Perhaps the title of this post is a rhetorical question.
If you’re interested enough in WKNC to peruse our website, then you probably know what a zine is.
If you don’t, that’s fine.
A lot of people, including those who make zines, find them difficult to define.
It’s part of what makes them cool.
Zines are essentially handmade publications — zine is short for fanzine — created and disseminated by members of an underground subculture.
Despite their lack of official publication, zines were — and still are — vital tools within subcultural spaces.
Expressions of creativity, ethos and ideology, zines strengthen the foundations of resistance and community amid broader sociopolitical contexts.
Zines can be traced to the early ’60s, where their subject matter centered on social and political activism.
By the ’70s, however, zines took on a starkly punk slant.
Mark Perry’s zine, “Sniffin’ Glue,” was released July 1976.
Inspired by the Ramones song “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” Perry devised and released the zine just days after seeing the band live in London.
Created with simple on-hand tools, “Sniffin’ Glue” embodied punk’s D.I.Y. ethos.
The zine’s cut-and-paste graphics, rugged handwriting and unpolished doodles left every page imbued with youthful vigor and punk-rock passion.
Perry’s achievement was to unite for a brief time all the tensions — between art and commerce, between avant-garde aesthetics and social realist politics — that eventually tore punk apart, and write them out in a sharp mix of emotion and intention that still makes his words fresh
J. Savage, “Sniffin’ Glue: The Essential Punk Accessory,” Mojo No. 81 August, 2000, p. 129.
Soon after the zine’s release, droves of inspired punks took to their photocopiers to take advantage of an exciting new mode of self-expression.
The resulting metamorphosis of the fanzine medium facilitated a massive creative movement.
“Chainsaw” zine, produced by Charlie Chainsaw, arose from his personal desire to distinguish his work from the “‘Sniffin’ Glue’ ‘look-a-likes’.”
Other creatives followed suit, experimenting with different materials and styles.
Zine-making as a practice transformed.
Zines are still an important part of subculture today.
Walk into any record store or trendy downtown shop and you’ll likely see zines for sale in a multitude of colors and styles.
The best thing about zines, and perhaps what zine-makers find most rewarding about the practice, is its freedom from stricture.
Essentially, the only rule is that there aren’t any rules.
If you’re interested in exploring some contemporary zines, consider browsing WKNC’s collection here.
At this point, I’m sure most people who use the internet on a regular basis are familiar with the song “Goo Goo Muck” by The Cramps.
The song, featured in the 2022 Netflix adaptation “Wednesday,” gained something of internet (specifically TikTok) virality in the months following the show’s release.
With jilting vocals and a twangy guitar, “Goo Goo Muck” was perfectly strange (some may say kooky) and prime fuel for a littany of TikTok dances.
But while The Cramps may distinguish themselves in the contemporary sphere for their feature in the series, they’re also musical pioneers.
Psychobilly, a rock fusion genre blending elements of rockabilly with punk rock, often with a horror-themed twist, is largely attributed to The Cramps.
Originating in the punk underground of New York City in the 1970s, psychobilly defines itself lyrically with references to sci-fi, horror, exploitation films and often taboo subjects.
The music is campy, shlocky and typically apolitical, often presenting themes satirically and in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.
The genre’s style draws from a wide pool of influences, with some groups presenting a distinct rockabilly slant while others experiment with elements related to new wave, heavy metal, hardcore punk and others.
According to a staff writer for the Washington Post, the (now defunct) official website for The Cramps described frontman Lux Interior as “the psycho-sexual Elvis/Werewolf hybrid from hell.”
The Cramps formed in 1976 and are largely credited as the founders of the psychobilly genre, their widespread popularity heavily influencing the work of other bands.
The band remained together for nearly four decades, touring until 2006 when Interior passed away at the age of 62.
Interior’s seemingly unending zeal for performance, subversion and stimulation largely underscores the energy of the psychobilly genre, with his work still casting a broad light upon contemporary artists.
At the risk of making some readers of this article feel old: Gen Z has nostalgia for the early 2000s now. People are posting images of clunky technology and tagging it #aesthetic. Artists are selling CDs and cassettes as physical merchandise again. And, yes, this includes music genres too: Trance is back.
