Fanzines have long been a staple of passionate music fans with a typewriter, camera and opinions to burn. Rolling Stone once started as a simple, black and white newspaper in 1967 and has since become the leading music magazine in the world. Although that kind of success isn’t generally the mission of most self-publishers, several music fanzines have served as leading cultural voices (Maximum Rock’N’Roll, Bomp!, Punk Magazine, Riot Grrrl) over the years. However, with the advent of music blogs and the lack of independent brick and mortar newsstands, “zines” aren’t quite the one-stop sources they used to be.
In recent years, academia has taken notice of DIY culture both past and present. This week, the University of Maryland announced that they were in the process of creating a “D.C. Punk and Indie Fanzine Collection” as part of their Special Collections in Performing Arts program. Curators Vincent J. Novara and John Davis recently fielded a few questions about this unique collection for Bandwidth.
What role do you think fanzines have played in documenting independent music in the last 30 years?
VINCENT: The fanzine is an ideal primary source to understand what was happening during that span, especially to learn about artists other than those with sustaining legacies. The enthusiasts who created the fanzines frequently prove eye-witness accounts to the events, trends, and practices as they developed. Plus, there are many unpublished and rare photographs of artists, shows, and spaces.
What’s the future for fanzines? What effect has the Internet had on self-publishing?
JOHN: Zine culture is still thriving. I don’t see as many music-based fanzines anymore, though they’re still out there. Fanzines now seem a little more about documenting personal and political aspects of the community. DC has an annual zine fair and the appeal of fanzines still holds strong, I think.
Because the word implies that their “fan” driven, some could infer they’re less than critical. But in my mind, fanzines aren’t beholden to advertisers so they can be as critical as they want. Fair assessment?
VINCENT: That is my assumption, and I have certainly read vicious criticism in zines. But, when someone creates a zine to celebrate an artist, sure, the objectivity is lost. When someone creates a zine to comment on the happenings in a genre or a scene, they have greater license to express what they feel.
What makes somebody want to start a fanzine?
VINCENT: For some people, it’s their best way to be involved. They might not have any musical ability, or zero interest in performing in front of people, and creating a zine is their contribution. Pre-Internet, this was of importance equal to those people who organized shows, started labels, took photos, etc. It was another vital branch on the tree of independent culture. And, of course, there were people (like McPheeters) who did all of it.