Crucial Zine is a hardcore punk-inspired fanzine that started around 2008 with the ever-present idea of covering hardcore, punk, ska, video games, science, and basically anything else from anime & Star Wars fandom to shit-talking metal.
By the end of 2020, Crucial Zine’s Supreme High Commander—who goes by the name of Ioannis—has produced 11 full-fledged issues, plus a few special editions and extras. It’s worth mentioning that the zine is based in Athens, Greece, but the first couple of issues (2008-2011) were produced in the town of Cambridge in England.
Currently, Ioannis is working on a new issue and I’m excited to have a talk with Ioannis since I’ve been following the zine for quite some time.
Hey, what’s the story behind Crucial Zine? I’m really curious about its beginning in Cambridge, UK—the home of one of the world’s most famous colleges?
Cambridge has a certain reputation and charm due to the University and the impressive college buildings dominating the city center, but it has its share of sketchy and violent places. The small, yet dedicated punk scene as I experienced it there was rather welcoming and vibrant, thanks to students flocking from all over the world. In recent years though the city has unfortunately been heavily gentrified, so there is a problem with venues and places to hang out. The story of Crucial Zine began around 2007 outside the Man On The Moon pub in Cambridge, where I had moved to in 2000 to study at Anglia Ruskin University, the “other” university in town. At that point I had found my spot in the local scene and had already begun working on my MPhil on straight edge.
With two of my regular gig buddies—Luke (AKA Shortround) and Dom (who was also a flat mate)—we would hang out at shows and joke about everything non-stop, like the Three Stooges, right up until the bar staff would kick us out. If I remember correctly, it was Luke who floated the idea of putting some of these random thoughts and observations of ours to paper. As we further discussed and worked on these ideas, we gravitated towards a Mad Magazine approach of being a parody of other ‘serious’ zines and a platform for us and our friends to write about things we found interesting or funny. A year later, we had the first issue ready.
Let’s talk about the contents of Crucial Zine! Can you present your zine and give us some insights of the issues you’ve released so far?
Crucial Zine started off as a humorous zine focused on hardcore and ska, as well as championing everything that’s great about the scene of punks and skaters in Cambridge. After the first couple issues people realized we weren’t in it just for the free CDs, so they began to respond to our emails for interviews. It also probably helped that we gave it out for free, so people were more likely to pick it up. Getting to chat to many of my favorite bands, like Vodka Juniors, XOne WayX and New Town Kings, as well as present to the world what some of my friends were doing, like Sam Russo, the Tagnuts and Overload, was an amazing feeling.
After my studies ended and I returned to Greece, it took me a while to find the energy to get back into the zine game, but I finally got there in 2017. The overall tone is a lot more personal now since I’m basically doing it on my own, while the scope has expanded to include more of the things that get me in an argumentative or playful mood. In these more recent issues I’ve been able to talk to many more of my musical heroes, such as Issa Diao from Good Clean Fun and Mike Park from Asian Man Records (and a ton of amazing bands). The biggest lessons from the journey so far are that patience is a virtue, there is always more to learn and if your heart’s not into something, don’t do it because it will suck.
There are things about gaming, anime, Star Wars and pop culture in general within the pages of Crucial Zine. You’re also shit-talking metal. So what’s the thing, if any, that sets hardcore apart from the mainstream and other music genres?
Everyone has their own definition of hardcore, some might focus on the music, others on the culture or the politics of it. For me though, it is just as much about refining the spirit and sound of punk rock, as it is in breaking down barriers—not just between band and audience, but between ourselves as people. Great hardcore to me is music that makes me feel like He-Man or She-Ra channeling the power of Castle Greyskull, but with lyrics grounded in the real world, referring to situations that I can relate to. It isn’t just about the raw emotions that the music triggers, it also about the social and political commentary on the world we inhabit.
Video games, cartoons and Star Wars are part of many people’s lives, so it makes sense for me to engage with these things within the context of hardcore. As for metal, I think the Gorilla Biscuits said it best in “New Direction”—I just don’t have time for “coded messages in slowed down songs”. That said, I can appreciate bands that embrace the theatrics to the point of being comedy stage shows, whether they do so intentionally, like DragonForce and Municipal Waste, or unintentionally, like Iron Maiden and black metal bands that dress-up and have silly pseudonyms.
You’ve published a couple of Coronavirus special issues. How do you think the pandemic changed our lives and the way we consume music & art? Do you think there were more zines started and published during this time?
I fear that the changes in our lives due to the pandemic will be long-lasting as it has forced us to profoundly change how we physically interact with one another. This might only be the start, given how climate change is also going to exacerbate and expedite everything. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that we will adapt and find new ways to satisfy our human desire for sociability. As for how we consume music and art, I think it’s become clearer than ever that the future for many people will be digital and online. In spite of this though, I wholeheartedly believe that zines will still have a place in the real world and continue to exist in a physical format, just like the cinema couldn’t kill off theaters.
During the peak of the financial collapse in Greece, I would often argue that the one thing to look forward to would be all the amazing art that frustrated kids will come up with and this pandemic has been no different in that regard. There have been so many great records and zines coming out these past few months. Boredom in isolation can be a great motivator and I suspect many more people put pen to paper during the lockdown to engage with their thoughts and emotions in a creative way.
