From Protest to Resistance: British anarcho-punk fanzines (1980-1984) as sites of resistance and symbols of defiance

Following on from my previous blog post about writing chapters for future books on punk  I have decided to share with you the abstract for my next solo submission for a forthcoming book specifically on anarcho-punk. The book is titled The Aesthetic of Our Anger:Anarcho-Punk, Politics and Music, 1979-84 and is edited by Mike Dines and Matt Worley. This looks to be a seminal publication as it will be the first of its kind in academia to focus purely on anarcho-punk. I am really excited about this as I will be publishing alongside some academic luminaries in the field of punk studies.

From Protest to Resistance: British anarcho-punk fanzines (1980-1984) as sites of resistance and symbols of defiance

This chapter focuses on the role that alternative publications played in the cultural, political and ideological practices of the British anarcho-punk movement between 1980 and 1984. I explore the way these fanzines disseminated the central ideas of Anarcho-punk, the way that the editorials, reviews and articles mediated a shifting notion of ‘punk’, and how these ‘amateur’ publications fitted into the paradoxical construction of the early 1980s alternative rock scene.

As punk emerged in the 1970’s fanzines soon became one of the central methods of communicating the developing ideologies, practices and values within this new musical and subcultural movement as they have historically been regarded as an alternative to mainstream publishing and being independently representative of the ‘underground’. I will show how the Anarcho-punk editors of these fanzine worked with an ideological sense that early punk was an attempt to challenge and exist outside of the ‘mainstream ‘ of popular music and culture, but that punk’s style, fashion and music soon became co-opted, commodified and absorbed into popular culture. Early protagonists of anarcho-punk, such as Crass, sought to reinforce the personal politic of being responsible for one’s own authority and actions, and the political agenda of anarcho-punk came to embrace notions of anarchism, peace, libertarianism, animal rights, feminism, anti-capitalism and anti-globalization. The analysis explores how these discourses of political position were mediated and the sense of an Anarcho -punk movement that they constructed.

The chapter focuses on the visual and textual discourses of a selection of British anarcho-punk ‘zines’ and examines how discourses of authenticity, community and identity were embodied and reinforced by and for their producers and consumers. I first explore the role of anarcho-punk fanzines as a link between members of the scene, and second how its editorial content and design fostered a subcultural movement that self-consciously sought to resist what they saw as the commodified fate of the earlier punk movement. In doing so I examine how DIY fan production practices, through the articulation of specific and at times oppositional ideological positions, contributed to the construction of the musical, cultural and political boundaries of the anarcho-punk movement.


Forthcoming book chapter on anarcho -punk fanzines and their transfer to the digital age.

I have recently completed and submitted a co-authored book chapter on anarcho-punk fanzines with my colleague and PhD advisor Prof Tim Wall. The chapter is for a forthcoming book Punk, Politics and Resistance: Fight Back edited by Matt Worley from Reading University.



Punk Fanzines– ‘symbols of defiance’ from the print to the digital age


In September 2011 I presented a paper on punk fanzines, and their migration from print to the online environment, at The Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change Conference hosted by London Metropolitan University. After the conference Matt Worley of Reading University, who hosted the punk panel at the conference, approached me and a number of other academics, who presented punk based research at the conference, with a proposal to get our work published in a book. Over the past year or so Matt has secured a publishing deal with Manchester University Press for a forthcoming book called Punk, Politics and Resistance


I decided that after my chapter on punk documentaries didn’t quite make the final print of Ben Halligan’s book “Sights and Sounds: Interrogating the Music Documentary”, and as an early career researcher with little publication experience, I would enlist the help of fellow research colleague and head of our centre for research Tim Wall to co-author the chapter as he has much experience in getting articles and chapters published. I also  recognised that Tim would not only bring a wealth of experience but also a c corpus of knowledge around popular music culture and the digital age from his work on Jazz in the digital age and other research projects he has been and is involved in.  We have recently had confirmation from Matt Worley that the chapter will make the publication and Tim and I are in the final stages of making some minor alterations based on comments from the editor and peer reviewers.


The chapter is titled “Punk ‘zines – ‘symbols of defiance’ from the print to the digital age”

 and as I mentioned at the beginning of this post is based around an exploration of the development of punk fanzines from the late 1970s to the present, exploring the role of these music fan-produced publications in giving meaning to the experience of a music community. Our aim was to consider and analyse the fanzine as a discursive practice.  In doing so we set out to encompass the usual emphasis on fanzines as channels of communication and symbols of wider punk practices, but to ensure we recognised that it was the fanzine which was one of the key ways in which punk and anarcho-punk was made meaningful. In doing so we argued that

·        fanzines became one of punk’s many ‘symbols of defiance’, not just in the way that they visually and verbally represented punk’s DIY ethos and activism, but also in the way they embodied the labour of ‘fan-eds’ as organic intellectuals undertaking ideological work in which discourses of defiance and opposition are constructed, signified and reinforced.