Many of these new releases are mostly confined to small corners of the internet, so to start on this journey into geometric fonts and really wishing they still made transparent video game consoles, I’ve selected a few landmarks in the development of the scene.
It was sometime in the winter when I heard Dead Kennedys for the first time. I was living in the passionless coastal town I’ve mentioned in posts before, friendless and freshly eighteen and so bored it hurt.
I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom with the screen door open, letting the cold winter air spill in.
My phone lay on the floor beside me, playing music from some strange YouTube ripoff app, the kind that you can’t find for free anymore after YouTube started its own subscription service.
I hadn’t yet surrendered myself to the trendy green music subscription that all the other cool teens had, so this was my only option. The app operated similarly to the company it was spoofing, only on a smaller scale that allowed for simultaneous watching and browsing.
I can’t remember what exactly I was doing at the time, only that I was letting the app cycle through random songs, not really listening, until a certain turn of phrase caught my attention:
We’re sorry, we hate to interrupt But it’s against the law to jump off this bridge You’ll just have to k– yourself somewhere else A tourist might see you and we wouldn’t want that
Dead Kennedys, “Soup is Good Food”
Maybe it was the irreverence of the statement, but something about it struck me particularly hard. I immediately paused the song and restarted it, this time listening intently.
Up until that point, I didn’t know music could be that way: unabashed, unapologetic and unrestrained.
You Made a Good Meal
“Soup is Good Food” was not the first Dead Kennedys song I heard, but it was the first I really paid attention to.
Released as part of the band’s 1985 album “Frankenchrist,” the song describes (quite blatantly) the plight of the working man in a post-industrial society.
Not only is the working man disposable, but society punishes him for resenting his condition, all the while remaining cheerily apathetic to his misery.
Depression, exhaustion and poor working conditions are socially acceptable in this dystopian society. In fact, this corrupt “system” is fueled by other disenfranchised and disposable workers.
We know how much you’d like to die We joke about it on our coffee breaks But we’re paid to force you to have a nice day In the wonderful world we made just for you
Dead Kennedys, “Soup is Good Food”
This situation isn’t foreign to us. It’s a reality, perhaps even made worse by the innovations of the internet and artificial intelligence.
Killing the Industry
In my opinion, Dead Kennedys is one of the most archetypally punk bands to exist.
Formed in 1978 in San Francisco, Dead Kennedys debuted with their first recorded single, “California Über Alles,” the following year.
Both songs likened the two politicans — one a liberal, the other a staunch conservative — to fascist dictators, highlighting the invariable corruption of power when married to a politican’s ideals.
While Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra eventually conceded that he was “off-base” with Gov. Brown, he levied criticisms regarding Brown’s apparent hesitance to “stand up to the rich people and the land owners who don’t think they should have to pay taxes for the public good.”
Biafra’s readiness to disparage any politican or public figure he felt deserved it, regardless of their political affiliation, colored the work of Dead Kennedys for the remainder of his career.
With the influence of Biafra, Dead Kennedys became a vital cultural force against the social and political climate of the 70s and 80s.
The band was also brazen in its condemnation of the music industry, illustrated with their track “MTV – Get Off the Air” in 1985.
How far will you go, how low will you stoop To tranquilize our minds with your sugar-coated swill You’ve turned rock and roll rebellion into Pat Boone sedation Making sure nothing’s left to the imagination
Dead Kennedys, “MTV – Get Off the Air”
Biafra took great issue with MTV and other similar companies, which he saw as merely the extra limbs of a larger, hegemonic entity.
For Biafra, music was a tool of insurrection. Fame and wealth were unimportant; what Biafra really wanted was to rile the masses, radicalize the youth and make the people in power uncomfortable.
“Riling the masses” is not a new concept for punk, but Dead Kennedys did it arguably better than many others.
*cough cough* Sex Pistols *cough cough*
Listening to Dead Kennedys and reading transcripts of Jello Biafra’s spoken word poetry leads me to beg a very age-old question:
Is punk dead?
Counterculture eventually manifests its own type of conformity and stricture. Fashion becomes a uniform and community becomes exclusivity.
Looking at how self-proclaimed “punks” navigate online spaces (Machine Gun Kelly), it can be fairly easy to lose faith in the grassroots core of “punk.”
