FEATURE: Where do zines fit in a world of Instagram and TikTok?

Original photo: featuring pages from Another Subculture‘s zine swap

Zines: anyone can make them and they can be about pretty much anything. But in a world of social media and non-stop content, why keep making zines? Surely if you wanted to spread the word about your favourite thing you’d just set up an Instagram fanpage or a stan Twitter? People do that too, of course, but zines and the culture around them are still very much around. But with the massive changes in how we consume media and form communities it’s interesting to look at why zines have persisted.

The word zine came from fanzine because that’s what the original zines were. As early as the 1930s, science fiction fans were making their own publications to share with their friends. The goal wasn’t to make money, or get mainstream recognition, it was just people making their own media because it was fun. Zine culture stayed mostly within these small fan circles until the boom of 1970s punk in the UK and US. These were often handwritten, DIY pamphlets where young punks could report on the latest records from the scene and even interview their favourite bands. Passed around at record shops and gigs, zines became a vital part of the punk subculture. Publications such as Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue, and Tony Moon’s Sideburns (origin of the infamous ‘this is a chord…’ illustration) would become classics of the genre and are now desperately sought out by collectors.

Sideburns #1 by Tony Moon (1977) – scan from Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print 1976-1980 by Toby Mott (2016)

With this history in mind, it can seem odd to think that zine culture is still active in 2021. However, much like mainstream news outlets, zine-makers have instead adapted to our increasingly online world and used it to their advantage. For starters, social media can be a vital tool for promoting print zines. For example, #zines on Instagram has over 385’000 posts. Hashtags like these allow people to find new publications and get their own work out to a much wider audience than before. Similarly, distributors can use platforms such as Patreon or Ko-fi to get support from readers on a pay-what-you-can basis, while keeping zines affordable.

As well as print zines, the number of digital zines has increased massively over the last few years. The increased accessibility of computers means that for many people, digital mediums are just as viable as classic cut-and-paste methods (it also means that people like me can type them instead of relying on our scrappy handwriting). On top of this, digitisation makes it possible to read zines that previously only existed as physical copies for free through archive sites.

Screenshot: top posts in the Instagram #zines hashtag (2/2/2021)

For me and many others, however, print zines have a kind of nostalgic appeal. It’s similar to the resurgence of vinyl records in the 2010s. We own far fewer DVDs and books, now mainly using subscription services paid weekly or monthly. Having something that you can hold, and that won’t just be taken down like a Netflix show or Kindle ebook, is reassuring. They’re not tracked by cookies or algorithms, they’re just there, and they can be made by anyone.

It is this DIY aspect that creates most of zines’ appeal. Whether you look at Trekkies, or punks pogo-ing to The Clash in the 70s, or Gen Z making fanzines of Voltron and Steven Universe, the central idea is still content made by and for fans. It also makes the medium much more accessible to LGBT+ people and people of colour than mainstream media. People from marginalised communities, who might otherwise struggle to find a platform because of discrimination, can make their voices heard through their own publications. Specifically for queer people, zines were (and are) a way to find out about identities and topics considered taboo.

Having moved far beyond just fanzines, zines can now be about practically anything. There are zines for poetry, photography, true crime, and video games, just to name a few. Digital or print, handwritten or typed, the options are almost limitless. Zines originated as a way to bring communities together, and as long as that need is there, the medium will find some way to move along with the times.

REVIEW: Lande Hekt – Going To Hell

Going To Hell is the debut solo album from Muncie Girls frontwoman Lande Hekt. Emotional and introspective, the record addresses loneliness, sobriety and anxiety with a folk DIY attitude. The simple guitar-led instrumentals really bring Hekt’s lyrics to centre stage. This solo project has allowed her to tackle much more personal themes than in Muncie Girls, but don’t worry, the anti-Tory political edge is still fiercely present.

2020 definitely found me listening to more folk punk and DIY artists than in previous years. I think with the lack of real-life socialising I was seeking out more personal lyrics to connect with. When you strip away the hyper-polished layered production of most modern rock and pop punk you end up with something so much more individual and human. Lande Hekt’s music carries this same feeling into 2021, as we in the UK find ourselves in yet another lockdown. Although a beautiful and reflective album in its own right, I can’t help but think that Going To Hell has also come at exactly the right time.

For fans of: Laura Jane Grace, The Mountain Goats, Snarls

Going To Hell’ was released January 22nd 2021 through Get Better Records

POCKETSIZE #1: Post-punk bops & black metal chillers

In Pocketsize I round up some of my favourite recently released singles from the alternative, punk and metal scenes. (Geddit? Because singles are smaller than albums? I’ll let myself out…)

Alsarath – Cast Fire

Now, this is not for the faint of heart. Over 6 minutes of bone-chilling ambient black metal that will dredge up emotions from the very pit of your soul. Alsarath is the ‘antifascist neofolk’ brainchild of Margaret Killjoy (also found kicking ass in Feminazgûl). The track follows up from the project’s debut EP last year, Come To Daggers.

Don’t Worry – As If By Magic

Essex indie band Don’t Worry tackle the quintessential small town problem in their latest single As If By Magic. The search for meaning and identity is one we can all relate to, and even though the theme is well-worn, Don’t Worry put their own hopeful spin on it.

Holding Absence – Afterlife

Holding Absence’s The Greatest Mistake of My Life is one of the most anticipated albums of 2021. Afterlife, the fourth single from the album, is just as emotive and polished as everything else these lads have put out. Coming off their debut record in 2019, Holding Absence have already established themselves as one of the most exciting alternative bands in recent years. While live gigs may still be paused, they are absolutely going to blow the roof off their virtual K! Pit next week.

