mincemeat Massacre and the first issue only made it to 5 copies. It had a really bad drawing of the Dead Kennedys' “Nazi punks fuck off” on the cover and had some really lame preadolescent record and TV reviews. I did another issue in 1991 under the new shortened name Mincemeat and it had real bonafide punk band interviews, mostly Swedish "trall punk" bands like Radioaktiva Raker and Scrotum. I sent some 50 copies or so to a punk distributor who traded me tons of demos. The ‘zine had a third issue, which was more of the same really, with the addition of a homemade compilation cassette tape with songs by all bands interviewed (without permission), but by the time I had finished the ‘zine I had totally stopped caring for 'trall punk' and I don't think I made more than 30 or so copies all which I traded for d-beat demos. Meanwhile my friend Ola had made two issues of his Kauokopops ‘zine, named after Cocopops cereals, misspelt on purpose which was sort of like my fanzine in scope and quality. After a year or so, during which we had in earnest discovered alcohol, tobacco and Discharge we began making a collaborative ‘zine that unashamedly ripped-off Swedish Discharge-worshipping fanzine Sika Apara. That one was called Javel (or Bastard) and aimed to break records for number of bands interviewed per issue as well as break records for new lows of questioning ("When you masturbate, do you prefer to think of your mother or your sister?" and stuff like that). We made 2 issues of Javel and each issue had a print run of about 35-75, before calling it quits around 1994 or so. We might still do a third issue.

Apart from punk zines, I have made other ‘zines: A skatezine around 1996 or so called Crew Credits consisting of interviews with my skateboard friends and pictures of us mainly drunk. In 1998 a friend and I were writing stuff when we were drunk for a ‘zine to be called Cockroach but it never happened. In 2002 I used made the first issue of El Cockroach ‘zine, including some random creative writing style drafts and skatephotos of my friends and I. The second issue of El Cockroach has already been promised for end of 2010 latest. Finally, a few years ago I collected little drawings and intended fanzine covers for ‘zines that never happened. You should always begin a ‘zine with making the cover. It was called 53rd & 3rd and it had three issues of dubious quality and went out in a printed run of perhaps 20 or 30 per issue.

More recently, I started a new punk ‘zine called Distort Hackney with the intention to have a mix of interviews with elusive obscure bands as well as in-depth interviews with known bands. It was partly begun because no UK magazine would print stories or interviews I have made with bands like Amebix and Disorder, as well as a desire to make the fanzine I always wanted to make. This zine ended up as yet another webzine, at, because the print would be too expensive: £200 = 200 copies, but I was looking to print at least 500-1000 per issue. The first issue has interviews with Skitslickers, Kuro, ORdER, Amebix, Deathcharge, Sub Alert, Terveet Kadet and more. The second issue was supposed to be a noise punk special so has interviews with bands like Disorder, the Wankys, Chaos Destroy, D-Clone, Chaos Channel and so on. I have one more issue of Distort Hackney to put online featuring Reality Crisis, Zyanose, Mob 47, Warvictims, Perkele and then I am going to call it quits. I have yet to think of what the next ‘zine will be, but I intend to make it the best ‘zine of all time. And on paper obviously.

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