The Connected Void
An Argument For Online Zines. Where do I start? Music. A form of art that is symbiotically tied to culture quite ubiquitously as it evolves and progresses. A medium that is as much tied to real-time as it is the culture of the past with both inspiring a variety of distinct sub-cultures just to make it more confusing. Now, I don’t know if that made any sense but the point is simple, music is, however you consume it and in whatever form, irrevocably tied to who we are, who we were and is as plain as it is complex in how indicative it is of what the fuck is going on around us; good or bad. But where do we discover it? How do we discover it and why do we use those methods and why, quite importantly, does it matter?
It has taken me many years to settle down and write this and what felt like an equally long amount of time to decide a “location”. I settled on ‘the connected void’ simply because that’s how it feels sometimes typing away at whatever Ear Nutrition is. A blog, a music blog, online zine, webzine, fanzine, an online publication, journalism I could reasonably string a few more words together in the description of it but it would yield the same understanding. This “understanding” is one that propagates the same questions. What are online zines and why should I read them? Hopefully, I can provide a case for the latter and operative “why” when it comes to anything pertaining to DIY and underground journalism. Hopefully, I am screaming into the void remember.
Now, this is going to be a long one and I’m embracing it unapologetically. Get comfortable and procure a liquid of your choice. I’ve separated it into easy sections and even enlisted some friends. Enjoy!
What Am I Reading?
Firstly what is a music zine? That is relatively easy to answer in that it’s the discernible and personal representation of adoration for the music community and the noise it produces. We’ve all seen the evidence and heard the deeply romanticised, albeit based in actuality, stories of scruffy paper zines sold outside of gritty, grotty and gregarious social gatherings in the early days of Punk-Rock and all it fostered. You can go to any record fair and see a multitude of time capsules in that format. Even now, paper zines are still lovingly made by scene devotees in adoration of the past just as much as the present.
Those early DIY publications (and I don’t believe that to be a grandiose term but one earned) truly paved the way. They inspired much of what will be discussed and near-incoherently rambled here, on (again) whatever you wish to call this. Be nice now. The fact that someone, at some stage, before or after a live show or post-experiencing a rough-cut recording for the first time back in the day, chose to articulate and collate their thoughts about it all and pair it with an easily digestible, literary and physical thing, is nothing short of powerful. Now, imagine a pile of these musical musings and the image of someone grasping the booklet in anticipatory hands encapsulated by an instantaneous, inescapable and inquisitive interest. “Woah, this person is writing about the things I like. I never even thought of it that way. I’ve never heard of that band before!”
Now, imagine the same thirst and passion to know more and modernise it. The physical printed zines are still alive and well but the internet is the hegemon and the very place you are reading this, the connected and lucrative void.
So, what are you reading now that it’s on a screen? The very same thing. It’s almost as if such a response to music is just as ubiquitous as the organised notes themselves. There is no proliferation without interest and no interest without proliferation and neither without the cultural foundation. Moving on.
‘Community and exposure are both things that are massively increased by zines, online and physical. Music fans have a sort of “hub” where they can use for new, personal and unique music recommendations, in turn exposing the individual to more artists via the person they’ve been turned onto by the zine. Building community in this way increases exposure, two things that are pivotal to the underground music scene!’ – Mel, Brasher/Alkahest/TCKTCK and probably 100 more!
Culture, Legacy, Shifting Styles
Admittedly, this is more of a bonus section here for posterity and to highlight the inspired and pervading continuity. Or something like that, anyway. I just let my peculiar brain continue with its cognitive conga line through life and cringe over it all later. Spoiler alert, I have no limits or constraints. Second spoiler alert! That will also be discussed later.
From the deep, dark and underground music scenes to the “mainstream” alternative underground propagated by the big names we all know, the contemporary music scene has its staples. I would wager to a confidently high accuracy that a great many reading this now grew up reading the likes of Kerrang, Rock Sound, Metal Hammer, Big Cheese, Down For Life, Punk News, Dying Scene, Alt. Press and Terrorizer to name a few. Many of these have come, gone, survived or gone through cycles of metamorphosis as time has rolled on unobstructed. I could obviously name more but the list would be gargantuan, to say the least. The point is, the humble zine, inspired much of this. Regardless of monetisation, size, reach, format and scope, the culture behind this aspect of the music scene is the key to it all. The legacy of the ideals of providing music, opinion and nuances of them is undeniable.
