I was enjoying an after-work Stella Artois along San Francisco's scenic Embarcadero with young Timmy Brooks the other day when we got to reminiscing (as we often do) about the good old days. We got onto the subject of our favorite UK punk zines from the 80s and early 90s, especially the best of the bunch, Skate Muties From The 5th Dimension. It's been noted that they 'borrowed' a lot of their schtick (not to mention their entire layout) from Rev. Norb's (Sic)Teen zine, but no-one did a better job of skewering the UK punk and skate subculture at the time. That period was a grim one in the world of UK punk zines. I was obsessed with zines for a while. I wrote off for a new one just about every time I got a crudely mimeographed advert in a letter from someone (in those days every letter came in an envelope stuffed with extra dross in the form of distro lists, adverts for tapes, records, or zines, or pamphlets about animal rights - they would have cost a fortune to post if the entire British punk scene wasn't using the same half-a-dozen second class stamps, barely held together by the soap and glue used to render the postmaster's franking machine useless). A succession of flimsy, badly written, one-or-two issue punk zines found their way into my letterbox. I'd get something in the post every day, but for the most part there was very little worth wiping one's arse with. There must have been a list of rules and regulations somewhere about what you could or could not include in your zine. The first thing that had to be excluded at all costs was any sense of humor. However, as long as you had some reprinted Hunt Saboteurs pamphlets, articles on a woman's right to choose (written by a bloke, obv.), interviews with anarcho celebs of the day (our very own R. Kanaan of Political Asylum was a popular choice) and condemnations of any band that charged more than 50p to get into their gigs, you were alright. Screeds of poorly photocopied, cataract-inducing miniscule type were produced condemning so-called anarchist activists for putting milk in their tea. Debate raged over whether or not Colin Conflict was seen patronizing the local McDonalds. Hundreds of dour, insipid metallic thrash bands without a tune between them were celebrated in crudely stapled zines that appeared to be printed on the same paper used as toilet paper in Soviet gulags.
This was the environment that Bristol's Skate Muties attempted to liven up with their mean-spirited, irreverent humor. Although they themselves were skateboarders and punk rockers, they made no bones about pointing out and ridiculing the more embarrassing elements in those scenes. Students, crusties, shit bands, skate posers, BMXers, foreigners of all stripes, Welshmen, northerners, and southerners all came in for a well-deserved slagging, but it was all done in such a unique, funny way that even if you were the object of humiliation, you had to laugh anyway. I think there are issues of this on the internet to be downloaded if you want to see what I'm talking about, although I don't know if it would have the same impact today. I think someone should compile all the issues into a book though. After SM5D some of the Muties went on to start a magazine in a similar vein called Bugs And Drugs that was just as funny but less about punk or skating and more about British culture in general if I remember. I think they tried to capitalize on the popularity of the adult comic Viz but maybe they were a bit too clever to be that successful.
Naturally, SM5D wasn't the only zine that tried to inject a sense of humor into an otherwise tedious and boringly self-referential world. Some others that came up during my chat with Tim included the infamous Have A Good Laugh (even if you didn't always agree with him, Trev HAGL wasn't afraid to ruffle a few punk purist feathers), Raising Hell, and 666 1/2. One of Glasgow's three straight-edgers (though none of the three of us can claim it any more) Adam Johnston put out a funny zine focused on international hardcore called Go!
By the early 90s (with a few exceptions) most of these zines had called it quits, having been replaced by Riot Grrrl zines. The zines that weren't done by Riot Grrrls were very much influenced by that scene, so while there were many (no doubt worthwhile) articles on how to string together a couple of guitar chords, put on your own gigs, and take back the pit from macho white men (all while having a herbal abortion), there was a distinct lack of humor. After that the zine scene seemed to pretty much spiral into an abyss of introspective, naval-gazing 'personal' writing and I lost interest in it, bar the odd issue of Cometbus.
It might seem (yet again) that I'm just being an old man griping about the good old days, but I do think that there's nothing going on these days that has the element of wicked humor that was so good about Skate Muties, HAGL, etc. If there is, I'm just not aware of it. I think people are reluctant to say anything negative about each other, even in jest, for fear of offending the wrong person. Everyone takes themselves so seriously. Are people are all nicey-nicey in their record reviews and blogs because they don't want the free records to stop coming, or because they don't want to piss off their famous(!) friends? Come on, let's all have a laugh while having our say, eh?
PS I should point out that Trev HAGL continues to publish zines under the names Savage Amusement and Negative Reaction, so hats off to him. He must be the UK's longest-running zinester. Cheers!