For me, the most important early magazines ( or zines) were Option and Sound Choice. Both featured cassette reviews and contact addresses for the artists. The ones that said “will trade” were the ones I wrote first.
Of course there were other standout publications such as OP, the acknowledged forerunner of the entire movement. Later came Factsheet Five, Unsound, ND Magazine, Electrogenesis ( may have come earlier actually). The second generation of zines included Gajoob, Autoreverse, babysue, Electronic Cottage, and Improijazzation Nation. There were also many fine European magazines such as Notions, Second Ave ( UK), Music And Elsewhere News ( UK). This barely scratches the surface of what was going on at the time. It was a very active and fertile period for what later came to be called “desktop publishing”. At the time though, hardly anyone was using computers to design their publications and often there were glaring errors, badly printed pictures, typos and many rudimentary problems. Still, the excitement of do-it-yourself publishing was in the air. Some went to more glossy professional lengths ( such as Option), most went out of business for one reason or another, and some were even one issue or short series works such as Kevyn Dymond’s Anemic Billfold.
OP Magazine from Olympia , Washington published 26 editions that were alphabetically sequenced. Was published from 1979-1984 by John Foster and The Lost Music Network. Both Option and Sound Choice sprung from the ashes of OP.
Scott Becker and Richie Unterberger began printing Option in 1985 and was a very professional looking magazine. It featured many reviews, features, ads from indie musicians and lots of pictures. It continued until 1998.
Sound Choice was published by David Ciaffardini in the mid 1980s and continued until 1992. At the time it was considered a more underground alternative to Option although both covered a lot of the same territory.
Bryan Baker began Gajoob Magazine in the mid 1980s and continued for many years. It went online and stopped publishing sometime in the 1990s.Gajoob was essential in picking up where Option and Sound Choice left off. Baker ( with Chris Phinney) also started the intriguing Tape Germ Collective that created an interactive atmosphere for collaboration online.
My own 15 minutes came in 1991 when Hal McGee ran me on the cover of Electronic Cottage. Carl Howard also conducted an interview with me and there were many other features as well.
I also made the cover of Ian C. Stewart’s Autoreverse in the early 1990s. Stewart published for several years and even began another zine after Autoreverse folded called Mouthy. Unfortunately, health problems became too much for Ian and he had to discontinue his activities.
Factsheet Five, a magazine started by Mike Gunderloy in 1982 ran gobs of reviews and information about other zines. It also featured reviews of underground music as well and became another useful tool for home tapers who wanted to make contact. It stopped running in 1998.
Musician Kevyn Dymond from Arcata, California branched out into small run publishing with his Anemic Billfold pamphlet. It had articles on travel mixed with features about home tapers ( such as Robin O’Brien in this issue). I believe he did about 5 issues.
From Norway, Sepulchral Noise was a monthly ( this one was from 2003) that delved into the goth/doom rock scene. The usual reviews, features, drawings and discussion of death and blood pervade.
Fight Amnesia was the mouthpiece for Greek rock band, Into The Abyss, but was actually much more then just a promotional tool for them. Publisher and musician, Janis Kalifatidis reviewed tapes, CDs and other publications and had a lot of interesting information. His band was also very good, incorporating goth and progressive rock with some ethnic and world influences. I believe this was a quarterly publication during the mid to late 1990s.
Irreverence, humor and sarcasm were the main concepts in babysue, a magazine published by Steven Fievet, who also called himself Don Seven. In addition to his publication, Fievet had the most excellent LMNOP music project, one of the greatest home taping pop projects ever. He had a real flair for comic illustrations and poignant, pointed and razor sharp observations. In his review section that included not only home tapes but commercial CDs he would rate them with little “babysue” heads from 1-5. He reviewed my tapes for awhile then opted out because he did not want to “rate” friends. Truly one of the most essential musicians and publishers ever in the underground.
Out of Australia came Samhain, a publication that covered the international goth scene in the mid 1990s. Run by Azriel and mates, this smaller format zine ran ads, reviews and the usual features about death rockers especially from Down Under. Lots of white face and black lipstick pics and really a rather well done enterprise.
In addition to their own powerful jazz-rock improvisation tapes, San Francisco Bay Area home producers Peter and John Hinds also published a fascinating journal of their exploits and adventures hanging around Sun Ra and his band. They had befriended Ra, gained his confidence with their enthusiasm and willingness to document the inner workings of this legendary group. They had special access to rare and unknown music and were able to interview Ra and the band while he was still alive. Some amazing pictures and information over the course of many years doing this publication.
Veteran music maker Dick Metcalf also known as Rotcod Zzaj published the hard copy edition of Improvijazzation Nation for quite awhile before going exclusively onlne. Reviews, poetry and news were the main focus of this stapled tome which he issued a few times a year. You can check out his latest edition online.