The humour is an integral part of Crucial Zine and there were definitely some satirical hardcore punk zines ever since the 1980s. Now, there’s the Internet and memes that helped websites like The Hard Times to really take off. What do you think about such developments?
I am happy that satire is becoming more visible, that people can relax and loosen up a bit. For a while a lot of punk zines I used to see at gigs were highly political and super serious, which can be very off-putting to people who have no clue. Comedy helps break down that barrier and can expose more people to your message, which can only be a good thing. Furthermore I believe that satire and humor can also help us critically reflect on everything around us and start discussions on both the big and small issues.
When I hear a name like Crucial Zine, I’m definitely thinking about the Youth Crew straight edge scene or a band like Crucial Youth who were mocking them when the whole thing became really popular. How important is the straight edge for you? Is it Athens Straight Edge a thing?
I discovered straight edge when I was 16 years old, thanks to my older brother’s excellent record collection, and identified with it until I went to Cambridge, fulfilling the “true till college” stereotype. Despite dropping out though, I’ve always had immense respect for straight edge and what it taught me – namely to be more aware of my behavior and how it might affect others, as well as being more responsible and understanding. It also demonstrated to me how real of a political, social and economic impact our choices can have in the world.
As far as I’m aware, there’s never really been any Straight Edge scene in Greece. Although some of its concepts resonated (many bands from as the 1980s had songs about how destructive heroin is), I think straight edge was mostly viewed as a gang of pious macho jocks with questionable politics. Since the 2000s and the explosion of the Internet though people are a lot more clued up on straight edge, but there still hasn’t been that much interest in it to establish its own scene.
I know this is a huge question but I need to ask you about the Greek hardcore punk scene at the moment. What are some bands and zines that you’re excited about?
That is quite the question indeed, so in an effort to keep this list somewhat manageable, I’ll say that my brain reaches Scott Vogel levels of excitement whenever I see Antimob, Καταχνιά (Kataxnia), Procrastinate, My Turn, Dirty Wombs, Vodka Juniors, Χειμερία Νάρκη (Hibernation), Τοξικά Απόβλητα (Toxica Apovlita) or Sarabante on a flyer. Recently line-ups have been a bit more varied, so aside from the many excellent hardcore, crust and grind bands Greece might be known for, there are also quite a few post-punk, indie and sludge bands that have meshed well with them, such as Chain Cult, Hekate, Three Way Plane and Zebu. As far as Greek zines go, I’m a big fan of SoulCraft, Puke Soup, Βαλεριάνα (Valeriana), Καπστράνα (Kapstrana) and Nowhere Zine, always looking forward to new issues and other stuff the people behind them do.
Do you think that hardcore punk webzines are way too promotional these days? What do you think about digitizing old zines and making their content available online?
There is a definitely an element of promotion in hardcore punk that I find a bit too consumerist-oriented for my liking. I can see how some labels have had to become more “professional” in order to appeal to more mainstream audiences (which isn’t in itself a bad thing, but that’s a whole different can of worms), however zines should stay away from that. You should do a zine because you are in love with whatever it is you want to cover in your zine, not to sell stuff, become popular or whatever.
As for the reissuing and digitizing older zines, this is probably the frustrated academic in me who couldn’t find all the research material he wanted, but I am all up for making content available to the greatest number of people. There are very few reasons not to keep something in print or circulation, even if it is just in digital format. Obviously paper and ink will always be preferable to pixels, but you can print it yourself and it is still better than nothing or having to pay “collector’s prices” online. Zines have an extremely important historical value in documenting scenes on the fringes and beyond the beaten path, so it really would be a tragedy for them to simply disappear.
Are there any hardcore punk zines from 2020 and 2021 that you really like?
The past year I really enjoyed Punks Around from the US, which covered a wide variety of topics (from veganism and punk/metal record stores, to drugs, mental health and recovery), but unfortunately it concluded its run a few months ago. More recently I discovered Blue! How Come There’s No Ice In My Lemonade? from the UK and German Compliment from Germany which I cannot recommend enough for mixing up their huge love of hardcore/punk with a strong sense of humor that I can really relate to.
We’re doing this International Zine Month thing now. Did you make any of the suggested things yourself? Like creating/updating a ZineWiki page about Crucial Zine, rereading your favorite zines from the past, cook with a recipe you found in a zine, or tell a zinester how much you love them?
Not going to lie, the International Zine Month helped me finish up the latest Coronavirus Special and has been a very good month so far! I’ve created a ZineWiki page on Crucial Zine (and compiling information on a few others to add), been reorganizing my collection and re-reading older zines (Tough Guy Times and C-Rap still make me laugh after all these years) and I went to zine fest/bazaar and bought some neat art and fiction zines. I have included some of my mom’s recipes in recent Crucial Zine issues and she really like it, so I think it’d be fun to do something more involved with her.
Thank you for your time, anything else to add?
- Listen to more ska and don’t be afraid to dance alone!
- Always look out for each other in the pit (and beyond)!
- Don’t forget to drop by the donation box and support the spaces where we can be free!