After a hiatus of over 20 years, much-loved DIY fanzine Ablaze! returns later this month for its eleventh issue, spearheaded by editor Karren Ablaze and editorial contributor Clara Heathcock. This new issue features interviews with Viv Albertine, Sleaford Mods, Peaches, Kate Nash and many more similarly excellent folk. I caught up with Karren and Clara to discuss home-made things, riot grrrl and the state of the zine scene in a time of economic austerity.

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What differentiates fanzines from other kinds of music journalism for you? Is there something about the form that enables that?

KA: There's a lot of flexibility in writing for a zine. The approach I've taken with Ablaze! varies between mainstream-type writing (the way I might write for The Guardian music page, for example) and stream of consciousness, personal stuff brimming with enthusiasm. Most of it is somewhere in the middle leaning towards the latter. Other writers are at different points in this spectrum too. I think we've got a really nice mix; I'm really proud of Radhika Takru's sober assessment of the music scene in India. We have a number of pieces where writers have gone into a lot of depth about certain albums (pieces on The Pastels, Cabaret Voltaire, Sky Larkin, Jeffrey Lewis) which feels really nice; I think that reflects that we're all older now and a bit armchairy, but still with so much passion that it can't be held inside. And the interviews (Sleaford Mods, Viv Albertine, Laetitia Sadier, Kate Nash, Peaches, Katie Harkin, Slum of Legs, Cowtown, Esper Scout, Trepat, LoveyDove) tend towards the conversational, like typical fanzine style Q&A but with some substantial commentary too.

There is so much freedom when you make your own zine, you can take any aspect in any direction that you choose, so I've decided to have a political theme running throughout this edition, discussing with some of the artists ways of getting through this grim period of Tory rule.

CH: For me, it's about the removal of the need for a certain type of credentials.

As a teenager, I never spoke about music. It was private, maybe because it felt like something I could get wrong. I'd never had music lessons and I felt like talking about music was a way of claiming an identity I wasn't confident in claiming. I remember when people started getting MySpace that I agonised over what to have as my profile song.

When I was around 14 my Dad bought me an mp3 player; I remember having to ask him to download my first song for me because he had a PayPal account. It was 'In Too Deep' by Sum 41. He shouted up the stairs so my brother who was in the bath, my sister at her desk and my mom lying down on her bed could all hear, 'Them angry songs you like are on your player now!' Mortifying.

The first inkling I had that enjoying music could be public in a way that was genuine for me was when I moved in with my friend Hannah is my second year of University. She listened to music a lot in the house and I could always hear it through the wall. She liked loads of good things, so often when I bumped into her later in the day I'd ask what she had been playing. Me and her went to the pub together a lot, and we started to talk about music, but all in a way that I understood. It was personal. It wasn't about being one thing or another thing - a goth or a punk or a popular kid.

What's required in fanzines is to have exactly the type of experience with music that I had. To have a private experience with it, then make that public. Not necessarily to be part of a public experience, a musical community, then talk about it. You can have that, but you don't need it. You start where you are.

What are your experiences with distribution, and with critical reception?

KA: In the past the main way we sold Ablaze! was at gigs. I would go to about 100 gigs a year with a big bag of zines on my back and just get in peoples' faces. That was standard practice in the 80s/early 90s. I've noticed that the zine scene now is more insular, people make them and sell them at zine fairs. I made a small zine called Commemorative Plate in 2014 to celebrate the final holiday-camp ATP (though they started doing them again straight away). I took them round the festival and sold them for £2 each. People who used to buy zines back in the 80s etc were absolutely delighted to be approached and wanted to buy a copy without even knowing what was in it, but younger kids were suspicious: "What is it? Do you have authorisation to sell that here? Where's the money going to?" I had to learn to say "This is a fanzine. I made it. It's £2. The money goes to me," straight off, and then they were happy to buy it.

Nowadays online sales are really important, that's how we can break even. (The place to go is www.mittenson.com for your copy).

Can you talk about Ablaze! 11 in the context of government austerity? Why choose now to release a new issue?

KA: To be honest if I was being really hard hit by the cuts I'm not sure I could devote three or four months of my life to work that I don't get paid for and that is a financial risk - we paid the printer up front today and it was a hefty bill! We've even gone for really nice paper types, and perfect binding, so the zine will have a spine! But at the same time we are offering the zine at two prices, £5 waged and £3 unwaged/low waged. I want everyone to be able to have it if they want one.

The 'why now?' is more to do with where I am in my life, having gone into publishing books (as well as The City Is Ablaze! I published Mark Burgess' autobiography, View From A Hill; that's on the site too) I guess I craved the opportunity to do a zine again. It's not quite as much work as getting a book together but it's not far off!