To enable this we focussed on two particular instances of the punk ‘zine; two moments in which the specific meanings of specific fanzines could be explored in a little greater detail than those offered in the grander narratives of the punk fanzine. In the first instance we conducted a case study of one early 1980s anarcho-punk fanzine and examined the way that such publications operated at the intersection of political activism and DIY music criticism, constructing idealised notions of music, politics and community against which the actual activity within local punk scenes were judged.  

 This for me was particularly interesting and nostalgic as I referred to copies of anarcho-punk fanzines from my personal collection from over 30 years ago. Many of these such as ‘Acts of Defiance’, which formed the basis of our case study, ‘Mucilage’ , ‘Guilty of What’ and ‘Necrology’? I hadn’t looked through for at least 20+ years. Without getting too nostalgic the experience brought back many fond memories from my youth and also made me consider how those fanzines informed and developed my own political position. More interestingly it also made be consider and reassess how those politics now inform my life as it could be argued that being in academia is being part of the ‘system’ that I was very much rallying against in my youth.

Anyway I digress so back to the chapter. In the second instance we examined the idea of the punk ‘zine as used in contemporary websites with a focus on punk from the 70s or 80s, or music or artists that continue its ethos and/or sound.

 Without giving too much away, as we would like you too read the chapter when the book is published, we argued  that simply focusing on the characteristic visual deign of the print fanzine limits our understanding of its cultural role and the position of its ‘fan-ed’ cultural agents. This important point also allows us to understand the extent to which webzines replicate the discursive practices of the print fanzine. Overall, while many web sites or blogs may include visual references to fanzines, and may even use the term in their titles or primary banners, they do not include the sorts of editorial organisation, the cultural practices or the discursive constructions of identity and opposition which characterised print fanzines.


I am really pleased with the chapter and really enjoyed the experience of co-authoring, the support it enables and the different perspectives that another author can bring to the ‘mix’. This work on examining anarcho-punk fanzines has led to me developing some of those core ideas further for another chapter called “From Protest to Resistance: British anarcho-punk fanzines (1980-1984) as sites of resistance and symbols of defiance”, which will appear in a seminal book on anarcho-punk called “The Aesthetic of Our Anger: Anarcho-Punk, Politics and Music, 1979-84” co edited by Mike Dines and Matt Worley due for publication by Autonomedia In early 2015.


Trip to Eurosonic Noorderslag2012 Groningen

The Eurosonic Nooderslag Music Festival takes place in the northeastern town of Groningen in The Netherlands in the second week of January. The festival is Europe’s main conference and showcase festival for European music which was set up  to create an international platform for the European music industry and to promote the European repertoire. The festival is a combination of a music industry based conference during the daytime, consisting of various talks, demonstrations and chaired panels from music industry and related experts/businesses, and musical events showcasing as many as 250 musical acts from a variety of musical genres and European countries, in numerous venues around Groningen.   During my time there i saw some really good music in some really varied venues from purpose built concert halls, outdoor stages to even a small independent art gallery (of which I will return to later). My overall impression of the festival was that it was very industry focused (which sounds obvious considering the nature of the event), by that I mean it was a place for music based businesses and performers to meet and network. There were some really interesting panels discussing recent developments in the industry from such people as Will Page (Spotify) and Jeff Price (AAIM). There was a daily workshop on an education exchange programme called Musication  which unfortunately we couldnt attend as it was invite only. This workshop looked at building a network between 30 professionals in charge of educative activities in modern music where they would develop a teaching toolkit and exchange programme. This seemed focussed on the musicological and composition performance aspect of music and was probably the only panel that had a direct interface with education. Many of the other panels and presentations were quite tech-based or very music industry/business focussed, none the less there was some interesting insights into the developments within the industry regarding, streaming, ticketing, touring, festivals and streaming live, health and safety. There were also many panels that were Dutch speaking only which due to my poor knowledge of Dutch were out of my remit. What I did find out was that a lot of students from many colleges and the University in Groningen play an active part in the festival by getting placements working with professional stage managers/directors/techies on the various stages/venues, working as part of the production office team, marketing and promotions team etc etc thereby giving them real industry experience.

