Review | The City Is Ablaze

The City Is Ablaze - Karren Ablaze

The City Is Ablaze - Karren Ablaze

 

The City Is Ablaze, The Story Of A Post-Punk Popzine, 1984-1994, Karren Ablaze, published by Mittens On

Did all that really happen in just a decade?

This is one kool and very weighty coffee table book, a mish-mash of reviews and interviews featuring bands and artists from the alternative music scene of the 80s and early 90s; back in the days when us grrrls relied on the American’s for all girl bands – but they came and we learned quickly.

Even more exciting, the phenomena that was the Ablaze fanzines, republished here as The City Is Ablaze, The Story of A Post-Punk Popzine, 1984-1994, was led by a female voice (although the team included men). Karren Ablaze was a publishing renegade: in an era when music mags are slaves to the record labels’ latest folly, it’s easy to see Ablaze as something of a thought-leader. She was happy to publish and be damned: take her interviews with unhappy Morrissey fans at a gig, accompanied in this tome with his handwritten reply. It’s truly great entertainment.

Ablaze started her fanzine when clunky typewriters and photocopiers were the order of the day for any zine founder. Initially the pages featured mostly boy bands, “cos that’s how it was” but across its instalments, she penned some classic interviews with women musicians, most notably Kim Deal (The Pixies, The Breeders), Babes In Toyland, Hole, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and UK’s own Silverfish, which featured the powerful gravel-rock vocal of Lesley Rankine. These were ground breaking in terms of in-depth exchanges with a female focus, unhindered by a male editor’s interference. It’s in the Throwing Muses interviews – there are a few – where references to feminine psychology start to appear – Karen now having moved from Manchester to Leeds University.

All these and much more feature in the book, along with overviews of issues republished by Karren which bring a whole perspective to changing times, as well as anecdotes and new features, such as the thought-provoking article ‘The Genderisation Of Fandom’ by the girls are contributor Lucy Cage.

What’s most interesting here is the way that it almost unknowingly and accurately charts the explosion of Riot Grrrl. Near the end of Ablaze, Riot Grrrl or more specifically, Huggy Bear happened – and the passion, the debate, the ideas are glaringly obvious because the writing comes alive in articles with titles like ‘Girl Power Directives On How To Achieve Multiple Revolution’, Valerie Solanas quotes emblazoned over the intense typed print, or ‘Five Strategies For The Unleashing Of Girl Power’.

We all know that there’s, thankfully, a multitude of books now available about Riot Grrrl or herstory and feminism in music but what’s powerful about The City Is Ablaze is that instead of isolated facts and theories, here it has context; here it shows where it came from and what it came out of, making this more than just a good read or a smirk-invoking trip down memory lane – it also makes us proud, excited and hopeful again about the future for girls in music and the music business.

Ngaire Ruth

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