And of course the big question in the zine is how do we get through five years of Tory government? What can we do to keep ourselves and our communities intact? The answers are amazing. Jason from Sleaford Mods was close to a state of grief when I spoke to him on May 9th; SJ Bradley wrote a really constructive piece about creativity and community building through DIY, a view which was echoed by Kate Nash, whose approach is community work, and we got a really in depth piece from the guitarist of Thee Faction, socialist rockers from London. With this kind of energy around (and I've not even mentioned Jeremy Corbyn!) there are reasons to be hopeful that we'll pull through.>7p>

CH: For me, the link is clear and it's what I spoke about above. I don't think Thatcher was right. I don't think we are all middle class now. For me fanzines are a form of journalism that are more likely to be accessible to working class people because you don't need to do any internships to make them, and because the editors are people you choose yourself, usually people from your own community, no one is going to be surprised you don't know certain terminology. It links to austerity, because austerity is making the divisions between those struggling and those who aren't are get bigger, so it's more important than ever for those who are struggling to have their own ways of communicating.

KA: Yes I agree; anyone can approach me about writing for Ablaze!, I give a lot of people a chance (unless I know I don't dig their writing style), I'm happy to nurture writers, and I state on the first page that journalism is not about looking like you know everything; it's an exploration.

What do you think have been the biggest changes for the DIY scene between issues 10 and 11 (a gap of 22 years)?

KA: Oh fuck! That's a long time! I interviewed Azalia Snail and she was saying that it was easier to work as a DIY artist in the 90s than it is now: "I guess it's pretty obvious that the nineties were the golden years for the indie artist, as far as it being completely fresh and exciting. You could take your little act on the road and come back with enough money to live for several months or so. It's before downloading was a thing, plus the cost to travel was so low. Of course, being able to reach out to people via the internet is absolutely wonderful. Being able to share photos and songs right away is a great tool for artists and humans in general, but there is still nothing like direct contact with the people you meet around the world when you tour."

It seems like everyone who is into DIY now has to educate everyone else about it. Something else has taken over, neoliberalism I guess, a culture if separateness and not sharing. I think about the words from Kate Nash's 'Caroline Is A Victim' a lot: "Caroline wishes that she could meet/all the boys and the girls that live down her street/cos she knows that they share that tapping of the feet/when they play that killa killa killa killa beat." DIY is the way to do it. Sell them a fanzine, or give them a flier for the gig you're putting on. It might be harder now, or it might be easier now cos of the internet, but it's still the same principle. Do it do it do it do it - DIY or die. (Well, don't die, but you know what I mean).

Were there any interviews in this issue that particularly stood out for you?

KA: The first interview I did was with Jason Williamson (Sleaford Mods) and we just talked about British politics and culture, it was such a necessary conversation for me. We didn't talk about their music at all, which is crazy cos I fucking love them! So we've included a piece about all the albums they ever put out (did you know they've done eight?). I think it was a strange night for him as his wife was just about to have a baby and he was a long way from home. He's a great guy, really compassionate and open, which you don't immediately get from the records!

The next one I did, and this was a major one for me, was with Katie Harkin from Sky Larkin and on-tour member of Sleater-Kinney. I've fallen head over heels in love with Sky Larkin's songs this year, just as she is embarking on a solo career, so getting to question her for an hour was exquisite. She has some theories about how we relate to bands that are really useful for me and I plan to write more about that in the forthcoming 101 Albums To Die Before You Hear which is coming out next year.

Interviewing and writing about Kate Nash was really emotional for me cos she functions as an icon of vulnerability and power. In fact I was writing up my piece about her 40 hours before we were going to press. It was in the early hours of the morning; I'd been freaking out with stress and I felt like I was falling apart. Then I got this sense of what it would be like if she was here with me, how she would hug me and proffer a mug of whisky and just laugh. I cried a bit and then wrote the piece feeling like she was guiding me, and it was really easy. Then just before I crashed out, I checked my emails. In that period of time she had sent me three emails - I have to tell you this does not usually happen. We're not mates, although I would love it if we were. Looking back, that is kind of spooky.

CH: For me it was Kate Nash too. She's a real hero of mine. I have a picture of her on my wall. I saw her play Newcastle in 2013 on the Girl Gang tour. She did these things with her voice - made sounds I had never heard a woman make before, all these funny little yelps and growls. She played bass, and all her other guitarists were women too. To be publicly making those kind of guttural, hurt, angry, joyful sounds, holding a guitar, being so present - it looked like power. It looked like power being wielded by someone who looked a bit like me. Maybe it sounds trite, but whatever, it meant a lot to me.

I also really enjoyed interviewing Karren. We interviewed each other by a back and forth email chain for a feature called Riot Grrrl and Spirituality. I liked it because it was a putting-into-praxis of a real riot grrrl idea, 'idolise your friends.' A lot of what we spoke about in the piece was not waiting to start on creative projects. Not waiting to be a different version of yourself, thinner, less embarrassing, whatever it is. Interviewing Karren felt to me like doing this: finding out more about the people you have in your life already rather than imagining that you'll be open and vulnerable in the future when you meet some kind of, idk, spiritual celebrity.

