Thursday, 17 May 2012

Q and A: Cazz Blase

Cazz Blase, a veteran of the zine scene who started her first zine, Aggamengmong Moggie, in 1993, is doing a talk entitled 'Making a noise: An express ride through the world of punk and riot grrrl fanzines and the UK feminist underground, 1977-2012' at the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention on May 19. After Aggamengmong Moggie, which ran until 1999, Cazz wrote the zines Real Girls (2001) and Harlot's Progress (2002-2006). Cazz is now one of two music review editors at The F-Word website, for which she has written extensively about both women and the UK punk scene and the UK riot grrrl scene, and was a contributing author to the book Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now! (Black Dog Publishing, 2007). At the Fanzine Convention, Cazz will be launching her most recent zine, Too Late for Cake, a collaboration with David Wilkinson (who is also speaking at the Fanzine Convention), which is themed around Stockport, Cazz and David's home town.

SV: You started your first zine, Aggamengmong Moggie, when you were just 14. What type of thing did you write about and was anyone else involved? How did you go about creating, reproducing and distributing your zine? 

CB: I wrote about music in the main I would say, particularly Riot Grrrl and indie bands, but I also used to do a lot of lists as well. I don't know how popular it was but one of the longer running lists was 'School Late Book Excuses', because at my high school you had to sign a book called the School Late Book whenever you were late for school, and you had to put name, class, reason for lateness. This led to all sorts of fanciful nom de plumes and whimsical excuses, some of which I published. I did some ranty pieces as well, and some sort of earnest investigative reporting, such as a three way investigation into the disappearance of vinyl as a musical format. That involved sending letters to record companies, surveying school friends, and going into record shops after school to get the shop perspective.

It was mainly me. A couple of years in my sister did some writing for me, particularly when she went away to university, and writers from some fanzines that I wrote for wrote for me.

I initially produced the covers by hand with a stencil, and the rest of the fanzine was typed and printed off on my mum's word processor. Later the covers were photocopied, and later still, the whole thing was photocopied. I had my own photocopier for a bit as well, which helped. Well, it was my mum and dad's, but I basically commandeered it.

I was very lucky so far as distributers were concerned because there were a lot of them, and they all seemed pretty broad minded in terms of what they would take and sell. I used Piao! for the first few years, but their catalogues couldn't keep up with the speed at which I was producing zines, and then they started to become more of a promoter and label than a distro, so I switched to Little Green Man in Manchester, who sold tapes but wanted to sell the fanzine, and they were really good – they had a subscription deal set up with it, and they were in a band (Godsister Helen) so they sold the zine at their gigs. That probably influenced content a bit as well, it meant I focused a lot more on Manchester and the Manchester scene at the time.

SV: Why did you start making fanzines and what was it about the medium that attracted you? Did it give you an outlet you might not otherwise have been able to find at that age? 

CB: I started making fanzines because of the John Peel show, I think, and the Voodoo Queens. I wanted to write about them, and there was other music I wanted to write about as well. I hadn't actually read many fanzines at this point, I'd only really read the Shakespears Sister fanzine, Harmonally Yours, which was good for band news but incredibly sycophantic in tone, and it only came out every four months, which I felt wasn't enough. As a result of that, I decided I didn't want to focus on one band only, that two months was about right, and that I wasn't going to be sycophantic.

My early style was probably NME meets the Wizzkids Handbook, with more swearing. Another influence was a magazine called Zine which was sort of somewhere between a fanzine and a magazine, and it was written entirely by its readers. They did zine reviews, so I found out a lot about zines through them. I think I'd seen at least one of the riot grrrl zines that Slampt put out by then as well.

I found the medium rather intimidating, I was a technological luddite so I sort of had to drag myself through it and teach myself how to type and use a word processor, then later photocopiers.

It did give me an outlet I might not have otherwise have had, definitely. It was fanzines or writing stroppy letters to the local paper, local MP and NME basically otherwise. There wasn't much scope for teenagers to make themselves heard in the nineties.

SV: Were you inspired by any other fanzines and were you aware of other women making zines at the time? 

