Talk is cheap

Sukhdev Sandhu on the shadowy world of the modern fanzine

For a moment, it seemed as if fanzines were on the verge of extinction. Blogs, LiveJournal, Facebook: all offered platforms for the shy, obsessed and belligerent to present their passions to the world, without the hassle of peddling poorly stapled Xeroxes outside gig venues. But just as vinyl is flourishing in the age of the MP3, so is the humble fanzine. Its retro appeal is undeniable. So are its portability, tactility and warmth - qualities that the digitalised realm of the blogosphere struggles to ape.

One of the most striking fanzines of recent years is Laura Oldfield Ford's Savage Messiah (, each of whose seven issues to date focuses on the politics, psychology and pop-cultural past of a different London postcode. Ford's prose is scabrous and melancholic, incorporating theoretical shards from Guy Debord and Marc Augé, and mapping the transformations to the capital that the property boom and neoliberalist economics have wrought.

Each zine is a drift, a wander through landscape that echoes certain strands of contemporary psychogeography. Ford - or a version of her, at least - is an occasional character, offering up narcotic memories of a forgotten metropolis. The images, hand-drawn, photographed and messily laid out, suggest both out-takes from a Sophie Calle project and the dust jacket of an early 1980s anarcho-punk compilation record: that is, both poetry and protest. A beautiful and strangely moving publication, Savage Messiah works best in its present samizdat guise, though it could easily be collected in a single volume by any enterprising publisher.

Zines are often seen as bibliographic versions of Speakers' Corner, de facto loudhailers for single-issue demagogues. The Eel ( is rather different: it's a bulletin board for and tribute to the diverse residents of London E8. Glossy and sporting a colour cover, it has a punkish energy that it devotes to celebrating local artists, community-based projects and family-run shops. There are photo spreads of neighbourhood characters, eloquent critiques of regeneration schemes and botched transport plans, as well as odes to the grass-roots football and cricket teams in the area. It should be required reading for anyone battling the forces of homogenisation that are snuffing out the life of Britain's towns and cities.

So much music discourse has migrated to the web that it is particularly good to hail the first issue of Woofah (, a zine dedicated to reggae, jungle, grime and dubstep, bass sounds that have flourished in the UK over the past few decades. There are interviews with Leeds bleep pioneers and radical reggae scholars, sardonic short stories taking the piss out of broadsheet coverage of grime, and very funny taxonomies of the quasi-biblical commandments so common in Jamaican dance hall ("Badman nuh like Tom Sawyers"?!). A welcome rebuke to those who believe that sound-system music is "all made by psychotic hooded youths".

This article first appeared in the 29 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan