Guilty of What? // The Story of Early ’80s Anarcho-Punk Fanzine

Punk veteran Chris Low shares the story of his first teenage attempt at producing an anarcho-punk fanzine.

Guilty of What? fanzine ran for three issues over 1982-1983, during which time I was aged twelve to thirteen. The name was inspired by two sources: a badge I had following Sid Vicious’ arrest for murdering his girlfriend, Nancy Spungeon, and the title of an article I read about the Persons Unknown trial of an Anarchist cell arrested on bomb making charges. In hindsight, this could be seen as an unconscious attempt to synthesise Anarchism and Punk as, truth be known, I’d never even considered this at the time.

Author Chris Low drumming for Political Asylum at the age of 13. Thanks to Steve Gray for the photo.

All three issues were assembled solely by myself at home using my mum’s typewriter, scissors, glue stick, the mandatory WH Smiths blue plastic stencil and any Letraset I could steal from the local art shop. My father got the first issue copied at his work. Issues two and three were printed by the bassist of my first band, Toxic Noise, who was working on a YOP Scheme (early 1980s Government ‘Work Opportunity Programme’) at a printing company in Stirling and had access to litho-printing which he did for me on the side for the cost of a few drinks. I also got him to print Twisted Nerve #5 by Miles [Ratledge] of the original Napalm Death, who I’d become friends with through the DIY cassette and fanzine trading scene.

Cover of the first Guilty of What? issue.

As I produced my zines years before I could legally drink and was still at school and living with my parents, all my pocket money—plus everything I made from the sales of my zine and cassettes I put out on my tape label—went straight back into the fanzine, buying records and going to gigs. Needless to say, postal costs were heavily subsidised by the time-honoured punk post, i.e. soaping or applying sellotape to stamps so they could be repeatedly reused.

Like everyone involved with anarcho-punk at the time, I’d have said I did it “to get the message across”; all issues had articles on the rote anarcho-punk topics: Nuclear disarmament, Apartheid, vivisection, fox hunting, etc. Being active and campaigning against them seemed just as important as the music at the time. The reality is probably a cross between that and writing a zine simply being a fun thing to do and having some sort of precocious creative urge within me that it satisfied. There was the ‘fan’ angle too—providing a legitimate reason to write to and sometime meet the bands and musicians I was a ‘fan’ of—Crass, Flux, Discharge, The Alternative, Omega Tribe, DIRT, Poison Girls, etc. (‘fandom’ being much maligned within punk and, more-so, anarcho-punk culture).

Access and response were major factors that determined content. Access in what bands I could successfully make contact with and response as in how—and if—they responded when I wrote to them with questions or attempted a telephone interview. Some were successful—Crass always responded to postal interviews with in-depth answers—whilst others, Poison Girls and Discharge, The Wall and Anti-Pasti were pitifully short. I also covered local Scottish bands such as Stirling punk heroes, The Fakes and from Dunfermline peace punks, The Alternative.

Crass interview in Guilty of What #3

Also, as I soon discovered, producing a zine allowed me to blag free stuff (posters, records etc.) and once I discovered tape-trading became an avenue for the reciprocal exchange of tapes of my early bands (Distraught, Political Asylum) and others throughout Europe and throughout the world. Fanzines were incredibly important to the punk scene and more-so to the anarcho-punk movement in that they provided a focus for these scenes that may otherwise have gone unreported in the local press or radio. Also by publishing contact details of other zines and bands they facilitated communication between like minded individuals and bands which was an integral element to the early DIY punk scene.

Zines allowed those who may have been socially isolated or who couldn’t play an instrument an avenue to contribute to the scene just as much as those in bands. There really WERE “no rules” when it came to fanzines! You could write about whatever you wanted and the final product could end up being read by ten people or ten thousand! Just because there WAS such freedom people could experiment which produced some absolutely unique and striking works, from scrappy, largely illegible classics like Pigs For Slaughter and Cobalt Hate to something as professional and beautifully presented as Gee Vaucher’s graphic agit-prop magazine The International Anthem.

Conflict interview in Guilty of What? #3

There were various reasons I stopped producing zines: Guilty of What?  was very much an ‘anarcho-punk’ zine and by late 1983 the scene was beginning to change into something I had little interest in, mostly due to the influence of the ‘thrash’ sound from overseas and heavy metal, both of which I had little affinity with. I always thought when Crass split in 1984 anarcho-punk lost much of its direction and became more akin to another music genre than the movement for change it had previously seemed.

But maybe that was just me? I was only thirteen at the time…

About the author: Chris Low (aka Spike) is a Scotland-born DIY punk veteran who played in Political Asylum, The Apostles, Oi Polloi, and various other bands since the early 1980s. Chris currently resides in Japan and launched a photography project called Up Yours! Tokyo Punk & Japanarchy Today, documenting the different faces of Tokyo’s underground punk scene through his camera lens.

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