CB: I was very fortunate to start making fanzines in mid-1993, when there were tons of Riot Grrrl zines around. That definitely helped. It was normal to be a girl doing a fanzine then, but a lot of them were more personal than I felt mine were. A.M has been written of since as being very personal, but I didn't feel it was at the time – possibly later on, but it was basically started as a music fanzine. I admired the bravery of Erica, who wrote Scars and Bruises, which was about depression and angst I think. One fanzine I would have loved to have read, but never got hold of, was Rampaging Teenage Pervert by a girl called Kate in London. I read an interview with her in a zine about zines once, and she sounded cool. That was a very funny queercore zine by the sound of it.

The Slampt zines, which were put together by Rachel Holborow and Pete Dale, were always good – they tended to include all sorts of people from the north east scene and beyond, and Ablaze! 10 had a massive impact on me for a long time, that was the one with all the riot grrrl stuff in, including the girl power manifesto, and Bobbins! and Grrls World did as well. Ablaze! was Karren Ablaze!'s zine, and Bobbins! and Grrls World were written by six formers in Stockport and Manchester. Grrl's World was their 'We've just been to see Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear on tour!' fastzine, and Bobbins! was a very droll indie zine, which never took itself even remotely seriously but which did have interviews with bands and stuff as well. The band Golden Starlet (later International Strike Force) also did a comic zine, which was cool. There were some cool girls in Cambridge who did a fanzine called Smitten (I think) as well, and that was really good.

What was a big influence was a teenage novel by Roger Burt called The Melanie Pluckrose Effect, which is about a group of schoolgirls stirring up a minor planning revolution in a midlands market town. I would have liked to have achieved something as major as that with A.M, but it wasn't to be.

SV: Aggamengmong Moggie ran for six years, which is a long time to sustain such a self-initiated project. Why was it successful, and what part did it play in your life? 

CB: I think it was successful because it was produced between 1993 and 1999, which was a great time for fanzine making. Also, it was mainly done during the years I was at high school when I didn't have much of an outlet elsewhere for what I was saying in the fanzine. Once I got to six form college, it was actually harder to be as productive because the work was more personally interesting at college than it was at school so I was more engaged with it. I basically failed most of my GCSEs, so I was able to use the energy I should have spent on passing them on the fanzine. Not that I would have passed them though, because I didn't feel engaged with most of the subjects on the national curriculum, I just used the time differently basically.

It actually played a bigger part in my life than I realised at the time, I didn't really think in the long term at the time but it is still remembered, and it did start me on the path towards wanting to be a writer and a journalist. I didn't really analyse it at the time though, I just did it.

SV: What did you get out of making a zine? Did you feel you were part of a wider network of people making zines at that time? 

CB: Not really, not until I hooked up with Little Green Man in about 1995 or so. Before then most of my friends who did zines or were involved with the underground scene in other ways were in London, Newcastle or Leeds. I did meet more Manchester/Greater Manchester zine writers, but not until 1996.

There were a few of us around then: Emmeline who did Soul Junk, Daniel who did I'm 5, Carl who did Fancy Biscuits, Nicola who did Meow!... I found during this period though that having friends locally was actually detrimental to producing fanzines, as far as I'm concerned, in that I basically just work better in solitude. Also, having feedback more constantly made me self conscious, and probably a bit arrogant and arsey I'm ashamed to say as well! I was quite pleased when that period was over.

SV: At the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention, you're going to be giving an overview of zines in the punk and Riot Grrrl movements. What was their significance to the feminist underground? 

CB: These zines ran parallel to Spare Rib, Women's Report, and more mainstream feminism throughout the eighties and nineties in the Guardian's Women's pages. A magazine like Shocking Pink was set up in reaction to Jackie initially, which was the leading mainstream girls mag of the day, and it later found itself reacting to Spare Rib because it was felt by the second collective that Spare Rib didn't represent younger feminists. In terms of punk, Spare Rib had a terrible time adjusting to punk, and you can see the debates around it played out if you read back issues of Spare Rib from the late seventies, so a fanzine like Jolt, that was a punk feminist zine, helped bridge the gap between the two camps.

