zine to blog: an introduction

[Note: this is a work-in-progress in support of doctoral research into the nature of online music subculture, in multiple parts. Expect abrasion, naïvete, half-truths and sticking my foot in my mouth at every turn. And feel free to comment, or toss me references! I know I’ve got a lot of reading to do…]

Consider this first post an ice-breaker of sorts.

For those who do not already know this, zines were a hallmark of the circulation of independent music in the latter part of the twentieth century. The contemporary indie music zine is an historical descendant of 1970s punk culture (for a concise background on this phenomenon, see the Wikipedia entry on punk zine).

Punk culture was the embodiment of a progressive shift in the regime of production and distribution of cultural aritfacts and knowledge among youth who adopted it, and the rise of the punk zine is rather emblematic of that shift. Facing empires of culture in an increasingly consolidated, increasingly global, and increasingly mediocre entertainment industry, youth of the 1960s and early 1970s began creating not only their own music with borrowed, stolen or cheap instruments, but also their own music publications. Sometimes handwritten, sometimes printed (but mostly photocopied), zines were like an informational glue that held together geographically distant peripheries of taste. The zine played an important role in disseminating countercultural music and ideas, both within the US, the UK, and Canada, and between them.

The reason I’m so interested in contextualizing zines in this way is that I’ve recently discovered a very rich vein of information about music in blogs. Blogs about not just any music, but seemingly all music: music from around the world, oddball music, accidental music, Nigerian work songs, nursery rhymes, Blaxploitation film themes, Japanese noise, and so on. I’m not going to put up all the links I’ve found, but one could start blogroll-hopping here, or here, for example, and find one’s own way through the tangle. If you’re interested in discovering new music, I mean actually interested in discovering new music (and not one of those people who claims to be interested in “all styles” of music, and then lists off Phil Collins and ACDC as exemplary of that varied taste), be warned: rollhopping like this will CONSUME you, as it did me this weekend.

And blogs are very different media than printed zines were. The romance and intrigue, the exotica of distance and delay are utterly destroyed by the fact that I am writing this sentence approximately five minutes before some (ok, only a few) people will read it. And I only need about fifteen minutes and pennies in bandwidth to import some old record into mp3 format, and send it to every place where there’s a demand to hear it and discuss it. And for those of us whose identities are bound to music in some way (whether as record collectors, musicians, selectors, or obsessive receptors of music), the personal and social implications of this communication scenario are gargantuan, whether we pay attention to it or not.

Something else that’s particularly striking in all of this is the role and revival of outmoded technologies (vinyl, cassette tapes) in a new technological space. I haven’t got a coherent comment on that subject to include today, but I will definitely get to it later on.

This “zine to blog” series is going to cover a lot of territory. My next instalment (I expect that they will be weekly) will outline a precis of relevant issues, as I see them.

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