But when I go to a punk show, I feel a lot different. There’s energy there, barely-restrained fervor that gives way to complete abandon as soon as the music starts.
There are people in studded battle jackets and crust pants, sure, but there are also kids in graphic tees and girls in dresses and fishnets. There are people standing at the edge of the pit and waving lost hats, glasses and wallets.
That’s what punk is to me: people who love wild music and hate the government crashing into each other in a whirlwind of cathartic kinesis.
So, punk isn’t dead. Not really. It just isn’t living on Instagram or Tiktok.
It’s undeniable that social media has heavily influenced music.
From the recontextualization of the industry through new marketing opportunities to the pervasion of the infamous “tiktok song” phenomenon, the way we consume music — and the way certain artists rise to mainstream popularity — owes itself largely in part to social media.
Such can be seen especially in the realm of alternative music, with once underground genres permeating into the broader subcultural consciousness.
Of these genres, breakcore in particular stands out.
What is Breakcore?
A “normie” friend of mine once described breakcore as “electronic music for anime fans,” which is somewhat true in describing the genre’s contemporary sphere.
However, the “electronic anime” style many consider to be breakcore is actually far removed from the genre’s original sound.
Breakcore emerged in the 1990s as the “bastard hate child” of jungle, happy hardcore, gabba, speedcore, drum ‘n’ bass, techno, IDM, acid, ragga, electro, dub, country, industrial, noise, grindcore, classical music, hardcore, metal and punk.
This auditory hodgepodge arose in response to the rise of fascism — both figurative and literal — in mainstream society. The choppy, experimental and erratic styles of breakcore spat in the face of hegemonic consumerism, capitalism and white supremacy.
With no specific melodic style, the breakcore sound derives from a mixed bag of styles “cut and pasted” from different genres to produce elaborate beats.
It’s a common misconception, especially for those ill-acquainted with alternative music. People like to slap the label “goth” on anything even tangentially dark or edgy, even when it’s far from what goth actually is.
And while I don’t consider myself a purist by any means, nor find myself particularly bothered by the misattribution of “goth” by subcultural outsiders, I do think it’s interesting to explore what separates “goth” from “non goth” in terms of music.
Goth, like many others, is a music-based subculture. While the distinctive stylistics of goths are widely-known — all-black clothing, dramatic eye makeup, back-combed hair and intricate accessories — the music that inspired these looks is not.
“Goth” actually encompasses multiple genres of music. Several major genres are goth rock, death rock, post-punk and darkwave.
This week, I’ll be focusing on defining darkwave and recommending some excellent darkwave artists.
Darkwave music is melancholic and gloomy.
With heavily synth-based sounds and a slow to moderate tempo, darkwave tracks put a depressive spin on the ebullient tones of mainstream new wave while maintaining the high energy of post-punk music.
At the time of its development, “goth” referred exclusively to the realm of gothic rock. While contemporary circles generally accept darkwave as “goth,” the subculture of the 80s necessitated a distinction.
Thus, while darkwave artists drew inspiration from the same realm as gothic rock, their use of synths and strong new wave influence set them apart.
Darkwave rose as new wave’s shadowy counterpart, with lower pitches, slower tempos and a brooding atmosphere.
The so-called “first generation” of darkwave consisted of artists who simply put a darker slant on new wave.
I’ve discussed the exclusivity of alternative scenes before.
It seems an inevitability that a subculture hinging on nonconformity and countercultural stylistics and beliefs would eventually grow into something of a monolith itself. We’ve seen this in most alternative scenes, and I’ve specifically discussed its manifestation in the realms of the metal and goth scenes.
Punk is no exception. Though it constitutes one of my all-time favorite genres, I can’t ignore that both historical and contemporary punk spaces tend to be something of a “boy’s club.”
Especially in the scene’s earliest iterations, misogynistic convictions abounded. The unhinged vigor and brazenly bellicose slant of the punk subculture seemed to preclude female involvement. Male anger was “cool” and “hardcore,” but female anger was rarely taken seriously.
Female-fronted punk bands, such as The Slits, faced significant difficulty in garnering the critial acclaim of their male-fronted counterparts during the 70s and 80s.