File 13 was edited and published by Mark Lo from Concord MA. This issue from 1990 has a long interview by Chris Phinney with Hal McGee about his own projects including his Electronic Cottage magazine which was being published at the time. Also, a nice mix of home tape reviews mixed in with more “known” artists. Oddly, there isn’t trace of information on the internet that I can find now.
Although The Improvisor was not a zine about Cassette Cutlure, it did have a similar trajectory and spirit. Davey Williams and LaDonna Smith’s zine was a rare resource in those days covering the free improvisation scene which occasionally overlapped with the home taper movement. This issue was from 1986 and was chock full of reviews, info and features all xeroxed and stapled together for the true underground traveler.
Scorcher was a Canadian mag that was really more about hair metal than anything else. Falling to their knees in worship of groups like LA Guns or Krokus they would seldom cover the real underground home taper scene. Edited by Tracy James and Mark St John who were very nice people however. A true fanzine.
British home taper, Trevor Hall ( also known for his Third State music project) published Second Avenue for awhile from his home near Norfolk on the northeast coast of England. Trevor would go into great analytical detail about the tapes received and although his type font was difficult to read at times he delivered a lot of good information and turned people on to a lot of interesting tapes.
Mainly addressing the electronic music side of the home recording movement, the issue of Electrogenesis to the right is from 1987. Edited and designed by Robin and Len Wiles in Oxnard, California this publication also featured contributions from Phillip B. Klingler, Bill Rhodes and others. This particular issue had a long interview with Doug Walker of Alien Planetscapes and articles by Klingler and ads by Minoy, Nefilim Universal, Jazzical Records, Random Bullet Records and others.
I’m not sure how many issues of this mag were produced but it was a valuable mouthpiece for the burgeoning electronic scene at the time.
Objekt was an information and review zine done by Brian Ladd, who also ran his own Ladd-Frith label and had the band, The Psyclones in Eureka, California with Julie Frith. I can’t find a date in the magazine but I’m guessing 1986-7 or so. It has all sorts of home taper reviews, ads from bookstores, RRRecords, a stereo store in Eureka and even Option Magazine.
The Kettle Black was done by Jason Mundok, also a musician. At the time this was published from Tennessee and was also assisted by Dave Bellard ( his musical partner in Jesters Longevity) and Mike D. The obligatory reviews and info plus a profile of Ernesto Diaz-Infante. No year is listed but I’d guess 1992 approx.
Dead Eyes was published in Bradley, Illinois by Mykel Boyd, also a musician. This zine veered more into experimental and industrial territory and I believe this issue came from about 1993.Articles on The Haters, Attrition, Angelhood and more.
Psuedo’zine was edited by Mike Crooker ( of the GGE label) and musician, Ray Carmen of Ohio. Lots of neat little reviews, interviews and features. This issue from 1989 had pieces on Carl Howard’s audiofile label, my own Lonely Whistle practices and Chris Phinney’s Harsh Reality among others.
From England, Peace And Freedom was the project of Paul Rance. Paul was involved in politics, animal rights, music, poetry and many others things. This particular issue was done in 1988 . The helter skelter design was punk influenced it appears now although Paul’s own music group, The Peace And Freedom Band ( with Andy Xport, Andy Darlington) was an odd quasi, rock load of lo fi music and odd rantings. The usual reviews and features and even a hand pasted advert for the Peace And Freedom Band’s “White Album”.
The KFR Infomagazine was done by musician, Lord Litter in 1990. The idea behind KFR ( Kentucky Fried Royalty) was to make international distribution of tapes easier by doing it on a regional basis. Thus, master tapes would be sent to the various KFR stations ( Stephen Parsons in the UK, Guido Erfen in Germany, Jennifer McKinnis in the USA, later taken over by myself, and Carlos Alberto Alfonso in Argentina ) and then copied and sent more locally. Lord Litter ran the News Dept from Berlin. This was all done on a non profit basis and although a good idea was very labor and cost intensive at each local station. It didn’t last long but did circulate tapes and even had an early conference in Cologne, Germany. The Infomagazine ( written in German and English) did not include reviews but contact information with plenty of international artists
In addition to running the audiofile Tapes label, Carl Howard also published the A/a zine for awhile. It was done on newsprint and covered lots of underground territory. In this issue from 1986, there are features on Heldon, Michael Gira ( called Mike then), ND magazine. Pollution Control, and Elliott Sharp.
comments by Ray Carmen
Pop Cult was the brainchild of Michael Devine (Mr. Michael) and Julia Devine, who were married at the time (he actually took her last name—his last name was Gonzalez—and still uses it even though he is remarried…to a girl named Julie!). Lots of people contributed to it, including me, Lawrence Salvatore, Raymond Scott Woolson, Craig Marks, and I think Mike Crooker contributed to it at some point as well. There were other sort of semi-famous underground zine people who also contributed but I’d have to look at the back issues to see who they were. And of course each issue came with a cassette of underground music.