Quality music periodicals dont grow on trees you have to dig about a bit. The work is always worthwhile, however, as these publications are almost always assembled by caring, knowledgeable & sympathetic types with a love of their subject & no interest in corporate wanking.
Ugly Things is just one of these publications: operating out of San Diego & published/edited by the integrity laden Mike Stax, UT is a veritable cornucopia of wild sounds from past dimensions. Dealing in all things 60s garage punk, 60s rock n roll, 60s freakbeat, late 70s punk & more, UT has a roster of contributors many major publishing houses would kill for: Lauren Bigot, Christian Eudeline, Mick Farren, Don Craine, Kieron Tyler & Rat Scabies to name just a few of the scribes in Issue 20 of UT.
Attention to detail is at a premium at Ugly Things, depth & breadth come fitted as standard. UT has a certain biblical feel that fully explains why so many chose to lead their lives by its doctrine (you can also stand on a copy to access those tricky high nooks & crannies).
trakMARX.com knows a good thing when it sees one & was consequently soon on the wire chasing UTs Mike Stax for any insights into what makes UT so indispensable. This is what he had to say:
trakMARX - Ugly Things is fast approaching its 20th birthday. Tell us the circumstances behind its birth?
As you point out it was 20 years ago March 1983 when the first UT came out. I think I printed 200 copies at first and maybe another couple of hundred later. The magazine was basically an outlet for my writing and my various musical obsessions, especially British R&B bands of the mid-60s, American garage bands and various Eurobeat weirdos of the same era, such as Q65 from Holland, who were profiled (rather badly) in that issue. The name was a reaction to the prevailing musical climate of the time, which was dominated by bands like Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls pretty boys with synthesizers and bad haircuts, the antithesis of my unruly guitar-driven heroes like the Yardbirds, the Seeds and especially the Pretty Things. So Ugly Things it was: a statement of intent and philosophy and a forum to champion the best forgotten and overlooked bands of the past. I should also point out the importance of several earlier zines as a source of inspiration, most especially Bam Balam, Gorilla Beat and Who Put the Bomp, copies of which I had read and reread many times in the preceding years.
trakMARX - Over those 20 years how difficult has it been to remain with in the original perimeters (if they ever existed) as far as content is concerned?
Not difficult all, because I never considered there to be any self-imposed perimeters or boundaries. Basically the magazine is a reflection of my personal music tastes along with those of the other writers, this may include anything from pre-war blues & folk to late 70s/early 80s punk rock and on rare occasions even beyond that cut-off point, such as the case of the big Union Carbide Productions feature in #16. However the focus tends to centre on the mid to late 60s era, a kind of pinnacle for arts and culture, and one so diverse that I never tire of it. There are still so many amazing untold stories from that period that I cant imagine ever running out of subject matter. Our 60s coverage is what were best known for and the primary interest of our core readership, but we like to throw in music from other eras and genres to keep people guessing. Wild Sounds From Past Dimensions is our stated subject matter, so the only thing we dont write about is new bands even new bands that sound like old bands (in fact especially new bands that sound like old bands). Its not that I dont enjoy any new music; its just that there are so many other rock mags out there covering it already, mostly in a very tedious, trendy, PR-driven manner. I want to avoid that.
trakMARX - You describe much of the music you champion as outsider sounds for the loser mentality - do you feel modern exponents of the art understand the full implications of such a stance?
Most of them probably dont. Being an outsider used to involve some kind courage and conviction; now its just a lifestyle choice or a fashion statement a temporary pose with few recriminations. Regarding the loser mentality, that was a criticism of the defeatist attitude of certain people in the garage rock scene who were having a hard time coming to terms with the commercial success of certain bands working within the genre. Their self-defeatist mindset cant grasp positive acceptance in any form, which is kind of pathetic. So in actual fact we champion outsider sounds with a positive, creative mentality.
trakMARX - 60s US Garage Punk was a massive influence on the NYC 70s Punks & consequently the UK 70s Punks. Many theories compete regarding the catalysts behind that sound - what's your take on it?
As I see it, Punk was an attempt to take rocknroll back to its basic elements. Since the late 60s and especially in the early 70s, rock had become soft, bloated and overly commercialized. Punk was a return to the earlier values of the 60s garage band era when rocknroll was made by young, inexperienced musicians and scenes flourished on a local level. Most of the 70s NYC punks were old enough to have experienced that era first hand some of them had even participated in it but Lenny Kayes Nuggets comp and the writings of Lester Bangs also helped re-ignite awareness. However, I dont think many of the 70s Punk bands were consciously emulating the 60s stuff; they were just using the same basic building blocks to make their own music. Theres a direct link that can be ignored, but I think some critics may have over-thought this and attached too much significance to it.
trakMARX - Griel Marcus notion of a "cross-Atlantic ping-pong effect" does hold some water - for example Debbie Harry citing Dr Feelgood as an influence on Blondie - is it a phenomenon you recognise & would you fancy taking a pop at the book that Marcus suggests is still to be written on the subject?
Ill pass on the book assignment, thanks. Griel Marcus says a lot of things. The ping-pong effect is a tidy little theory but very over-simplistic. I think multiple ping-pong balls have been ricocheting all over the planet for a long time. Nowadays, in the age of the Internet, the global village and mass-media saturation, there are too many ping-pong balls in the air and not enough music rooted in the ground we stand on.
trakMARX - "The Great Garage Rock Scare Of 2001" - that's a great handle on it all - does it become harder to sort the wheat from the chaff as the ball rolls further from the eye?
In a word: yes. Sometimes it all seems like chaff. And probably most of it is. Thats probably why I prefer to write about bands years, or decades after they break up. By then its possible to put them into some kind of context. Such is the avalanche of mediocrity that the best stuff lays undiscovered until years later.
trakMARX - In the UK, UT is still a fairly difficult beast to track & capture. What path would you recommend best for readers trying to obtain a regular supply of Ugly Things?
Find me a good UK distributor! Right now its available at Tower Records and a few hip specialist stores in London (Intoxica, Helter Skelter, Stand Out/Minus Zero), otherwise you have to go the mail order route via www.ugly-things.com , which is quick and painless, especially if you use Paypal. Readers can also sign up for our mailing list and will then be notified whenever a new issue is imminent.
trakMARX - Many US tMx readers often complain about the standard of their rock & roll hard copy press but here in the UK we have never had anything as definitive as Ugly Things. Does that hint at a wider untapped market for UT & would it be one you would relish exploiting (for want of a better word)?
Yes, with much relish. Dont forget, I may live in California, but Im an Englishman, born and raised.
trakMARX - Issue 20 (the current Issue) is more like a book than a magazine? Does each issue take 14 months to put together because that's probably how long it takes to read a copy from cover to cover?
All I know is it takes about that long to write and assemble each issue; I guess Im lucky it takes that long to read the thing too.
trakMARX - Issue 21 must be under construction by now - what can we look forward to next time out?
It looks like being another book-length edition. The main cover story will be the second installment of my Misunderstood epic. Theres also the conclusion of the Metal Urbain story, a piece on the Quests from Singapore, the Paupers, Welsh folk singer Meic Stevens, William Gibson on Skip Spence, Keith Relfs Armageddon and a big feature on the legendary Fuck Off Records and Danny & the Dressmakers. Plus the usual mega-huge reissue review section of course. Hopefully itll be out some time this summer.
Jean Encoule 24/04/03