What I found fascinating and impressive was that a city the size of Groningen, with a population of around 190,000; could successfully accommodate the festival. It seemed apparent that there was a lot of local support from the municipal council and other public bodies in ensuring that the city retained this festival and made it integral to its economic and strategic planning. The local population were seemingly very accommodating and no doubt could appreciate what it does/might do for the local economy. Here was a really good example of commercial enterprises and public authorities working symbiotically for mutual benefit. In conversations with Jez Collins we both considered why a city like Birmingham, with a population 10 times that of Groningen has not managed to attract a major international music industry conference/festival like Eurosonic to take place in the city centre, rather than way out of town at the NEC. Organisations like Capsule have successfully put on similar small scale festivals such as Supersonic, which has gained a phenomenal international reputation, but I am left wondering how much Birmingham City Council (BCC) have been behind them, supporting their events to the point where it becomes part of BCC’s economic and strategic planning policy to put Birmingham on the international musical map. Only BCC can answer that but in my 8 years of working in Birmingham I have been to many meetings to discuss such issues and try to create a music policy for Birmingham and haven’t seen it happen yet. Perhaps BCC need to send a representative next year to get a flavour of Eurosonic as these types of events are really useful in supporting and indeed developing cities as sites for music, music heritage, music industries and music education.

One of the most interesting meetings I had was with theIMMHIVE project partners where I caught up with more inside knowledge of the project and current progress as it reaches the climax of its final year. One of the attendees was Jan Peer who is the Course Director for the undergraduate International Pop Culture bachelor degree at Hanze Minerva Art Academy, located in Leeuwarden. Jez has/will be posting up the video Jans discussion with the project group up on this blog however is my summary of what interested me about his course. The course has been running for 10 years and is focussed around the idea that popular culture is reflected in many disciplines and many pop culture artefacts /products are a combination of many art/media/cultural forms. With this in mind the course is about students developing a new skill set that combines music with art and culture. It is a 4 year Bachelor of Arts degree programme that combines 2 degrees-a Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Design. The course has approximately 240 students (60 per year group) so compared to our Media and Communication programme (600 students) it is very small but this course has to be as I will explain later. The academy understands that most students on graduation start as or become freelancers and the academy is developing students to work both inside and outside the mainstream music industries, where music and the creative industries interface.

Interestingly there is no fixed curriculum, at the beginning of the first year students have to create a learning programme of their own based around what they want to create whilst at the academy. What they are presenting is an environment where the learning is negotiated by the students so it is self determined-a bit like post grad style teaching and learning at undergraduate level. This is where the small course numbers becomes important; the students are put into working groups based on the similarity of things they want to produce or skill sets that can be shared as benefit to all in the group-it was stressed that the group dynamic is very important and staff spend a lot of time before the start of the course that the students are well placed in a group as peer collaboration and peer teaching/learning plays a central role in the teaching and learning culture in the academy . All students get a 20 minute lecture twice a day from different lecturers who bring to the course a specific set of skills and knowledge that they share and then the students go off in their groups to work on their projects. This sense of freedom helps in developing the students sense of personal responsibility to their own learning. Every 10 weeks there is an interview between group lecturer/mentor and each student in their group to check on student progress and to evaluate and assess the students progress, work to date and their learning goals. At this point each student has to produce a critical evaluation of their progress, learning and development and then extra tuition, resources etc are achieved through negotiation.

The development of students as creative entrepreneurs resonates with some of what we
do in the Birmingham School of Media but not as advanced or flexible as the academys approach. I think having smaller numbers certainly helps manage such a course and would be difficult to replicate across our Media and Communication course at Birmingham City University where we have 600 students on the programme each taking a specialist pathway. Jan has kindly invited me and Jez to come and spend some time at the academy and contribute some of our knowledge in an academic exchange programme. There was also the suggestion that we should take a few of our students with us to experience this method of teaching and learning as the academy also offers a student exchange programme. Visiting and experiencing the academys philosophy and environment will be beneficial as we would be able to see how it works, get to speak to some of the other staff and students and see how we can potentially combine some of their methods and philosophies into our teaching and learning practice. It was very inspiring meeting Jan and we experienced firsthand some of his students work later that day/evening at the Sign Gallery where they were performing and exhibiting at a show called Soep (Dutch for Soup) where quite believably we got served free soup whilst we walked around and looked at the art and listened to the bands. It was great seeing the fruits of the students hard work during their studies at the academy. The next day they also held a Dayparty where they had live music and this time free beer. What I liked about it was that I got to hang out with the cool kids of Groningen, heard some great music and saw some really interesting art.

Despite Eurosonic being a festival by the industry for the industry it was still a very informative and enjoyable experience and I look forward to returning to Groningen to meet Jan Peer, Ard Boer and the whole bunch of lovely new friends I made whilst out there.