From a Riot Grrrl zine point of view, my take on it is that those fanzines helped to introduce a new generation to feminism, and that they were perhaps more accessible and more welcoming than the idea that you had to read a long list of really very academic books about feminism before you were allowed to call yourself a feminist. Also, the riot grrrl zines were discussing issues that were relevant to young women – such as being sexually harassed in school – that feminism wasn't discussing at the time.

SV: Do you have any favourite zines, either for their content or style? 

CB: Anything Slampt put out was basically excellent, and there was a Manchester zine by a guy called Dean Talent, called When I Grow Up I Want To Be Bobbee Gillespie that was really good as well, in that sort of beat generation romantic wanderings kind of way. Slampt were very new-style punk, very nineties punk. Messy but sincere. I also used to really love reading the Chemikal Underground newsletter in the late nineties, because they came out very sporadically but were always really funny and tended to be more entertaining in a musical sense than a years worth of NME would have been at the time.

SV: If you were a fourteen-year-old girl now, do you think you would still start a zine, or would you start a blog/online journal instead? 

CB: I would be doing a blog or a live journal, because it's cheaper basically. Having said that, I think I'm relieved in a way that the technology wasn't around at the time because there are things I wrote in my zines that I wouldn't want to go up online. You can make mistakes with far less risk in a paper fanzine, simply because less people read them and also you could destroy the evidence much more easily at the time if you really fucked up.

SV: Why do you think people are still interested in making – and reading – zines? 

CB: I think there is a romanticism attached to paper zines that is similar to attitudes to vinyl. To an extent, they have been fetishised, it has become about the format at least as much as the content. Fortunately there are some really good print zines out there, so it hasn't become completely about the format. I like Things Happen, and Shrieking Violet, because they are about their surroundings, and I find that really interesting. I did a bit of that in Aggamengmong Moggie, but aside from in When I Grow Up I Want To Be Bobbee Gillespie, I didn't see much of that when I was doing A.M. I think the reason that's more common now is because cities like Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield have been gentrified and people are really quite discomforted by their surroundings and want to eulogise the nice bits of their cities that are left. That makes for some really good semi political writing. It could be that print lends itself more to that kind of writing because it too is in danger of becoming obsolete.

Also, with fanzines, you can say things you can't say online. Things that might invite legal action for instance, or that are too personal to go up online but you still want to put out, anonymously or not.

SV: Finally, you've made a new zine for the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention in collaboration with David Wilkinson, who's also speaking at the Fanzine Convention, which is all about Stockport where you both grew up. It's a very traditional cut and paste kind of zine. How did you decide on that subject and style for your zine? 

CB: It was my idea to do a print zine for the fanzine convention, partly because I hadn't done one for a long time but thought it would be fun to do. Partly because fanzine conventions are the best places to sell fanzines, but also because I do a blog called Too Late For Cake, which is about socio-political and cultural goings on in Manchester and Greater Manchester, including Stockport. Some of the content for the zine has been published on the blog, but a lot of it hasn't, and it was written in a different way because it was being written for print.

The Stockport subject matter seemed obvious because it was a crucial thing we had in common, and we both knew we had a lot to say, much of which hasn't really been said before, or not in that format. I think David has been more scathing than I have. I decided to write about nice bits of Stockport in the main, because they tend to be the more ignored bits, but also because I knew David wanted to write about gentrification and redevelopment in Hopes Carr. He grew up around there so it's a subject very personal to his heart. I never really got to grips with writing about Hazel Grove, which is where I grew up, so that'll need to be left for another day. Most of my bits and pieces are about central Stockport.

Stockport is rumoured to be the biggest town in Britain, and Hazel Grove is rumoured to be the biggest village in Europe, so there's a lot to write about. The politics and political history are interesting as well, and some of it's in there – for example Stockport Workhouse – or alluded to, for example that the council was a hung council for many years.

As to the format, we could have made it look more professional just by doing a layout using Word 2007, but David hasn't been involved with zines that much and wanted to go for the traditional cut'n'paste approach because it's what he knows. This suited me because it's a style I settled on for quite a while when doing the later editions of Aggamengmong Moggie and Real Girls.

Cazz Blase will be speaking in the Committee Room (upstairs in the former superintendent's flat at Victoria Baths) at 3.30pm during the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention on Saturday May 19.

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