BACK STAGE AT PEPPERMINT IGUANA HQ: Gigs, Festivals, Parties, CDs, Books, Protests, travels, photography and Cardiff City FC

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Generation Xerox - london Zine Symposium 2011

If there is one aspect of underground culture that personifies the DIY ethic, it is zines. Since the dawn of punk and beyond, enthusiasts have been writing, laying out, publishing and distributing their own publications totally outside the traditional mainstream channels. The London Zine Symposium, therefore, seems like the perfect opportunity to get back into the habit of blogging (again).

So, this morning, with the sort of head you can only get when up at the crack of dawn the day after a gallon of Taffy Apple celebrating a Cardiff City victory, I delicately climbed into the Iguana-mobile and headed for the bus station. After a quick flick through my in car CD collection, I opted for the Desperate Bicycles, the quintessential DIY punk band, as the sound track to my journey – very appropriate for the day I thought.

A few short hours later I was stepping out of Aldgate East tube station and heading in the direction of Brick Lane. Deep in the heart of the East End, brick lane is like walking down the curry equivalent of Amsterdam’s red light district. The street is full of curry pimps trying to entice you inside their restaurant, desperate to convince you their food is the best in town. Many have signs outside like ‘once featured on a TV programme about good curry houses’, or ‘winner of the best restaurant ever to have been opened at 84 brick lane’.

Twas not always thus though. It was once the centre a centre for the weaving, tailoring and the clothing industry, and played host to a large Jewish community. Today I would have the opportunity to link both these strands of the area’s past, the Zine Symposium was being held in a former rag factory and in the afternoon they would be hosting a walk around Brick Lane’s radical history, taking in sites where Jewish radicals and anarchists had risen up in rebellion.

I had to find the place first though. Having not been to an event (quite) like this before, I anticipated lots of literate punks hunting down punkzines like Sniffing Glue or Maximum Rock and Roll – all I had to do was keep an eye out for a stream of punks heading into a rag factory.

Fortunately there were signs at the end of the alley pointing me in the right direction, because there was a distinct lack of punkyness about attendees, in fact, most did not look in the slightest bit ‘alternative’. Then again, sporting a full beard and a ‘built for comfort rather than speed’ physique, it is a long time since I looked alternative.

Entering the old factory, the first stall I came across (after the home made cake stall) was run by the Last Hours posse – quite possibly the best zine I have come across in the last ten years. I interviewed the main man, Ed, a few years back as research into the DIY scene. He was not around though and the stall was being run by two charming young ladies that were much better looking than him. They had a nice selection of zines and some interesting books, including ‘Soccer –v- State’, which I would end up purchasing before the day was out, despite the American terminology for the beautiful game.

As is the way with these things, I was determined to suss out exactly where everything was, then slowly work my way around again spending more time on the more interesting stalls. This did not take long though, as the event was a little smaller than I had expected – although big enough to have a nice mix.

Zines come in many shapes and sizes and cover a huge range of topics. Most of the zines that have caught my attention in the past have been music related, with the odd footyzine chucked in – but today, football and music were in short supply, the stalls around the old workshop being covered in everything from anarcho-feminism to art and cookery, from wordy books to graphic novels, from photocopied pamphlets to professionally printed limited editions.

Active Distribution were in the ‘hood, with their awesome selection of books, zines and music, along side a myriad of zine distros that seem to have been born, grown up, started a family and been thriving quite nicely without me ever having head of them.

I mingled, swapped a few zines, strategically left a few peppermint Iguana’s lying around, went back and bought the football book, filled up on a falafel in the Anarchist Teapot kitchen, treated myself to a slab of chocolate orange cake and hung about to attend the ‘Throwing Zines at Thatcher’ workshop – which was cancelled. The twisted hand of fate led me in the direction of a zine about the Desperate Bicycles, which had to be bought – much to the surprise of the guy running that particular stall.

Eventually, rather than hang about for the ‘Radical Brick Lane’ thing, I took it upon myself to explore the area on my own. On a Sunday Brick Lane is home to several markets – a sort of mini Camden town, but with more street cred and less tourists – this is after all, pwoppa east end.

Nestled in the old Truman Brewery is Rough Trade East, the bigger of London’s two legendary Rough Trade shops. Starting out as a ground breaking independent shop, then moving on the become a respected independent label, the fortunes of the Rough Trade have been a roller coaster ride through cult status, bankruptcy, being bought out by BMG and becoming an Independent again.

Rough Trade East opened in 2007 and is more than just a shop, they sell coffee, put on gigs and it is generally a place where people want to hang out, not just buy music. It is clean and modern and – well – to put it bluntly, trendy. CDs and books are not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. They do have a half decent selection on sale, but it is a far cry from the old DIY ethos. It’s a dog eat dog world though, so if this is how they have to survive, good luck to them.

Down at the other end of Brick Lane, next to the Aldgate East tube station, is the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Today the main exhibition is something that appears to be made out of broken doors and the floor is littered with lovelies waiting to watch someone prance around the sculpture. I opt to head upstairs and check out an exhibition of photographs of old Brick Lane from the 1970s, around the time the Jewish population were starting to be outnumbered by Asians.

When looking around the gallery bookshop, I find a section dedicated to DIY art, street art and such like. Ironically, most of the books are of a size that would threaten the legs of the sturdiest of coffee tables, and a price tag that compares to the national deficit. Clearly, no matter what the motives of those producing DIY art, there is no shortage of people wanting to exploit it and even attempt to mainstream it – which is sort of missing the point I think.

I can’t leave Whitechapel without popping in to see the posse in Freedom Press, London's leading anarchist bookshop. The place seems to go from strength to strength every time i visit, “We do quite well on a Sunday,” Andy informs me. “The gallery is open so we get lots of silly fuckers coming in to buy postcards and talk about how quaint anarchism is.” Quite. I steal some postcards and talk about how quaint art galleries are – then head for home.

For antother review of the event, with lots more pictures, go to Amelia's Zine

While we are at it, just found the story of rough trade on Youface, so here it is for your entertainment




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