Zine history

Thinking historically about acid house & early rave culture: The soundtrack to late Thatcherism

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Most discussions of the soundtrack to the Thatcher years concentrates on the early-to-mid-1980s and the rise of Thatcherism. For example, many have referred to The Specials and The Beat at the time of 1981 riots, Duran Duran and Wham! as the Thatcherite hegemony won the 1983 election and Billy Bragg and the Style Council during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. But I want to think about the soundtrack to late Thatcherism (and the early Major years), particularly acid house and early rave culture.

Exported from the United States, house music made its way into the UK club scene in the mid-1980s and acid house became a phenomenon from around 1987 to 1991, before morphing into various strains of rave music in the early 1990s. The rise of acid house coincided with the opening of new wave of clubs across the UK and beginnings of the warehouse and open air ‘raves’, situated against a backdrop of high Thatcherism, which included heightened deindustrialisation and the growth of the high finance capitalism in the City of London

Thatcher was returned to office in 1987 after her third electoral victory and this could be considered the high point of Thatcherism as a hegemonic project. After defeating the trade unions during the Miners’ Strike in 1985, Thatcher unleashed a wave of privatisation and deindustrialisation across the country. Already under pressure, many heavy industries in the north of England, as well as Scotland and Wales, collapsed, leaving to massive unemployment in these regions. Where jobs were available to replace the traditional heavy industries, they were usually unskilled, low paid and short-term, leaving many without the stability of employment enjoyed by the previous generations.

Meanwhile in the south-east of England, especially in London, the economy boomed, fuelled by the deregulation of the finance industry in 1986. Heavy industry, especially around the East End of London and the docks, also dried up and the inner city began its path towards gentrification. The story since the mis-1980s was that London became too expensive for many workers and those who benefited from the boom in the finance industry moved in.

As the north and south of England diverged upon two parallel roads – one towards a post-industrial decline and one towards a post-industrial regeneration – the emerging youth subculture that rose to prominence at this time was acid house and rave/club culture. I believe that the subculture surrounding acid house and the early rave scene reflected this north/south divide and reflected the two Britains that were developing under Thatcher.

Coinciding with the emergence of MDMA (or ecstasy), the acid house and early rave scene became the focus of a moral panic about out of control youth on drugs and gathering en masse to celebrate this fusion of drugs and music. Unlike punk or reggae (or even rap), this subculture was seen to have no redeeming socio-political features and was viewed as just an excuse to indulge in social drug experimentation.

Many viewed acid house and early rave culture as hedonistic and the pretext to (publicly) waste a lot of money of partying. This was probably true to some degree in the south, where the more affluent young people could indulge in this hedonism and spend a considerable amount of money on weekend activities.

But in the north, acid house also exploded – in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and other cities. In the northern acid house scene, it was not just hedonism, fuelled by a large disposable income, but a chance to escape from dreary post-industrial world that had been delivered by nearly a decade of Thatcherism. Not sites of resistance to Thatcherism, but a withdrawal from engagement with it.

Furthermore, with the decline of heavy industry in the north, factories and fields, once the sites of a booming industrial sector, were transformed from empty spaces into potential venues for clubs and raves – the economics of putting on a show was merely finding a suitable sound system. An enterprising person, the kind of whom was praised under Thatcherism, could hire (or buy) a large PA system, bring in some local DJs and with a little promotion, make a lot of money from those entering (and possibly the selling of illicit drugs).

Unlike punk, reggae or folk music, acid house and early rave culture did not really get political and for most, was more an apolitical rejection of the Thatcherite status quo, using music (and the drugs) to collectively cast off the burden that Thatcherism brought down on young people in the late 1980s. Although I would say that acid house was given a political edge by its crossover with the gay scene in Britain in the 1980s. Under Thatcher, gay men and women were persecuted for their sexuality and the AIDS epidemic and Clause 28 were used by those in power to publicly harass gay men and women, arguing that their lifestyles were deviant. Acid house became the dominant sound in many of Britain’s gay clubs and this deviancy and portrayal as the ‘folk devils’ of the 1980s was transformed into a particular subcultural identity, combining the hedonism of acid house culture with the ‘deviancy’ of being gay in Thatcherite Britain.

However the apolitical nature of acid house and rave culture changed in the early 1990s. Concerned about the amount of illicit drugs being allegedly sold and used in the scene, the government and the police cracked down on raves and dance clubs, using the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and a revised version of the Public Order Act 1986 to shut down underground raves and strictly monitor licensed clubs. In 1992, the Major Government started to draft the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill (which eventually became law in 1994), which included an entire section dedicated to the policing of raves. This led to significant political resistance and raves became part of a political battle over the use of public space. Taking some inspiration from the anarchist ‘Stop the City’ protests of the 1980s, a serious protest movement developed, using the method of occupying public spaces and putting on ‘free parties’. This crossed over at stages with the rise of the Reclaim the Streets movement and other green/anarchist protests.

