Avid readers of Louder Than War (which I assume is all of you) will remember John wrote a piece about fanzine culture titled “Top 10 Best Fanzines” a short while back. All the zines in the list were from the heyday of zines when the easiest way to pass on your passion for your favourite bands etc was to create & distribute a zine.
Of course now we have the internet & blogging is rife. Some would say too rife. There was a time when there were only about 300 critics in the country, now there a millions. Everyone’s got an opinion & want to tell you it. So as blogging’s so easy & ubiquitous is there still a place for the fanzine?
I’ll be perfectly honest, I didn’t really realise people were still making zines at all. Ironically it was only when I started a blog on Tumblr that I found out about Nick Mann’s A Short Fanzine About Rocking following a reblog from the excellent record label Holy Roar‘s Tumblr account. Concentrating mainly on US / UK punk & hardcore it was right up my street.
And of course, as anyone who know’s anything about zine culture will know, you only need one to start you off before it snowballs, because contained in that one will be reviews of others. Before you know it your coffee tables groaning under the weight of wonderful DIY fanzines popping with opinions, interviews, reviews, advice & attitude. (I haven’t really got a coffee table btw.)
Anyway, I was so impressed with Nick’s zine & conscious of the fact that I probably wasn’t alone thinking that fanzines were no more, that I decided a feature on Louder Than War was in order. Feeling pretty ignorant about the contemporary zine scene I contacted Nick and asked him if he’d be up for an email interview about fanzines and, in particular, A Short Fanzine About Rocking (which for the rest of this piece will be referred to as ASFAR).
He agreed so read on. Interspersed in his answers you’ll find a couple of YouTube video’s of bands ASFAR have been promoting of late. Last Witness were the cover stars of the last issue & Hang The Bastard have been interviewed for the next issue.
(Check out the foot of the page for details of where to find a copy of ASFAR)
LTW: I guess the most logical first question should be to ask about the history of ASFAR. When was issue 1 published & why did you decide to start doing a ‘zine?
Nick:ÃÂ Issue one was published way back in June 2001. I decided to start the zine because, for some misguided reason, I thought it would help me to get a career as a music journalist. Now I’m sat here typing this with a career as a journalist ”â but sure as hell not writing about music full-time (not that I’m bitter or anything). To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have started the zine if my then-girlfriend hadn’t constantly hassled me to get off my ass and do something constructive with my love for a) writing and b) music, instead of just bitching about not having a job.
LTW: How easy was that first fanzine you put together?
Nick: It’s that far back in the mists of time it’s hard for me to remember! All I know I did was e-mailed a few bands to ask them if I could send some questions across, wrote some reviews of gigs I’d been to and CDs I’d bought recently and then cut & pasted it ”â literally ”â together. So it wasn’t that hard really, though not having a computer at home meant there was a bit of hassle when it came to actually typing things up.
LTW: If you had to explain to someone who didn’t know what a zine was, what would you say?
Nick:ÃÂ Well half the beauty of fanzines is there is no hard and fast rule as to what does and doesn’t constitute one. To me, it just means something produced independently of a publishing house by a person or group of people, writing or drawing about something they feel passionate about or are a fan of ”â therefore putting the ”Ëfan’ in ”Ëfanzine’.
LTW: This must be a question you’re asked a lot but why a zine and not a blog? I guess overall there are pros & cons to both, do you consider that overall a zine’s a better way to get a message across?
Nick: When I started ASFAR blogging didn’t exist! As for why I’ve not made the move from print to online, well I think by the time it became a viable option for someone with no technical ability to set something up online (i.e. as a blog and not a full blown website), the zine had already built up a reputation as a print publication. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it anyway. I do feel if you read something in print it has more of a lasting impact on you than if you take in information via the web. I can’t think of a valid reason why I think that’s the case, it’s just the conclusion I’ve always come to.
LTW: Full disclosure: A friend recently tweeted “can anyone recommend some fanzines please” to which I replied “I didn’t know people still made fanzines.” How common is it that you hear people saying this & does it piss you off?
Nick: I don’t hear it that often to be honest, mainly because the people I hang out with tend to know about the zine pretty much as soon as they get to know me because I try to flog them a copy of it! What I do hear a lot are people who don’t even know what a fanzine is. It’s generally young kids just getting into the scene and, while it’s frustrating, I kind of hope they’ll just be educated by picking a fanzine up sooner rather than later and appreciate just what they have to offer.
LTW: What motivates you to carry on doing ASFAR?