HumourJail – Nails

Experimental and lo-fi, HumourJail is modern pop with unique vocals and intriguing instrumentals. As someone who usually prefers music heavier than this, this song captured my attention because it was just so different to what I’d ‘expected’ a pop song to be like. I’ll definitely be looking forward to the next release.

Nervous Twitch – Alright Lads

New wave pop-rock trio Nervous Twitch are back with another upbeat tune in the form of Alright Lads. This is the third single from their self-titled debut record, out January 29th. The track is an all-round, feel-good bop, with a catchy chorus and a kind of retro fuzz.

Pockets For Girls – The Boy Who Never Cried

Supported by the DIY grassroots label R*E*P*E*A*T Records, young Cambridge band Pockets For Girls bring a lowkey indie rock vibe in their debut single. Their sound is much more mature than you might expect from a band this fresh-faced, and I’d pin them as ones to watch in the future. Now if only actual pockets for girls were this good…

The Pretty Reckless (ft. Tom Morello) – And So It Went

Although she is already an established veteran of the scene, The Pretty Reckless’ frontwoman, Taylor Momsen, is only 27. Their upcoming album Death By Rock and Roll explores the band’s journey so far, and also tackles some of Momsen’s personal struggles and grief. And So It Went is a classic hard rock track, but Morello’s wailing guitar solo is what really makes it. The track closes with the chorus chanted by children’s voices, echoing the band’s 2014 hit Heaven Knows.

The Red Stains – Freezer Jesus

Manchester-based post punk outfit The Red Stains are here to subvert your expectations with zero apologies. Kicking off with a stripped-down bassline then bringing in modern synths, Freezer Jesus manages to be edgy but still with a clean sound. And if you’re wondering where the unusual title comes from, well, you’ll just have to listen to the lyrics!

Slash Fiction – Nervous Wrecks

Listen, emo-queercore is EXACTLY what I want at any and all times so I’m always looking forward to seeing what Slash Fiction do. A love letter to live shows and touring, the lyrics conjure up nostalgic but honest memories of pre-pandemic times. Nervous Wrecks is the closing track on Amateur Pop Incorporated’s compilation album All We Want Is Everything.

ZINE: Strings bought and borrowed

This was done as a mini zine for Another Subculture’s lockdown zine swap – the pitch was ‘anything that fits on one side of A4’!

I went with a chronology-of-sorts of the instruments I’ve played over time as a ‘mostly bassist’. The idea is a kind of museum exhibit with each of the six instruments having its own short story.

The zine can be downloaded as a print-and-fold A4 mini zine (steps 8-10 of these instructions), or as a more digital friendly A5 format:

REVIEW: ‘The Last Girl Scout’ – Natalie Ironside

The Last Girl Scout is a book I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, and a story I have been waiting for. I’ve been following the writing process through the author Natalie Ironside’s blog for what feels like years. Sidenote: Making memes about the characters before the book is even published is definitely my new favourite method of generating hype. 

The story works from a well-worn foundation: there’s a lovable group of outcasts who band together to fight against Evil in the dystopian hellscape of post-America. Except the reality of The Last Girl Scout is so much more original and nuanced than that. Fundamentally,  communist and anarchist forces are struggling against white supremacist fascists in a cold war that is rapidly heating up. The protagonists are Magnolia ‘Mags’ Blackadder, a red who’s been in this fight longer than anyone should have been; and Julia ‘Jules’ Binachi, an ex-blackshirt who just wants to garden in peace but has to get some well-earned revenge first. Also, they’re girlfriends. Also also, there are vampires.

While there is a lot of time spent discussing military tactics and politics, the real focus of the novel is its characters. Jules and Mags’ are the story’s emotional core, and you really do root for them to get their well-deserved happy ending. In my opinion their relationship does move a bit too fast at the beginning, but it’s the also the first one of its kind that I’ve read, so I’ll make an exception. Two trans lesbians! In love! And they both survive!

Jules and Mags have both suffered more than any person should have to in one lifetime, and the book never shies away from that. It shows the reality of trauma and the long, long process to recovery. But despite the scars of the character’s personal histories and the horrors under the fascists’ doctrine, The Last Girl Scout remains hopeful. In a refreshing change from the recent trend towards grimdark ‘realism’ in SFF/dystopia, this story does let things get better.

In conclusion: trans lesbians, vampires, anarchists and communists bickering, a whole lot of violence, and a goddamn happy ending. It’s great.

REVIEW: Avatar – Hunter Gatherer

In Hunter Gatherer (Century Media Records) Avatar bring their trademark theatrics to a polished fusion of chugging riffs and festival-crowd choruses. Following the high-concept adventure of 2018’s Avatar Country, this latest album dials back the storytelling without losing any of the ambition. For a band on their eighth full-length release there is a risk of either tried-and-testing songwriting going stale, or a completely new direction being rejected by the fanbase. Avatar manage to blend the melodic metal of their early work with the classic rock twang of their last album. The most surprising track is the simply-titled Gun – a piano ballad which certifies the truly impressive vocal range of frontman Johannes Eckerström. Not that there was any doubt, of course. If the slow jams aren’t your style, there’s also the blistering thrash-influenced When All But Force Has Failed, and the furious lead single Silence in the Age of Apes.

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