This post has attempted to give an overview of how acid house and early rave culture fits within the wider history of Thatcherism and that of contemporary Britain. What I need to do is delve into primary sources of the period, primarily the documents produced by the subculture itself – the zines, the magazine interviews, the flyers, media reports and government files, as well as any oral history and reminisces of the period. Any suggestions for where to find relevant materials would be greatly appreciated – however, as usual, there are a million other projects that I need to finish beforehand!

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Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball: The mixture of Dada, Communism & ‘Zines’ in Weimar Berlin

I am in the (hopefully) final stages of putting together my monograph and have been lacklustre in posting much on this blog lately. In the meantime, I was looking through my old harddrive, looking for notes that I wrote for my PhD, and came across this I wrote for my zine back in 2003. I have always wanted to write about the pre-history of zines (as well as the connections between communism and Dada in Weimar Germany), but have never got round to it, so here’s a little something from my formative years…

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In recent discussions on the history and characteristics of zines, there has been some debate on the development of the zine before the punk explosion of 1976-77. At a forum with other zine creators recently [in 2002], a notion was expressed that a history of zines before the 1970s was impracticable due to its splintered and unconnected predecessors. Although there is no simple chain of causality, a history of zines as merely ‘one damned thing after another’ with no correlation is unacceptable. Max Dvorak’s words on the development of art history are particularly poignant, that a history of zines is not the tracing of a single unbroken line of development, but rather a complex development, punctuated with stages of new conditions that provide new shoots from which new developments unfold.

Most histories of zines begin with the science-fiction fanzines that began in the 1930s, but leave many gaps between them and the punk zines of Sniffin’ Glue and Ripped & Torn. Fred Wright’s This Document Will Self-Destruct in 30 Seconds goes beyond this simplistic history and disregards the notion of total autonomous zine development, outlining the various zine predecessors such as beat poetry chapbooks, revolutionary war broadsides, Russian Samizdat and the publications of Expressionism, Dada, Surrealism, Futurism, Lettrism and Situationism. Keeping in mind that the photocopier was only patented in 1959, the zine that exists today is aesthetically and constructively different than earlier publications, but as Fred Wright states:

Many zine publishers have claimed affinity with these older publications, and apparently, like a whisper down the corridors of history, these works, just by the fact that they once existed, serve as both inspiration and influence to many of today’s zines.

One of the most influential of these early publications was the ‘journal’ by the Berlin Dadaists, Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball or ‘Everyman His Own Football’. It is worthy to note this publication, for its timing, its iconoclastic appearance and its influence, direct or indirect.

In January 1917, Richard Huelsenbeck arrived from Zurich in Berlin, having been part of Dada’s Cabaret Voltaire. While the people of Zurich ‘sat in the restaurants with well-filled wallets and rosy cheeks’, Berlin was experiencing the collapse of social order under the pressure of the First World War. The German economy was collapsing with the Imperial Army of Wilhelm II failing to sustain the war effort and prevent the waves of hunger among its citizens. For Huelsenbeck, Berlin was a ‘city of tightened stomachers, of mounting, thundering hunger, where hidden rage was transformed into a boundless money lust, and men’s minds were concentrating more and more on questions of naked existence’.

In the last months of the war, Huelsenbeck met with several others forming the ‘Club Dada’. The others that were associated with Huelsenbeck included Raoul Hausmann, Walter Mehring, Franz Jung, Johannes Baader, Hannah Höch, George Grosz and the Herzfelde brothers, Wieland and Johann. (In protest of the war, Johann anglicised his name, becoming John Heartfield) Wieland Herzfelde had produced a wartime journal entitled Neue Jugend, which was heavily influenced by the Expressionists. Herzfelde founded a small publishing house, Malik Verlag, which produced Neue Jugend. Herzfelde believed that art was a powerful medium for portrayal of radical political ideas, although many doubted the political effectiveness of Herzfelde’s publications.

During the war years, many ‘humour’ journals printed in Germany had proliferated and became important means of spreading political ideas. The satirical nature of such liberal and socialist journals as Simplicissimus, Ulk (‘Joke’) and Der Wahre Jacob (‘The True Jacob’) had been changed by the First World War and strongly supported the war effort. In the months after the War, these traditional journals adopted a largely conservative position toward the political events. With the increasing disorder following Germany’s defeat in November 1918, an array of right-wing ‘humour’ journals started to appear, starting with Phosphor, Rote Hand (‘Red Hand’) and Satyr.