‘Zines are the lifeblood of our scene. They facilitate music discovery and personal connection between fans and bands across the globe.’ – Lauren, Mills On Wheels PR
As previously mentioned, styles range from physical to digital and hybridised mediums but even within that are journalistic and stylised differences. There are Instagram and Facebook pages dedicated to specific genres and scenes where the focus, though shorter, has the same aim. For example, I have been following an Instagram Punk-Rock account that has been carrying out polls of this year’s releases to meaningfully engage with the public. You can now with but a delicate click or a tapping of “subscribe” join mailing lists that land in your rapidly accumulating inboxes breaking the monotonous din of work and marketing emails. See the excellent Shout Louder for a modern and hybridised online zine that embodies this tactic.
On that note, it is also becoming more common now for record label specific blogs and magazines to assist in getting a select crop of music to new ears. TNSrecords of Manchester in the UK are a bonafide, literal and shining example of a record label that STARTED AS a zine and still maintain aspects of their foundation to this day.
There are even databases and apps dedicated to compiling lists for music PR, bloggers, journalists, promoters, playlist curators and label scouts. See the tenacious upstart that is Diversify Your Scene for an example plainly indicative of this passion via a specific focus. There are also collectives such as Punk Black ‘[…] who are committed to creating a radically inclusive space for BIPOC creatives’ that also cross over into blog, podcast and general zine-adjacent territory. However, it goes further. Podcasts, though reminiscent of radio shows are unequivocally tied to the “zine-a-verse” themselves as their audible structure can maintain, supplement and fit into any of this media’s fluid and ever-contorting shape.
There are now innumerably many ways to discover and keep pace with the fledgling new, the grounded contemporaries and the defining stalwarts still kicking. Music is fundamental at driving culture and the culture of underground and alternative music therein is global. Online zines, I argue, are an equally integral part of all of this greater, defiant and coalescent community.
‘I think online zines are important as they allow instant access for anyone wanting to check out new music to discover recommendations from people who are passionate about sharing exciting new bands.’ – Colin, Colin’s Punk-Rock World, Defender Of UK Ska-Punk
Back To Online Zines. Why Bother With Them?
The purpose of this article is to argue for smaller, underground zines, blogs and publications. As a disclaimer, there is nothing wrong with any of those well-renowned or comparative in size towards smaller sites such as this, any of those mentioned already or later on, but that is not the focus. However, I will say that such publications absolutely have their place. On a personal note and to be succinct, reading the likes of Rock Sound and Kerrang et al when I was younger inspired much of what I do now. Those such publications also quite undeniably feature and help smaller, DIY and underground bands but that will also be discussed later on. That is if you’re not sick of my loquacity. Just yet, anyway.
These online zines come and go. This is my second and I know of many others that intermittently jut in and out of words pertaining to the music scene but despite that, their worth is immeasurable. But why? Much of this omnipresent “why” comes in the form of the filling of these very deep filled cultural pies. If there are innumerable different bands and artists, then are innumerable-squared people and outfits trying to cover them. I’m fairly certain I’m a bit dyscalculic, can you tell? So then, what is this filling? Is it a review of a band of which you have never heard of or equally your latest discovery? Is it a close personal friends music or even yours? On that note, I’d like to digress and apologise for any emails and messages I’ve seemingly shunned over the years, genuinely.
This is the same with gig reviews, interviews and news. Whichever of the aforementioned you read may not matter, you’re bound to find something new or perhaps, see something you’ve experienced elsewhere interpreted differently. You may read a review that completely changes your opinion on a band that you previously didn’t care for and in that very nuance you have just digested, you’ve gained some new audio sustenance. Indie-Rock? Grunge? Punk? Metal? Queercore? Japanese Skate Punk? Crust Punk from the tiny village over the way? Any, all and more can be lovingly, definitively, succinctly or at greater length represented and covered in this expanse. What one person misses, another will cover and push it on to the next person.