As frontwoman Ari Up said in an interview with Rolling Stone, being punk was “hard enough for the boys, but for the girls it was a witch hunt.”
It was becoming increasingly clear that the prospect of solidifying women-safe spaces in the punk scene was a punishing task. For groups like The Slits, existing in the punk scene meant existing in a constant battle against misogyny and patriarchy.
A Girl Riot
In the early 90s, a group of women from Olympia, Washington assembled to discuss the pervasion of sexism within their local punk scene.
The idea of the “Riot Girl” blossomed from these talks, with “girl” used to invoke the freedom of a child’s self-expression and “riot” to encompass the movement’s goal of lashing out against a patriarchal society.
While the original punk movement existed in opposition to the oppressive institutions of contemporary society, Riot Grrrl picked up the slack with staunch pro-trans, anti-racist and feminist credo.
Riot Girls carved out their own subculture, producing original music and fanzines to disseminate and network their ideas within a distinct cultural space.
These zines discussed domestic violence, incest and rape and covered themes relating to sexuality and the exploration of identity in relation to femininity.
Zines served to affirm women’s experiences, disseminate praxis and strengthen the unity of the movement.
Riot girl bands, such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Sleater-Kinney radicalized the masses with evocative and irreverent performances that both centered and destigmatized the female body. Clothing and bodies and language became tools for orchestrating the “girl riot.”
Riot grrl’s combination of fashion and performance became an art form in of itself, both a subversion and solidifier of conventions of femininity.
Feminism, a concept previously localized to feminist circles, was projected outwards in a staggering display.
Not only were the women in riot grrrl bands projecting their innermost struggles, desires and beliefs, but they did so in a way that empowered other women and girls.
I can still remember going to my first hardcore show and feeling smaller than I’d ever felt before, walled in on all sides by towering men who hardly seemed to recognize that I was even there.
I hated feeling that way, like I was in a place I shouldn’t be.
Evidently, the women behind the riot grrrl subculture felt the same way. The feeling of alienation that often comes with one’s womanhood, both in the hardcore scene and in general society, is an agony that never dulls.
Riot girls responded to this agony with boldness. No longer content with waiting, they made their own spaces in the scene and defended them with animalistic fervor.
They took their bodies, perpetually objectified and minimized by the male gaze, and created something dynamic and frightening and decidedly hardcore.
“Girl power,” a phrase often derided in contemporary circles for its hollow nature, was once the clarion call of the riot girls. Before its co-opting by mainstream pop artists, “girl power” really meant something. It meant seizing — literally or figuratively — what was owed.
It’s not really called “girl power” anymore, but it still exists.
I’ve seen it when girls at shows huddle together, pulling their friends out of the path of crowdkillers. I’ve seen it when female vocalists wail into the mic, their voices frayed with lifetimes of rage. I’ve felt it within myself at shows when I would shove aside men who invaded my personal space.
While some may argue that the “girl riot” ended when “girl power” lost its kick, I don’t think that’s true. I think the “girl riot” is ongoing, and in the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, soon apt to reach a new intensity.
Zine-Making as Feminist Pedagogy
Just a Girl? Rock Music, Feminism, and the Cultural Construction of Female Youth
As Halford explained, he feared the destruction of his identity and career. For much of his involvement with Judas Priest, he did not see a place for himself as a gay man within the metal scene.
And while the aftermath of Halford’s MTV interview demonstrated that Judas Priest’s success did not hinge upon its frontman’s sexuality, Halford’s story is an important staple in metal history.
Namely, it stands to affirm the necessity of representing queerness in metal.
Metal’s Issue with Queerness
While Judas Priest is far from what could be considered an iconic queer band, Halford’s openness with his sexuality is important.
In a subculture placing a heavy value on traditional masculinity, queerness often begets hostility.
While subcultures like the metal scene, the punk scene and others formed in part as countercultural movements, it’s undeniable that they themselves foster a sort of hegemony.
These spaces are often saturated with specific demographics who, purposefully or not, exclude individuals existing outside of these spheres.
For queer people, the metal scene specifically can be particularly hostile. For a movement not rooted in leftist politics but rather anti-establishment ideology, this does not always mean that certain differences are tolerated.