Nick: I’m addicted to it! Every issue I talk about sacking it off sometime soon, but then said issue sells really well and I remember just why it’s worthwhile. Plus I get to talk to loads of awesome bands I might not otherwise meet and find out more about the music they make which I enjoy.
LTW: It seems to have become quite trendy amongst certain indie bands (I’m thinking of Yuck, Summer Camp and Frankie and The Heartstrings amongst others) to make zines to help promote releases. What do you think about bands using the zine format to promote their own band?
Nick: I’ve got no strong opinion on it to be honest. I’m certainly not anti-it, and if it alerts more people to the concept of fanzines, then it has to be a good thing.
(I hope the irony of following a question that mentions Summer Camp & Frankie & the Heartstrings with a Hang The Bastard video isn’t lost on you all?)
LTW As an outsider, someone who’s never made a zine, I see something quite romantic about zine culture. Do you too or is it all hard work for you?
Nick: I’m too old and jaded to be romantic about it I think! It is bloody hard work though, especially given I try to balance it with a day job that means I’m not back home until 7pm every day, an addiction to lower league football that sends me off around the shitholes of the UK and I also freelance for Big Cheese magazine. Oh, and I have an amazing long-suffering wife, who I really should give a lot more time to. So yes, it’s a lot of hard work, but it is worth it when you get the thing back from the printer and can see the fruits of your labour in glorious monochrome 3D.
LTW What are your favourite zines, both from the past & the present and would you say any of them influenced your zine? Perhaps you can name a few of your favourite current zines too.
Nick: I do like reading other zines but I don’t really feel like I’ve ever been influenced by them. Not to sound big-headed, but I just decided to do my own thing, writing about the bands I like regardless of size or genre. That’s meant I’ve been unfavourably compared to Kerrang! (ages ago), but I kind of feel like not being constrained by editorial strictures (apart from the obvious no racism, homophobia etc), has helped the zine to change and grow. Current faves include Lights Go Out, Rebellious Jukebox and Razorcake. I used to enjoy Punk Planet, less so Maximum Rock’n’Roll, which I find overly preachy and niche.
LTW I’m guessing the positives must still be outweigh the negatives as regards your putting out a zine, although it does kind of sound like that balance is shifting for you. Are you constantly weighing up the pros & cons or do you think it’ll be pretty obvious when the time comes to call it a day?
Nick: As I mentioned before, I’m forever saying I’m going to sack the zine off but then decide to keep it going. The balance has shifted simply because of real life, for the reasons outlined in my answer to the question above, but I’m managing to keep it going at the moment and the feedback and sales the last issue I got were both really positive, so it’ll be around for at least another issue or two yet.
LTW: I don’t know if you use a collective genre title to describe the music you cover, but as far as I can tell you pretty much run the gamut of punk / hardcore bands. What excites you about this kind of music in particular & is this exclusively the kind of music you listen too? Any guilty pleasures you’d be prepared to admit to?
Nick: The bulk of what I listen to ”â and ergo what the zine covers ”â is definitely punk and hardcore, but I still like metal (though not much of it). I’ve also gone through various other musical phases such as being into dance, rap and indie, but they’ve never been to the exclusion of my core love for punk and hardcore. If anything, as I get older my musical tastes have become even more narrow, but luckily I have a team of contributors who are altogether more open-minded than me and help to ensure ASFAR remains a relatively broad church in terms of the genres it covers. I’m not guilty about any of my music taste, although plenty of people will tell you I really should be. But if I’m into something, I’m into it, and no amount of smirking by my friends is going to change that.
LTW: So what are the positive things about doing a blog. What wouId you say to someone to try and convince them to start a blog?
Nick: Not sure how relevant this is to me, but blogs are super easy to set up and maintain -compared to a print fanzine.
LTW: The inevitable “what would be your advice to someone who was thinking of starting a zine” question?
Nick: Do it! But don’t go trumpeting that you’re going to do it until you’ve actually put some work together on it ”â so many zines get talked about, only a small proportion of which actually get off the ground. Try to get other people ”â ideally friends you’re happy hassling ”â involved, it’ll make the workload a lot less and also make it easier to spread the word about the zine.
LTW: I’m always finding out about new bands from reading ASFAR & am always interested in finding out about where people hear about new bands. So where do you hear about new bands?
Nick: By seeing them at gigs, through reading other zines, via Facebook, via Twitter, via tumblr, via carrier pigeon…there are so many different avenues for discovering new music; generally I don’t even think about how a band came to my attention, it just happens!
LTW: Last but not least, anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked & should have.
Nick: Not really, thanks for taking the time to ask me these questions though!
You can also follow Nick on twitter, where his username is @ashortfanzine.