‘Zines are vital to the DIY/underground scene. They are important not only for communities but an interest in creative expression. They allow us to find out about bands/artists and an ethos that surrounds these communities and hugely important that people within these scenes continue to keep it alive.’ – Hannah, It’s Alright It’s Fine Promotions
My own “May Have Missed” series (Here) is designed around the idea of requests for coverage and releases that I missed initially. Carry this mantra over to simply looking for new music and it does nothing but bolsters the argument. That Psych-Grunge band with twelve listeners on Spotify that someone miles away from you took the time to break down and now you’re enamoured with them. That blog that only posts once a month has just listed five releases that have become integral to the scene in the city to which you’ve just moved. You read it, investigated further and now you’re standing stage-front and watching one of such releases played in its entirety. There are infinite scenarios with this theme and I can confidently say that online zines seamlessly slide into and are relevant to more than one.
Though music from the more localised and underground scenes does eventually end up in bigger publications, and a sincere “well done” to all that have such success, the focus on the established can dwarf it somewhat. There is also the case of having to pay, but that’s another debate. That’s not to say that this is gospel and it is indeed completely fine to seek out news on what Metallica ate for lunch in 1997 or even last week but though I lacquer this point with a coat of jest, it is obvious what I’m driving at.
In the same way that large outlets are resources for new music, so are these countless smaller outfits. But what are the benefits of following and supporting these majority-spare time ventures?
You’re Onboard But Why The Small-Time?
Again, again! (Teletubies?) *shudder*. If you’re one to indulge those large publications, that’s absolutely fine but now it is time to point out some issues or rather those I perceive personally. Doubtlessly, you can flick and scroll through the above and you will find the names of small-time, DIY bands. Sometimes this will be on the cover, on a sampler (remember those) or in the “micro-review” sections and that’s fantastic. However, the context in which they are featured arguably falls subject to a literary deafening. Though I’m not one to hold it against a band “doing well”, the din created by constant articles and headlines pertaining to the same bands over and over again reaches a point of saturated contrivance and sadly, an often a viscous layer of banality. That’s not to say if you’re into a huge act that you won’t enjoy this, but the attention is often almost sequestered entirely and humans, sadly in this digital age, only have a finite amount of it. Sorry, what was that? I was distracted by an advert for a chocolate tea kettle.
The attention economy, through everything from this to marketing and painfully hilarious ‘Wish adverts’, is the self-sustaining horde coveted by our Dragon society. It goes without saying that there is a tremendous amount of competition in this locale and though big names are thus for a multitude of reasons, the “next big thing”, the local heroes or the band thousands of miles away to trying to break into a bigger scene, are far more likely to go unnoticed. This also means, admittedly, that the innumerable-squared writers out there are also competing for attention. However, in my experience, the culture around it is, as much as I hate this word because I’m a miserable git, almost always the definition of wholesome.
Then there is the case for the sensory overload of the above. Such a term doesn’t need any overt extrapolation because it is what it is and what it also “is”, is a problem that these “small-time” ventures do not have. There is less sensory overload, less advertisement, less distraction and more often than not, considerably more focus and authenticity. The idiosyncrasies of these online efforts are the pure definitions of themselves as they channel into and are a part of the very unique takes and perspectives on whatever is being covered. Again, chances are you’ll read something that completely changes your mind on a band. I know this has happened to me countless times in the seven-plus years of doing this and on both sides of it.