By early 1919, Germany was in political and economic crises. The Kaiser had abdicated following the Imperial Army’s defeat with the Social Democrats forming Germany’s first democratic government, the Weimar Republic. A series of Communist uprisings followed and groups of delisted soldiers, the Freikorps, were used by the government to quash the revolutionaries. In January 1919, the Spartakists (members of the German Communist Party or KPD) started revolting in Berlin. Friedrich Ebert, leader of the Social Democrats, employed Gustav Noske as Minister of Defence, who used the violent and nationalistic Freikorps to crush the Communists. The Spartakist leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were murdered by Freikorps officers on January 15, 1919.

In response to the rise of counter-revolutionary publications appearing in Berlin, Herzfelde urged the KPD to employ pictures and drawings by the Dadaists in their official publications, but was told in response that the party press was not a humour magazine. A few days after the Spartakist murders, Herzfelde discussed the publication of a ‘new periodical of a literary, artistic and political character, brought out at irregular intervals, cheap… [with a] newspaper-style make-up’, intended to ‘sling mud at everything the Germans have so far held dear’. On February 15, a week after the First National Assembly of the new German Republic, Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball was published, Malik Verlag’s first post-war production.

Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball was only four pages long and only a single issue was produced, but it was the most concise collection of work by the Berlin Dadaists. John Heartfield designed the journal and created two photomontages for the cover. Photomontage was first developed by the Berlin Dadaists, although there is dispute over its invention. Hausmann and Höch claimed that photomontage was the pictorial extension of the static, simultaneous and phonetic poetry of Zurich Dada, developed on holiday on the Baltic Sea. On the other hand, Grosz and Heartfield claimed that in May 1916, they ‘pasted a mishmash of advertisements… cut up at will in such a way as to say, in pictures, what would have been banned by the censors if we had said it in words’. Hausmann’s photomontages were often random and aesthetically ‘wild and explosive’, while Heartfield’s works were classically composed, laden with revolutionary political expression. Both styles have been widely influential and the photomontages are distinctly recognisable as works of the Berlin Dadaists. As Hans Richter wrote, ‘they have been imitated and copied by thousands who have pocketed the financial rewards always denied to Hausmann and Heartfield, the creative artists’.

The cover parodied the layout of the conservative journals. In conjunction with the title, a sarcastic interpretation of the statesmen’s promise of ‘a chicken in every pot’, photo-monteur Heartfield spliced a picture of his brother Wieland in formal wear with a football, tilting his hat to the saying ‘everyman his own football’. The main photomontage depicted a fan, a vanity item popular in the 19th century, with portraits of the ruling elite. Alongside the Ebert-Scheidemann group, who controlled the Reichstag, the montage included Karl Kautsky, one of the founders of German social democracy (who V.I. Lenin had called a ‘renegade’ and ‘bourgeois reformist’) and General Ludendorff, leader of the Supreme Command of the Imperial Army and future participant in the Nazi putsch of 1923, as well as other military leaders. A caption above it read: ‘Open Competition! Who’s the prettiest??’, while below: ‘German Manly Beauty #1’. This ‘beauty competition’ for the ‘gifted beer bellies’ was in reference to the opening of the First National Assembly of the Weimar Republic that had opened only a week beforehand. The cover was the beginning of Heartfield’s use of photomontages in a coherent aesthetic, departing from the random structures of earlier montages. As Wieland stated, ‘In it he began for the first time to use photography consciously in the service of political agitation’.

As members of the German Communist Party since December 31, 1918, Herzfelde, Heartfield and Grosz used Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball to attack their political and social enemies. The journal’s leading article, by Herzfelde, concerned the ‘socialisation of party funds’ and the choice that the Weimar Republic had to make, between the bourgeois Social Democrats and the Communists.

However, it was Grosz’s cartoons, along with Heartfield’s photomontages, that stood out as violently political as well Dadaistically absurd. Under the title ‘Der Kirchenstaat Deutschland’ (‘The Church State of Germany’), Grosz depicted the Pope controlling puppets of Chief Minister Erzburger and Chief Press officer Viktor Naumann, instructing them on the evils of Bolshevism. In Grosz’s illustration, the Pope’s portrayal of the Bolshevist as a destructive ogre lead workers to be devoured by the jaws of Church officials. Grosz’s cartoons also appeared in an article, ‘Die Latrine’, which depicted a toilet with the dictum ‘A German symbol’ underneath. The article sarcastically asked whether An die Laterne, a paper produced by a government propaganda agency, needed a cartoonist, offering Grosz’s illustration in jest. Surrounding the illustration were statements ridiculing the Social Democrats, the utopian Rat Geistiger Arbeiter (Council of Intellectual Workers) and Max Pechstein, the ‘people’s fine artist’. It was shrewd inversion of the accusation by the conservative press that the ‘Die Sensationspresse’ (‘The sensational press’) was siphoning a toilet’s contents into press articles. For the Dadaists, An der Laterne, a government paper, was the publication to be consigned ‘an die Latrine’.

