Le fanzine Uzine
image © 1994 Aline Giordano
text © 2011 Aline Giordano
The first issue of ‘le fanzine Uzine’ went up for sale in April 1991 in local record shops in France, price ten francs. The editorial welcome read:
‘You are holding in your hands, trembling with emotion, the first issue of Uzine. We had a lot of trouble producing it. First because when you start a fanzine you have no dosh and then be- cause some people will do everything they can to prevent you from interviewing bands… Any- way, at last, Uzine is here! ‘And another fanzine!’ you may be saying … Well, the more there are the better. Do we really need to explain why?’
[‘Vous tenez entre vos mains tremblantes d’émotion le premier numéro de U-zine. Nous avons eu énormément de mal à le réaliser, d’abord parce que quand on commence un fanzine, on n’a pas de fric et puis parce que certaines personnes ont tout fait pour nous em- pêcher de réaliser la plupart des interviews. ... Enfin, bon. U-zine existe! Encore un nouveau fanzine, nous direz-vous; Mais plus il y en aura mieux ce sera. Faut-il vraiment vous expliquer pourquoi?’]
The reason why the founders of Uzine believed in the proliferation of fanzines can be encapsu- lated in the answer to the question that Chris Atton (2001) would pose twenty years later: ‘What happens when ‘ordinary’ people produce their own media?’
The Uzine editorial board (who happened to be a bunch of students) believed in alternative politics and in creating another medium of alterna- tive propaganda. It was, as Stephen Duncombe described, a ‘refusal to be passive’ (1997:179), ‘the negation of what is’ (1997:183), and ‘poli- tics by example’ (1997:188). We were offering a different view on the world. We did recognize our limitations. Could one fanzine change the world? Of course not. Could a network of in- formed people start making changes in their everyday life that could impact the wider socie- ty? We hoped so. This was our idealistic premise for starting the fanzine in the first place. Tool, Nirvana’s Dave Grolh, Pitch Shifter, Courtney Love, The Jesus Lizard, Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Cell, La Muerte, The UK Subs, Killing Joke, Tux- edomoon, New Model Army, all these bands that were interviewed by Uzine became willing accomplices to this ‘politics by example’. It was apparent in the sincerity of the bands’ answers and the often politically charged dialogue that would ensue.
While late 1970s punk fanzines embraced the misuse of English grammar, disregarded es- tablished publishing traditions and thus cre- ated their own form of communication (Triggs 2006:76-77), Uzine was not born out of the political and social frustration of the late seven- ties. The first three issues certainly shared some of the aesthetics and DIY ethos of punk cul- ture, such as the use of collage for photographs and text, Letraset, and the mixing of fonts in the titles. The use of cheap black and white photocopying and the busy pages gave Uzine the ‘visual aggressiveness of the punk attitude’ (Triggs 2006:76). However, reactions to feelings of apathy, as visceral as they may have been twenty years earlier in the UK, translated differ- ently among the youth of the nineties, therefore among those behind Uzine.
Fuelled by the same desire to break away from the establishment, young people in the 1990s were differently informed than those of the ‘70s. MTV may have been trying hard to influence music sales, but it did not deter a tranche of American youth from getting organised and es- tablishing their own ‘musical, social and political alternative’ (Fairchild 1995). Guitarist singer- songwriter Ian McKaye, a prominent figure in the US punk movement since the eighties, had little in common with Malcolm McLaren apart from sharing what Fairchild refers to as the ‘aesthetics of negation’ (1995:20).
McKaye has dedicated his life to campaigning for social causes, denouncing social injus- tices. Fugazi, one of his most commercial music formations, has been regularly giving benefit concerts in its home town of Washington DC (Picciotto 1995). He is also the co-founder and co-owner of Dischord Records, an independent recording label, which as Fairchild (1995:28- 29) reports ‘has no distributor and no financial backers’. Dischord Records offers an alternative to being a commodity. It offers choice and safe- guards artistic control. As Fugazi grew in popularity, they were faced with a decision to remain true to their politics or ‘sell out’ (Dischord Records 2011).
‘The band’s decision to remain on Dischord led to offers from the majors to buy the entire label, but selling it was never even a consideration. We understood the value of self-determination, and because the label was so well established we weren’t faced with the same circumstances as many other bands and labels at that time’. (Dischord Records 2011)
They did not sell out.
Uzine was a democratic affair. All could contrib- ute an idea, an article, as long as they did not misrepresent its founding principles. The pro- duction of Uzine progressed towards an overall cleaner look. This could have been a subcon- scious decision to find a new identity or a sign of maturity for the music fanzine genre overall. At- ton (2001b:38 and 2010:518) noted the change in aesthetics in the nineties with fanzines be- coming more conservative in their layout, highly organised in their content, and illustration used ‘straight’ rather than ordered at random. For Uzine, the design of the layout had become sec- ondary, relegated to a mere practical function rather than an aesthetic one. Instead, the focus was on text and the messages it contained. Uz- ine had become a fanzine for readers to read, so a clear layout was paramount.
On a more personal note, Uzinemusic.net (the online version of Uzine) has increasingly be- come a personal affair, a mix between the music fanzine Uzine and what Duncombe (1997:11) terms the ‘perzine’ (abbreviation for personal fanzine). Here my articles, interviews and re- views are adorned with my moods, thoughts
and personal experiences. However, to borrow the idea from Georges Orwell in ‘Why I Write’ (1968), I would argue that my best articles are still those that have a political purpose.
Atton, C., 2001. The mundane and its reproduction in alternative media [online]. Available at: http://web.archive.org/web/20060716112923/http://www.mun- danebehavior.org/issues/v2n1/atton.htm [Accessed 20th February 2011].
Dischord Records, 2011. History, [online]. Available from: http:// www.dischord.com/history/page03 [Accessed 10th March 2011].
Duncombe, S., 1997. Notes from the underground: Zines and the politics of alternative culture. New York: Verso.
Fairchild, C., 1995. ‘Alternative’ music and the politics of cultural autonomy: The Case of Fugazi and the D.C. scene. Popular Music and Society, 19(1) 17-35.
Orwell, G., 1968. Essays. London: Penguin Books, 2000.
Picciotto, G., 1995. Giordano, A. Brighton. 6th February 1995.
Triggs, T., 2006. Scissors and glue: Punk fanzines and the creation of a DIY aesthetic. Journal of Design History, 19(1) 69-83.