From riot grrrl punks to baby groupies, these are the iconic zines that captured 70s style and sound
The 70s undoubtedly marked the Golden Age of underground music zines cataloguing subcultural movements. Without an avalanche of Tumblr accounts offering endless information on what your favourite band is wearing, Soundcloud recommendations about who to listen to next, or Twitter documenting your most-loved guitar player’s childhood fear, publications such as the pioneering DIY zine Sniffin’ Glue and groupie-focused Star found their way into the eager hands of music fans around the world. To celebrate a simpler time, here is our rundown of the five most iconic underground zines you might not have heard of, and where you can read them.
Starting off this list with the OG of all zines, Sniffin’ Glue was the first publication to chronicle punk from an insider’s point of view. Created in the UK in 1976, right after editor Mark Perry (who was a bank clerk at the time) watched a Ramones concert, Sniffin’ Glue’s haphazard DIY style, with felt-tip titles, shabby grammar, swear words and informal writing paved the way for the many punk zines that followed. Submitting to the movement’s idea of creating your own culture and rejecting the old, it did not subscribe to any traditional forms of publishing, and in fact was closed down after only 14 issues due to fear of becoming incorporated into the mainstream music press. Unfortunately, it is not catalogued online – but if you’re London-based, you can check out the full archive at the London College of Communication’s zine library.
Considered scandalous at the time, 1973’s LA-based Star magazine was aimed at teenage girls and chronicled the lives of the decade’s most iconic groupies, from Sable Starr to the hyper-controversial Sunset Strip “baby groupies”. With a manifesto that could almost be called feminist, the first issue opened riddled with angry letters from teachers and parents – one of them surprised the magazine “didn’t come wrapped in plain brown paper” as a porn magazine would – to which the editorial team answered: “How about letting Arkansas’ girls decide about Star?” It even featured a commentator that could’ve come straight from 2016, who stated that men like him don’t like this “Women’s Lib baloney” that the magazine advocates. Referring to their readers as Foxy Ladies (also a name used for baby groupies), Star never undermined their pheromone-ridden teen readers, and featured plenty of pictures of a young Mick Jagger, alongside comic strips of fantasy scenarios, for example where a fan dresses up as glam rock icon Marc Bolan to get backstage. With five printed issues painstakingly collected and digitalized, you can access the whole archive here.
This one was always odd and sometimes controversial. Combining interviews with punk bands, art and hyper-graphic content such as photographs of reconstructive labia surgery and a page devoted to “pretending you’re fucking”, LA-based No magazine, which ran from 1978 until 1985, featured scientific pages placing a scientific account of “intravenous narcotism” and genital mutilation on the same page – right after an interview with the band Suicide. A regular art contributor named Linda also created eerie pieces focused on sexuality from a (very) young woman’s perspective – she is introduced as being twelve years old in the first issue. A girl talks about never wearing a dress again after being in a concert fight. Mix all that in with the 35mm pictures of bands, endless illustrations and collages featuring sex and insects with added close-ups of vaginas, and you’ve got No. It’s hard to explain, but it’s quite a trip – check out all their issues for yourself at Circulation Zero.
Based in Los Angeles but enamored with the British punk rock scene in 1977, monthly-published Slash focused on music and music alone – with gig reviews and album critiques that aimed to show what it was like to “experience” the newest Ramones album or seeing The Sex Pistols live. Written by contributors under names such as ‘Kickboy’ (who “thrives on abuse”) or ‘Pleasant’, Slash used a strikingly conversational tone and talked directly to their readers – asking if they have bad hangovers, for example. Featuring only red, black and white in their images, Slash also had a unique take on the DIY aesthetic, mixing amazing images from gigs in their original filmstrips with band images collaged over with safety pins and zippers. Declaring a war on “professional pop stars” and disco music, they make a clear, hopeful call to arms in the first issue: “May the punks set this rat-infested industry on fire! It sure could use a little brightness!” Like No, their whole archive is also available to download at Circulation Zero.
Unlike the other zines on this list, Shocking Pink isn’t necessarily music-centered, but is well worth a mention, being one of the UK’s first youth-led feminist zines, paving the way for the riot grrl movement that was yet to come. Published from 1979 until 1992, Shocking Pink was created by young women in the chaotic political scenario of Thatcher’s Britain, and it sought to share resources and encourage girls to create things themselves, as well as provide information about topics not often discussed openly, such as homophobia in school, rape, racism and abortion. Shocking Pink’s DIY format included haphazardly drawn comic strips, collage-based strips depicting simulations of real scenarios (such as bullying), handwritten notes (my favourite being “Freedom is not a commodity, Liberation is not a sports bra, Resistance is not a grapefruit diet”) and interviews with female-fronted bands such as The Raincoats, as well as contact details for abortion resources, LGBT bookstores and women’s meetings. You can read their whole archive here.