Monday, 7 February 2011

Interview 21

Punks is Hippies is an online 'user-generated fanzine archive'. Here, the administrator behind the archives Tony Gunnarsson, tells us more.

Please tell us a little about yourself and how and why 'Punks is Hippies' came about.

Hi, my name is Tony Gunnarsson and I am the person that tends to do most updates at the online DIY hardcore punk fanzine archive Punks Is Hippies. I do a fanzine (yes, on paper) called More Noize, which covers the international DIY hardcore punk scene, five issues so far and the next on the way shortly. I also try to contribute to Maximumrocknroll and other zines, as well as release noisy records… On the side I’ve also got a professional career, a family and a mortgage. I live in London. The zine archive came about a four-five years ago. It was at the time of the punk mp3-blog explosion (perhaps best symbolised by the popular website, although it was not the first nor the most important). Bloggers were racing to uncover obscure recordings of obscure and unheard punk bands, and in a way it was just a matter of time before people started posting fanzines as well, at any rate excerpts from fanzines. A gang of broadly like-minded people that shares a love for DIY punk set up a blog with multiple authors with the purpose of doing just that. Quite quickly very ambitious plans for the archive were drawn up: to make it into an online database of information covering the world's DIY hardcore punk fanzines, past and present, and this was inspired by the great the hardcore punk database Kill From The Heart and Punks Is Hippies would be a good complementing website to KFTH.

From the start the rule was to only post DIY punk fanzines and the zines had to be complete, meaning every page of every fanzine had to be properly scanned, and each zine should be posted with at least minimum basic information such as the country of origin and the year of publishing. In the first year or two, the contributors scanned and uploaded hundreds of zines and the response was fairly good. Readers of the blog were strongly encouraged to send in their own scans of fanzines. Four years on and there's several hundred DIY HC zines from all over the world to be downloaded in full at the website. Updates are mostly from readers of the blog who email in own scans of zines (hence the 'user-generated' tagline). Obviously the massive task that Sned Flat Earth Rec has taken upon him with his UK Zine Library blog has helped to greatly expand the archive...

As for the why, at the time it was agreed by all contributors that in the ‘real’ world fanzines are indeed very important to the DIY punk scene but as more and more people are getting exposed to the music via the internet we felt that there was a risk that an important part of the punk scene would be lost -unless fanzines were available through the same medium and platform. So the archive was supposed to play an educational role in reminding people about punk zines. Personally I hoped that the blog would help to encourage people to start doing more fanzines, a pre-emptive move against the popular and apathetic idea that "the internet killed the fanzine".
But most importantly, we wanted to make old zines more accessible. Fanzines typically have very limited print runs – almost always less than 500, more likely under 250, but ultimately most likely less than 100. So the internet obviously provides unequal opportunity to increase the readership for zines (old and new) while keeping the original format (download the Pdf of a zine and print it yourself, and you'll have a replicated as-good-as the real thing zine).

Part of this also means providing raw materials for those interested in punk history, not only for nerds like in the international DIY hardcore punk trading and fanzine scene, but also for writers of books about underground movements and punk scenes. When the archive started the concept of hardcore punk history books had just became rather big with HC history books being published in almost every major country that contributed important bands to the first wave of hardcore -to mention the most obvious: Sweden, Italy, Japan, UK, USA and Finland. While all of them would have at least mentioned that there were fanzines around, overwhelmingly reading the books you will get the impression that the history of hardcore punk is a history about bands and records only, and at least I found that a little problematic. So, Punks Is Hippies was a reaction to that, and perhaps even an antidote to it as well. With hardcore zines available at a touch on the internet (press download then print) no longer can it be claimed that there was two punk zines worth mentioning - Sniffin' Glue and Search & Destroy. Moreover no longer can people continue to say that Maximumrocknroll is the only fanzine today. I mean, just look at the archive, there's hundreds of fanzines from the past and present of hardcore punk!

