Before There Was The Internet, There Were Bedroom Editors
LONG before the print and electronic media dabbled in local fringe music, the only way for its enthusiasts to keep themselves updated on the latest releases, upcoming gigs and issues related to the scene was via word of mouth.
Apart from the gigs, the movers and shakers would frequent places like Restoran Yussoff and Restoran Hameed in Central Market to discuss, exchange ideas, trade tapes, sell demos, EPs and fanzines.
Ah…! The fanzines. Irregular self-published, designed, written and edited publications that fringe music enthusiasts would wait religiously for.
They were the only medium of communication and expression for the local fringe music scene, making them the only type of publications that really mattered.
Those who are old enough to experience the heyday of local fanzines would definitely remember Aedes, Vortex from the East, Heartcore, Parasit, Suffer Age, Biodegradable Material, Network, Out of Step and Resolution Apache.
Fans would find out what bands had to say and could read reviews of various forms of recorded material.
They also looked forward to laud or detest the commentaries which ranged from thoughtful to provocative and naive.
Most importantly, fanzines filled the void left by the mainstream publications. Come to think of it – it also planted in its readers the seed of analytical thinking and the need to question and find solutions.
Overstating the case for such a small-time publications, you think?
Well, trust us. That was the reality back then.
These fanzines played a pivotal role and served like watchdogs of a music scene in the process of formation.
Here’s a good example. There was a time where most local bands were only doing cover songs. No one really made a fuss about it, until an article called Welcome to the Land of Covers appeared in the second issue of Biodegradable Material.
In it, the author questioned why local bands would only do cover versions songs when playing live.
His argument was, “why do covers when you can actually play your own songs?”
“Go on guys, play all those cover songs and save your face! All the boys and girls will love you for what you aren’t. Be proud of killing your own scene,” wrote the author sarcastically.
The article was greeted with mixed response.
Some members of the bands saw it as a personal attack, while most of the kids on the scene saw it as a call to improve the standard of the scene.
Several months down the road, the concept of cover songs was almost non-existent. If a band decided to play one, it would be in their own style.
That’s how effective those fanzines were.
Fanzines like Buddy Holly, (done by Naza of The Times) and the longest surviving local fanzine, Vortex from the East, offered the widest range of interview and reviews.
When it came to criticisms, fanzines like Suffer Age, Out of Step and Aedes would give bands a grilling. At times, the questions read like they were out to find fault with the bands. However, questions with regard to integrity and credibility were essential then.
If bands didn’t know why they picked up instruments in the first place, or didn’t know what they were singing, they were quickly exposed.
One of the best interviews was when the editor of Out of Step, one of the most critical of local fanzines at that time, grilled one of the editors of Suffer Age, another sharp-tongued local fanzine.
It was a battle of words that made for a most fulfilling read with a message – that it was time to make a change and better oneself. If you think words in Below the Radar were sometimes too harsh, critical or even too demanding, you and your band would never survive the knife-like commentary and criticism of most of those fanzines.
Today, apart from the ones in the hardcore/punk scene, fanzines no longer in exist.
Why? We really don’t know for sure.
Have they been replaced by webzines or e-zines? We don’t think so.
Apart from Joe Kidd’s Ricecooker webzine, we don’t really see other online publications dedicated to local fringe music worth
Is it because the scene today has more participants, backbenchers and cheerleaders rather than movers and shakers?
Maybe it’s just the fact that people in the local fringe music today are easily pleased.
Everyone is just happy with what they have now and don’t see the need for analytical thinking, the need to questions and the need to find solutions.
If that’s the case, then it’s really sad, because the local fringe music scene has become the exact same thing that it detested in the first place – purely mindless entertainment.
To those responsible for the fanzine, from Mamat Hitam who did Huru Hara in 1986 (arguably the first fanzine to have emerged in this country), Joe Kidd and Aedes, Lee, Acai, Weng and people who contributed to Biodegradable Material; Man, Piesay and Mochtar of Suffer Age; Mai of Out of Step, Azim of Network; Ajizz of Vortex from the East; Midi of Parasit; Nazri of Heartcore Iskandar of Resolution Apache and string of other fanzine editors, I salute and thank you for your invaluable contributions to the development of the local fringe music scene.
* This was originally published in The Malay Mail, Sept 28, 2005