On February 17, 1919, the six man strong editorial team proceeded with a char-a-branc and funeral band through the streets of Berlin, bearing bundles of Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball. The procession resembled the numerous funeral processions in Berlin in the months after the War, following the route to ‘the dreary east side’ that Karl Liebknecht’s funeral had taken a month earlier. In east Berlin, the Dadaists sold most of the 7,600 copies printed as, in the words of Walter Mehring:

Our Dadaist procession was greeted with delight as spontaneous as the ‘on y danse’ of the Paris mob in front of the Bastille. And ‘every man his own football’ entered the Berlin language as an express ion of contempt for authority and humbug.

The Dadaists were arrested on their way home from serenading the government offices in Wilhelmstrasse.

On March 3, 1919, a general strike called by the Communists led to heavy fighting between workers and the Freikorps troops, employed by Noske to crush the strike, which lasted until March 13. On March 7, Wieland Herzfelde was arrested for the publication of Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball, charged with seeking to bring the Armed Forces into contempt and distributing indecent publications. Walter Mehring’s poem, ‘Der Coitus im Dreimäderlhaus’, referring to metaphorical ‘coitus’ of the Weimar Republic was one the offending articles from the journal cited. Mehring’s poem, which he suggested as the new national anthem, was, as he himself described, ‘a really distressing, obscene piece of anti-militarism for which there was no excuse even as a product of Dadaism’.

The other article which contributed to the charges against Herzfelde was ‘Against the White Terror’, which condemned the actions of the Bavarian Soldier’s Councils in its war against the Munich Communists. It warned the revolutionaries of the newly formed Bavarian Soviet: ‘The revolution is in danger! Revolutionary soldiers of Bavaria! Close ranks around your flag and for the fight against the White Terror of Berlin!’

Herzfelde remained in prison during the two weeks of fighting and was released on March 20. In the following months, the same Dadaists behind Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball published Der Pleite (‘Bankruptcy’). The second issue was entitled ‘Schutzhaft’ (‘Protective custody’), an account by Herzfelde of his time in prison. It was a sober and informative report of the conditions for political prisoners during the Freikorps terror, relating his experiences of witnessing the mistreatment and even murder of other political prisoners at the hands of the Freikorps. The intervention of Harry Graf Kessler, an Anglo-German diplomat who helped finance Malik Verlag, may well have prevented further imprisonment for Wieland Herzfelde.

Although it was only a single four-page journal, Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball was an influential publication. It marks the beginning of photomontage as a aesthetic for the printed medium and as revolutionary as any words that could be written. As Greil Marcus wrote, ‘punk-as-dada did not even mean this much… the history-in-nutshell parallels always need to explain something new, or explain it away’. Although a direct line can not be drawn between Dada and the punk explosion, one just has to look at the first UK punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue to see the revolutionary and anarchic fervour of the Berlin Dadas embodied in its pages. While the Talking Heads were setting a Hugo ball sound poem to music or other punks were looking at Kurt Schwitters’ Merz collages, the aesthetics and political content of Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball was the most apparent in the ‘image’ of punk and more importantly, the punk fanzine. While Herzfelde had had to raise funds for a small publishing house to produce his independent publication, the readiness of the photocopier helped the creators of Sniffin’ Glue and Ripped & Torn to achieve the same goal as the Berlin Dadaists – to create something outside the media empires that was provocative and uncensored, an independent work untouched by the sensibilities of the money-makers and the status quo. The ethos that still drives many zine makers today.

John Heartfield

John Heartfield

Works used:

Dawn Ades Photomontage (Thames & Hudson, UK, 1976)

Stephen C Foster & Rudolf E Kuenzli (eds) Dada Spectrum: The Dialectics of Revolt (Coda Press, USA, 1979)

Douglas Kahn John Heartfield: Art and Mass Media (Tanam Press, USA, 1985)

Greil Marcus Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (Harvard University Press, USA, 1990)

Joanne Moser (ed.) Dada Artifacts (University of Iowa Museum of Art, USA, 1978)

Hans Richter Dada: Art and Anti-Art (Thames & Hudson, UK, 1997)

Robert Short Dada & Surrealism (Chartwell Books, USA, 1980)

‘Political Journals and Art 1910-1940’ Art Journal 52/1 (Spring 1993)

Jedermann Sein Eigner Fussball 1 (Feb 1919)

‘Editorial’ Past & Present 1/1 (Feb 1952)

Fred Wright The History and Characteristics of Zines (http://www.zinebook.com/resource/wright1.html)