The Veneration of Heterosexuality
Often, patriarchy and heteronormativity underscore the metal scene.
While Steele argued that the song was purely humorous and ironic, its homophobic themes were undeniable.
You can drool, beg me and hope There’s no damn way I’m playing drop the soap Ok, I know I’m strange but I ain’t no q– So take your rage and disappear But I’m proud not to be PC
I like goils
Type O Negative, “I Like Goils”
In Steele’s song, he portrays homosexuality — and gay sex — as disgusting and strange.
His reference to “political correctness” smacks of classic boomerisms decrying inclusivity and progressive language.
While it’s fully possible given Steele’s track record that he was simply “being edgy,” this doesn’t excuse the harmful ideology his song presents, nor does it mean his audience is capable of critically receiving the alleged irony outlined in his song.
Edginess only works when everyone is in on it.
For much of Steele’s career, his persona hinged on his sexuality. Specifically, the ways in which he desired — and was desired by — women.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and I’ll be the first to admit that I am a fan of most of Type O Negative’s discography.
I also don’t deign to imply that Peter Steele had any influence on Rob Halford of Judas Priest, or that the two men are somehow connected beyond their simple association within the genre of metal.
Rather, what I aim to focus on are how the dynamics surrounding Peter Steele are indicative of larger discourses that affect queer individuals, specifically queer men, within the metal community (we won’t get into how the metal scene treats women, lest this post become a multi-chapter dissertation).
Queer men pose a subversion of archetypal male roles. In the often hypermasculine metal scene, male queerness can be seen as weakness, fragility or inadequate manhood.
The veneration of a very specific, often regressive ideal of masculinity makes the metal scene inaccessible — and perhaps dangerous — to many individuals.
This was likely a factor in Halford’s decision to be private about his sexuality for so long, the idea that there wasn’t a “place” for his identity in the metal subculture.
That is why recognizing Rob Halford’s sexuality is so important. To know that Halford, named “Metal God” by his fans, is happily married to another man solidifies a place for queerness in the scene.
Halford’s signature leather and studs, evocative of the style of “leather daddies” and emulated by millions of straight male fans of Judas Priest, blurs the hard-set line between heterosexuality and homosexuality.
The band’s continued success following Halford’s entrance from the closet demonstrates that identity cannot obfuscate talent and performance.
It brings us back to the roots of metal’s purpose as a force rallying against oppressive institutions and conformity.
Ultimately, a place where queerness deserves to exist.
Last week, we learned about the proliferation of queercore within the hardcore punk scene.
To briefly recap, queercore emerged as a subculture in the mid-1980s. It started from punk’s DIY scene, with purveyors of handmade magazines and other forms of media serving as the movement’s basis.
Queercore, also known as homocore, reflected the experiences of LGBT individuals in a society that was often hostile towards open displays of queerness.
While I primarily focused on Limp Wrist’s influence on the scene, there are numerous other bands that defined the genre.
As we move farther into pride month, I encourage both members of the LGBT community and allies to reflect on the convictions outlined by the queercore scene.
To help with this, I’ve composed a short “field guide” of various tracks and artists — some punk, some not — classified under the “queercore” umbrella.
This band has a classic summertime driving-down-the-road-with-the-windows-down style.
Closer to the sound of blink-182 than Limp Wrist, Pansy Division is edgy but light enough for casual listening. With upbeat guitar riffs and a sardonic lead vocalist, the band produces tracks to be enjoyed both ironically and in earnest.
Based out of San Francisco, the band formed in 1991 and solidified itself as one of the only openly gay rock bands in the contemporary scene.
Touring with Green Day in 1994, Pansy Divison was one of the most commercially successful queercore bands to exist. The band’s pop-punk style and often-comical songs about queerness garnered significant acclaim.
A flagrantly ironic cover of a Nirvana classic, this track cleverly queers one of the most well-known songs by one of the most gatekept bands. Play this track for your favorite straight white man and watch his blood pressure surge.
