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A voice for the many: Lucy Robinson on fanzines

Prof Lucy Robinson explains why fanzines were the perfect medium for punk to express itself by and in.
We’ve come down to Brighton today. We’re going to talk to Lucy Robinson who’s a Professor of Collaborative History at the University of Sussex. She’s a historian of Britain post-war history and also has written an awful lot about fanzines. So we’re going to ask her about why fanzines matter, what we can learn from them as historians, and why people made them in the first place. Hi, Lucy. Thanks for joining us today. Obviously, fanzines didn’t start with punk, but they became very associated with punk. Why do you think that was? At first, I think it’s really important that we remember that punk didn’t invent fanzines, because it actually helps us understand why punk and fanzines fit together so nicely.
And I think if we understand punk as being a bit make do and mend– put things together that probably shouldn’t be together, a bit collage, montage, keep it simple, make it fast– then zines are the perfect match for that, aren’t they. So it’s also, kind of anonymous, I refuse to do the things that artists and authors are supposed to do. So it’s like the most punk, it’s the most punk medium you could get, isn’t it. OK, when you look up one of the punk fanzines from mid 1970s, the main topic in all of them is music. It’s reviewing the records, they’ve bought or heard, the gigs they’ve been to and interviewing bands, bands that they like.
But they also cover a kind of a broader range of subject matters. What do you think about that? I think that music is always about other things, as well though, isn’t it. So whether it’s about legislation around working and drinking licensing, whether it’s about what’s happening to venues– which is something that was a perennial issue for gig goers, isn’t it, is what the council’s doing with their venues– or how much the bus tickets are to get there, or the lyrics of the song, or how it made you feel.
But also, I think because what goes in a fanzine is so personal and almost so random, that it covers so much that there pretty much isn’t anything happening in the 1970s, in the late 1970s, that you couldn’t explore through a fanzine. So, I think it’s not surprising that whilst it is going to be dominated by music, there’s always going to be the things that people are led to from that music– whether that’s philosophy, whether that’s stuff a little bit later on around animal rights, veganism, whether it’s around gender, issues around gender and women writing themselves into the scene by producing their own fanzines.
I think the music might be the excuse in some ways, but I think that’s always going to lead people in different directions. OK. One thing to ask, Lucy, is why did somebody, why do you think somebody would want to write a fanzine in the first place? And what do you think the relationship between the person who looks at the fanzine, reads the fanzine, and the writer might be? What might it tell us? Because zines and punks are so integrally linked to each other, that there’s also a kind of currency to being a zine writer. I mean literally, you can get into gigs if you said you’re going to review it for your zine, if it’s a well enough known zine.
Or you can swap your zine for another zine. But they are also a way that you can imagine yourself as the reader, and the reader can imagine themselves as the author. So I think that’s one of the other reasons zines are particularly interesting. They totally blur that line between author and reader, in the same way that punk blurs the line between audience member and the front person of a band, for example. They’re kind of like semi-public diaries, aren’t they, in some ways. They’re written for the person writing it, but they’re also to be shared. But only to be shared around a kind of limited number of people. I don’t know what you think about that as an idea. Yeah.
I think you’re absolutely right that they are performed, personal diaries aren’t they. So they’re a way of writing your identity into existence. This is the version of me that I want to share. They’re also ways of mapping networks and talking about– what I love are the zines that talk about other zines– so there’s a sense of being– writing personally, but also writing about the network that the zines create. As a zine is handed from one person’s hands to another person’s hands, or exchanged for another zine, or for a little bit of money, they build a connection between those people. They imagine a community.
So I think zines do a really interesting thing of letting the individual write their identity into being and create a collective community. And there’s something quite special about that, I think.

Watch Lucy Robinson, Professor of Collaborative History at the University of Sussex, explain why fanzines were the perfect medium for punk and why they’re so useful for historical research.

Reflect on what Lucy says about fanzines: they ‘create a collective community’ and enable you to ‘write your identity into existence’.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the discussion area below.

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