‘Online zines are important because they are accessible to anyone; that makes them an essential component in the ecosystem of music journalism. Like print zines, online publications offer an independent form of self-expression, but they have the potential to reach a wider audience. The major music press is out of reach for most DIY bands. To get a review in a lot of bigger publications, bands and labels have to pay for advertising space.’ – Sarah, Shout Louder
There is a wonderfully organic specificity in online zines and even that shifts on the regular. Ear Nutrition, for a time, was known for its Skate Punk coverage but in recent months, there has been a focus on both Alternative Rock and Hardcore more so. Could that deviate at any time? Yes, but it may not. This is the beauty of DIY press. It can publish what it wants when it wants and in whatever quantity with no constraints, no moderation and no rigid release schedules. The “product” you are getting is nine times-out-of-ten, honest and real. The manner in which these musings are published in literary style can range. No matter what zine you read, the variables are endless. If you were to line up some of the names already mentioned in this piece alongside The Punk Site or Colin’s Punk-Rock World, Thoughts Words Action or DIY Conspiracy the similarities would flow as easily the nuances and individualities.
In a nutshell that I always place after the point explaining it, simply for literary and dramatic effect (see, no constraints!), all of this is indisputably personal. All that I have mentioned is a part of the scene as a whole but DIY online press in a microcosm is a pure example of it. Akin to many bands in the scenes across this necrotic globe, there is little fiscal fortuity in this game. Patreon and Kofi are used and rightly with no shame, but work and daily life are almost always set first.
‘Online zines allow the reader to hear an opinion unencumbered by industry concerns, instead, displaying the thoughts of the people actually worth hearing; that is to say, those who do it because they love it.’ – Omar, Racehorse, Colin’s Punk-Rock World, Brian Baker Enthusiast
There is a love and adoration that permeates why we as writers do this despite the barriers. You will see such outfits come and go as quick as clothing but that again is part of it. Truthfully, it can become utterly overwhelming. Personally, I’m not even sure how much longer I will do this but my reasons FOR partaking and like others throwing in as much spare time as I can, despite sardonic comment on the “void-screaming”, never change. One interesting tidbit I’ve always found and one that I find completely enthralling and catalytic is that a great number of zinesters aren’t even musicians.
If there is one thing plainly indicative of any of this, it’s that tidbit. Writing is a way to “give back” as well as to further propagate and proliferate something that has given so much selfless joy. It’s all just natural and genuine enthusiasm.
Coalescence, Presence, More Reasons Why
The process of finding music now is remarkably easy and algorithmic on almost every level but there are both caveats to it and aspects that I would argue, only lend more vitality to this very case for online zines. The advent of music streaming, for example. Though not the most beneficial for an artist or a band’s longevity, it is a fantastic way to keep up with and discover new noise. As a quick digression, stream to your heart’s content but going to shows and buying music and merch is both better and more lucrative for both the band in question and yourself. Said digression partially-aside, bandcamp is also another wonderful place to discover and listen to your new obsession; but you knew that.
Email alerts, push notifications, reactive algorithms, bandcamp and streaming services like Spotify make use of such tools and I won’t lie and say I don’t use them myself. However, in what way are online zines incorporated and arguably, inextricably linked to this? After all, I’ve already eluded to how coalescent the new music plain is in general but how are the DIY zines a part of this specifically? Well, as good as those targeted and quite possibly sentient (Skynet) suggestions are, getting to that place is the crucial aspect. Whatever service or bandcamp page you find yourself on via an underground online zine, one that has convinced you or piqued your interest with organic conviction or simply said all the right things, it’s only going to enrich the journey. “Have you heard of this band? I found them on Music Blog Extreme Online Zine. Yep! It’s all on Spotify and they have merch on bandcamp too!”. Fictitious scenario and fantastically bad blog name aside, discovering something on one of these fan-operated sites will more than likely strengthen your bond to said site, its epoch and the scene as a whole.
‘Webzines matter because, in an age where it’s easier and easier to make music, it’s harder for the best and brightest to shine. Blogs and webzines are important for curating an overall sense of community and illuminating brilliant music that may otherwise go unsung’ – Mark, Our Lives In Cinema, INiiT Records
In yet another untimely nutshell, what you’ve then experienced in that case is better described as being a part of the ecosystem of underground music. One lifecycle that I have and will persist in arguing counts online zines as a huge and irrevocable part. Social media is obviously a huge player in this very natural adventure and you’ll find online zines at nearly every turn. Plus, it is a huge negation in your unproductive doom-scrolling, as you may as well discover some meaningful dopamine whilst you chase those “thumb gains”. By stopping off, reading, sharing and furthermore listening to that new band, you have become a part of the proliferation of that ecosystem and supporting those who support the scene whilst doing the very same.