Finally, a note on the format of the archive: It is so far only a blog and the ambiguous plans we had from the start are still unrealised. Two years ago a move was made to integrate the archive with Kill From The Heart, but it proved extremely time consuming so it sort of ran out in the sand... The blogspot was always only a temporary solution, but four years later the archive is still 'just a blog'. I would love if the archive could be developed beyond "the blog stage" and particularly away from using 'fast-host' sites for the storage of uploads. If there are any IT-friendly lovers of punk fanzines reading this do get in touch!

What, if any, role does the fanzine more generally play in the punk/HC community?

While the internet is increasingly also part of the scene today, fanzines is the media of the DIY underground hardcore punk movement, and as such is immensely important for the scene, for protests, for the culture of the scene and of course for the music.

Alternatively you can say that zines play a complimentary role to the music and the more community side of a punk scene, by driving awareness of bands and records, protests and events etc. Fanzines allow people that believe in DIY hardcore punk an additional outlet for self-expression aside from the music, or perhaps it is the other way around?

Personally I have never had much interest in playing in a band but doing a zine suits me perfectly. Just like being in a punk band does not require musicianship (in my opinion, the poorer the musician the better the music -"noise not music" that is the motto for hardcore punk!), doing a fanzine does not require a bright mind, professional writing skills or any journalist qualifications. The sloppier the better I’d say.
Behind all of this is the idea of Do It Yourself: obviously NME won't write about bands such as the Wankys or Chaoschannel so the people who like the noise better do it ourselves!

Why do you think that your archive site has been so popular?

Do you feel the archive is contributing to punk/HC and if so, in what ways?
Partly, I hope, it's popular because the site is maintained by people that care for the DIY hardcore punk ethos. Had all the hundreds upon hundreds of fanzines been made available online through British Library or something I am not too sure it would have been as popular (at least not with the intended audience group, "the punks" old and young). Also I am sure that for first time visitors it is quite a shock to notice that suddenly all these zine titles are available to download in full, because as I mentioned earlier punk zines are by necessity always printed in very low numbers (while the audience is today truly global). Personally I have through the archive had the opportunity to read pretty much all the classic Swedish and UK hardcore punk zines that I had only ever heard about before (well, actually, there's quite a few more titles that I am hoping will pop up one day).

Yes, I do strongly believe that the archive is contributing to the international hardcore punk scene of today. At a time when many punk distros are no longer stocking fanzines and claiming that people are no longer interested in buying fanzines, and when most people are moaning that there are no longer any zines today to buy from the places where they buy punk records, along comes this website (and others like it) and reminds everyone how great hardcore punk fanzines once were (and continue to be!). And remarkably, many people have started doing zines again as a result! Only last week I got a great fanzine from New York called Accept The Darkness and in it my friend Shiva writes that he used to download and print zines from Punks Is Hippies while at school, eventually he was moved to make his own.
Two years ago I was told by a number of distros that they would not buy any fanzines because "people don't buy zines any longer". Today that is not the case as many distros are now keen to take on more and more zines. Of course, I am not suggesting that Punks Is Hippies is responsible for this very definite return of the hardcore fanzine that we’ve seen in the last 2 or 3 years, but I do think that the site has in some small way helped bring about that change.

From the zines which have made it onto your site, is there one zine which you thought encapsulates the punk and/or HC ethos the best?

This is impossible to answer. I’ll just mention some of my favourite zines that are available through Punks Is Hippies, and I’ll pick a few zines that represent important eras of hardcore from the beginning to the present.