Against all odds, we appear Grew up brainwashed, But turned out queer Bunsplitters, rugmunchers too We screw just how we want to screw Hello, hello, hello, homo
Pansy Division, “Smells Like Queer Spirit” (Nirvana cover)
He looks as good in a skirt as he does in jeans He is a most notorious queen His personality, I’m not impressed But I can’t wait to get him undressed
Pansy Division, “Fem in a Black Leather Jacket”
G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society’s S–)
Based in Olympia, Washington, G.L.O.S.S was an openly trans-feminist hardcore punk band.
Formed in 2014 and dissolved in 2016, the band’s existence was tragically brief. While G.L.O.S.S. had the opportunity to “make it big” with a $50,000 deal by Epitaph Records, the band ultimately decided to remain unaligned with a large corporation.
Shortly after turning down Epitaph’s deal, G.L.O.S.S. announced its breakup in an issue of the punk zine Maximum Rocknroll.
The band members explained that the growing “cult of personality” surrounding the group, as well as the obligations of touring and performing, were taking a toll on their mental and emotional health.
The band’s sound blended classic hardcore with trans-affirming themes to create raucous, angsty riffs striking back against heterosexual hegemony and anti-transness. Their songs are undeniably iconic.
They told us we were girls How we talk, dress, look, and cry They told us we were girls So we claimed our female lives Now they tell us we aren’t girls Our femininity doesn’t fit We’re f– future girls living outside Society’s s–!
House music began in the underground clubs of 1980s-era Chicago.
Defined by its signature four-on-the-floor beat and classical tempo of 120 beats per minute, house served as the foundation for contemporary pop and dance music.
Despite house music’s significant cultural impact, its history is rarely addressed in discourse.
Not only was house music instrumental in the development of many contemporary music genres, but it was rooted in unequivocal Black queerness.
The Death of Disco
Before house, there was disco.
Emerging in the 1970s, disco formed with influences from the LGBT community, Italian Americans, Hispanic and Latine Americans and Black Americans.
The genre was known for its four-on-the-floor beats, syncopated basslines, string sections, brass and horns, electric pianos, synths and electric rhythm guitars.
Though its elevaton to the mainstream distanced the genre from its roots, disco’s inception was starkly countercultural: a response to the aggression (and subcultural hypermasculinity) of rock and the social stigma surrounding dance music.
Derived from within marginalized communities, disco represented a richness in history and culture far removed from the straight white hegemony of the twentieth century.
Disco centered on vivid, unapologetic self-expression rooted in the era’s overarching sexual revolution. Groups like Earth Wind & Fire and Kool and the Gang emerged, bringing disco — and its message — to a broader audience.
However, such popularity also garnered enmity.
Disco Demolition Night, an event often marked as the death of disco, occured July 12, 1979 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
During the event, originally marketed as a Major League Baseball promotion, a crate of disco records was blown up on the field. Chaos ensued as thousands of audience members rushed out after the explosion in a riot.
This brazen display of hatred for disco music riveted the nation, inflaming the stigma already surrounding the genre. In the years following the event, disco’s popularity nosedived.
The once-bustling scene faded into virtual obscurity.
The Birth of House
In the decade proceeding the death of disco, queer Black DJs in Chicago’s underground club scene began developing something new, something that expanded upon the danceability and expressivity of disco.
Among these DJs was the openly-gay Frankie Knuckles, whose impact on the genre’s development earned him the moniker “Godfather of House.”
Knuckles defined himself in the scene by playing unique mixes, blending together tracks and experimenting with different sounds and speeds. He also pioneered the practice of adding a drum machine and reel-to-reel tape player to create new tracks.
In the background of Knuckles’ musical innovations, a darkness was brewing. In June 1981, the first cases of the illness now known as AIDS were identified in five young gay men in Los Angeles.
House as a Home
While some argue that Knuckles was not the founder of house (in fact, the source of the name “house” is even contested) as a genre, it’s undeniable that his passion for the craft helped transform house into an international phenomenon.
Like disco, house was born from the creative influences of queer people of color. Its vibrance reflected a desire for freedom, autonomy and actualization.
Dance halls were unifying spaces in which patrons could exist without fear. They became sanctuaries for individuals cast out of their broader communities on the basis of their sexual and/or gender identities.
Additionally, house reflected a bold response to the “murder” of disco at the hands of (majority white and heterosexual) detractors.
House rose from disco’s ashes a stronger, more sensational being. And it still goes strong today.