As with DIY labels, large and or more established band’s are making more use of these organic, grassroots, authentic and amateur blogs and online zines now and that really speaks for itself. For example, the seminal names still writing away or making returns to the scene often find themselves working with the DIY labels of the world. Furthermore, within that, the labels themselves or through PR firms, companies or just people lending a helping hand, often outsource to those very DIY fanzines for pre-release reviews, streams and even premieres. The reason here is simple. All these other integral parts of the scene view these independent publications as not only viable but as a fellow cog in the community machine. Online zines are a resource made with care and with genuine interest waiting to enrich and be enriched.
‘Online zines are informative, inspired, well-written, poorly-written, silly and serious in equal measure. They’re not making money, they’re just spreading the word about the music they love.’ – Sarah, Shout Louder (but again)
To give some examples, if festivals with as much renown as Manchester Punk Festival, who have enough pull without online zines and writers use such, then again, I think that’s pretty emphatic as to why. There is also further evidence internally. If you ask anyone that actively maintains these publications, they will tell you of their inboxes. Whether it’s “official” inboxes, Facebook and Instagram DM’s, private inboxes or messages requests, they will tell you of countless torrents and tirades of tenacious PR agents, bands, artists, labels and collaborators making their pitches from the known to the unknown. Though it may seem as if this medium is surrounded by “competition” and other formats and truthfully, on bad days, it can REALLY feel like a bottomless void, there is a reason and it’s a gleaming positive. Online zines may be an upward struggle for those tapping away but the above is plainly indicative that there is genuine care out there for them.
It is also important to note, that along with the “no constraints on time” aspect of this, that there is no limit or required par level. At any given stage, you can dip into an online zine and go as far back as you please. Which interestingly, is the very same back and forth the publications themselves experience. Whatever online zine you are perusing or noticing for the first time, they are a resource and the passion talked of above will likely have yielded HUNDREDS of personal takes. If you were to stop this very second and scroll through any of the sites mentioned, including this one, you’d find more music than you could reasonably digest in five days.
Every single published piece that you find, read and likely notice some inevitable grammatical errors in, has been made with love.
‘I think online DIY Zines are a great, accessible way to keep pushing new talent. With how complicated and expensive it can be to go down the PR route, these guerrilla ways of spreading the word of your bands, shows, projects can a viable alternative for gaining new fans and attendees’– Hass, Triple Sundae, Lounar
An Argument For Online Zines. I hope I have provided one. This article has been a long time in the making and has been gallivanting across my brain for some time and which is obvious, given its length. I ruminated on and trialled shorter versions of this piece but at the end of that painful process, this final “essay” format felt truest to the argument itself.
Online zines are invariable and in some way, always going to be there. Though they are in the same playing field of the YouTube videos, podcasts and all the other mediums mentioned in this piece, the point here is that they are a notable, lucrative and worthwhile aspect of this delicate ecosystem. I am not suggesting superiority on any level but rather focusing on one aspect. Of course, using my own site as an example and that of my contemporaries is but minutiae within this expansive realm. There really are that many innumerable-squared people doing that same, all throwing and owning their own takes on the music so fundamental to culture and ideas.
Somewhere, in all the cacophonic din and the bottomless social-media void, there are some words via an intrinsic passion just waiting to ignite the very same in you in a defiant and perpetually reverberating cycle. We are the true believers.
What else was I going to end on? Come on now.
I would like to thank Chris from The Last Mile for his unwavering support and for his help in getting this piece ready. Another thanks also goes to Omar from Racehorse who also helped me tighten this mind-splurge. Lastly, but by no means linguistically quantified least, thanks to everyone that has read and shared ANY of my work over the two sites and seven-plus years. It means more than you know.
Linked below are the others mentioned in this piece and again, if you find something via their work or even on the other parts of this very site, I’ve done my job.