1. "Factor Zero"
Here's a Brazilian zine that a reader of Punks Is Hippies sent in. It's in Portuguese so I can’t read a word about it, but what’s remarkable about it is that it is published in 1980-1981, which on the surface seems very early for that part of the world (but I am sure there were zines in Brazil in 1960). The zine includes writings on my favourite band Discharge, who are THE definite hardcore punk band, of course, and it’s fascinating that a small DIY fanzine in Brazil was writing about them in 1980. More importantly the zine writes about the two most famous Brazilian hardcore bands Ohlo Seco and Colera, and by doing so proves that there were zines around at the very start of hardcore punk in even in Brazil. This zine also proves that from an early stage the ideas of hardcore spread incredibly fast around the world in 1980, and as a result it is no longer meaningful to say that it was US bands like Bad Brains or Middle Class who had invented hardcore in 1980 when the same year there were in fact bands playing hardcore in places like Brazil (or Finland, Italy, Sweden, Japan etc).

2. "Be Bad Be Glad" This fanzine is from Bristol, England, and would have come out sometime between 1982 and 1984 (I think). It was made by a loose group of people from the Bristol punk scene, including people from the well-known bands like Disorder, Chaos UK and Lunatic Fringe. It was very amateurishly made, mostly hand-drawn and had no structure to it, just lots of chaos and fun! It is a formula that works just as well today as it did 30 years ago.

3. "Raising Hell"
This English fanzine was at the forefront at the 1980s’ “international hardcore” explosion, covering bands such as B.G.K. (Netherlands), Wretched (Italy), So Much Hate (Norway) etc. I think, and I am sure many people would agree, that Raising Hell is THE defining UK DIY hardcore punk fanzine of all time. The writing was very engaging, a mixture of humour (effectively, the zine repeatedly said let’s not take ourselves too serious, hardcore punk is fun!) but with a understated belief that hardcore was more than just a music genre… I think the last issue was numbered #23, but editor Ben 'Sikowar' went on to do another zine for some 5-6 issues after (and one day I’ll come around to scanning all those zines for the archive).

4. "RIOT"
Fast-forward to the mid 1990s, RIOT zine is often the first zine that people mentioned when asked about favourite zines. RIOT was a large format zine, all but the last few issues had all text hand-written in this impeccable little font, full of ink-heavy darkened pages and simply amazing layouts throughout. It helps that RIOT covering the most important bands at the time (from Extreme Noise Terror to Anti-Cimex etc). I have a feeling the reason why people like RIOT so much is because the mid-1990s wasn't the best time for hardcore punk zines... But I'd also mention Sika Äpärä from Sweden here, as it is one of the most influential Swedish zines of all time.

5. "Game of the Arsehole"
Phenomenal US zine by MRR's international hardcore ‘historian’. Reflective of a hardcore punk scene that has developed over time, the writing in this zine was intellectual yet firmly rooted in DIY hardcore punk manners and quirks. The zines had a natural authority on both new bands and old records as well as international scenes, and is often cited a a source for inspiration by fanzine makers today. The zine developed into the equally phenomenal website called Shit-Fi. See also similarly great fanzines from early 2000s such as Kängnave from France, Agitate from the UK, as well as CrustWar from Japan, all of which cover hardcore as a movement with both a past and a present. Distort Zine from Australia which I think is THE best fanzine for hardcore punk around in the last decade, is still going strong, as is the amazing French-language fanzine Ratcharge, and I think both zines are essential to mention here as they seem to me part of the zines mentioned even if they equally fit with the next batch…

6. "Evil Minded"
Evilminded is a fanzine from Kentucky, USA, and is one of the best US zines around today. Perhaps inspired by the before mentioned zines such as GOTA and Crust War, Evilminded predominantly cover current hardcore bands from around the world, but also features older bands, as well as powerful articles about the current hardcore punk scene and record reviews etc. But its greatest strength is the layout which is unequalled in the hardcore punk zine world of today. Overall I see in Evilminded Zine and my friend Tom who is the editor of the zine the proof that DIY hardcore punk is as relevant today as it was 25-30 years ago. It's also worth mentioning that Tom has been very supportive of Punks Is Hippies and all his issues are available at the archive. See also other zines such as Not Very Nice and Accept the Darkness from USA, and the before mentioned Ratcharge and DISTORT and several others etc.