Are there any particular bands / artists from past issues that you'd like to interview again?

KA: Yes, but I found that I couldn't really write about artists who are not currently active - otherwise I would write about Drive Like Jehu, Polvo, Champion Kickboxer, Soeza... from past issues? I always like interviewing Ian Svenonious, he's sharp as a recently sharpened pencil.

I understand there's a feature on Riot Grrrl in India in this piece. What made you decide to commission that, when previous issues had been very focused on the UK?

KA: It's about the indie scene in India, and I commissioned it cos when I did the zine before I was very UK and US-centric, I hadn't travelled very much at all and I knew little about peoples' lives in other parts of the world. I was so enamoured with the rich indie scene in these two countries that I didn't really care about people in other countries. People from Hungary and Spain were trying really hard to get in touch with me, sending lots of letters, and I was really crap at getting back to them cos of this limited cultural focus. I was young and ignorant, so now that I am old and wise I want to know what is going on everywhere. Radhika's piece is devastating.

Are there any other non-UK scenes you're particularly interested in?

KA: The zine was started and finished in Barcelona, designed in Barcelona, and a lot of it was written in Andalucia, so the scene in Spain is really important to me. It feels like there is a strong Leeds - Barcelona link (in me) and hopefully there will be cultural exchange visits soon! Bands and writers in Spain seem to lack self-confidence cos of the cultural imperialism I hinted at above, but there are signs that they are breaking through this now, in bands like Trepat from Granada and Lois from Madrid. And the fanzine scene in Barcelona is huge, it's insane!

CH: Oh everywhere! Riot Grrrl is still new enough to me that I'm basically just thrilled every time I hear it's happening. That image, a woman with a guitar, it's so compelling to me. I'm worried about sounding dramatic here, but I guess it is true and I can only tell the truth: it's like a person who's been starving for so long, and you let them at food and they go a bit nuts. I do feel like I've been culturally hungry; I've been actively seeking music for myself since I was 14 and downloaded that Sum 41 song (haha). I'm 22 now, and it's just now that I've found a community to talk about music in in a way that feels authentic to me. That meets my experience where it's at. I'm in the 'going a bit nuts' phase of coming out of hibernation, so any country riot grrrl happening in, and any country people are writing about it, I want to know about it.

More specifically: I wrote to The Lovely Eggs for a project I'm doing for the Ablaze! website where I find out what DIY bands there are currently active in the UK and draw a picture of each of them for an illustrated map. They're in Lancaster and in the email they sent me with their photograph in for me to draw, they mentioned they had a zine on the subject called This Is Our Nowhere. They posted it to me; it has a page about meeting punks on Blackpool pier and how they can feel really fed up trying to make subculture happen outside of London. So the answer to your question, where else would I like to see talked about, is The North of England. I know Riot Grrrl is there but I didn't know how to access it when I lived there. Not quite another country, but culturally, from London, maybe it is.

What are your hopes for Ablaze? What's next?

KA: I figured I would see how I feel after it's all done and then decide. I might feel different when the exhaustion subsides. When it's really full on it feels like life is happening elsewhere - I know this sounds dramatic, it's only a zine, but when it's 60 A4 pages of 8 point type that's a lot of material - I'd guess the word count is similar to a novel. After we sent the files to the printer I had a chance to sit outside a café in the sun; that's what I'd been craving, So give me a few months, cos I have a novel to edit, two books to publish, and a novel to write, and I'll see how I'm doing after that. But really I think people should sit and enjoy this one without worrying about the one after.

CH: I hope we make another Ablaze! After a rest. Once we can see the fruits of our labour on this one. In the meantime - I've got the bug, and I'm working on my own zine. It's called The Interloper. In saying this, this means I have to do it. I'm a bit terrified. It's funny I think. I hope. It might be awful. But better something than nothing right? It's me interviewing my friends about their lives. I love Rookie magazine and Ablaze! and the whole idea of writing about normal, everyday things in a way that validates how important normal, everyday things are.

Visually, again I love Rookie and Ablaze!, and I love getting handwritten letters. I'm just enamoured with that whole punk cut and paste aesthetic. So I wanted to do something like that. It's enthusiastic if nothing else, I'll give it that.


Ablaze! 11 is available to buy at Louder Than Words Festival on Saturday 14th November at The Palace Hotel, Manchester; £5.00 waged, £3.00 unwaged. Karren will be on a panel with Julia Downes at 10am on Saturday talking about fanzines role in the music industry. In the evening Karren, Clara and a host of other Ablaze! contributors will be at Ladyfest Manchester - watching some of the bands in the zine play. They don't have a stall there, but they'll probably have a few copies with them, and will be delighted to sell you one.