Features Published 17 January 2020

Live Fanzines

Josh Coates is curating performance nights that bring fandom offline and onto the stage. Here’s why.

Josh Coates

It started off as a joke tweet.

I said something about making live performance based off Charli XCX songs.

People really liked that idea.

So a couple of us got together and made it happen.

And now I’m curating the third one and I’ve started a little events/promotion thing called ZeenZeenZeen which will put on Live Zines.

It’s possibly the most fun I’ve had working in live performance.

Zines are pretty great aren’t they? A bunch of people discussing things they love; words, pictures, crosswords, nudes, anything is encouraged. I’ve been submitting bits and bobs to zines over the past couple of years and I’ve really enjoyed it, no matter if it gets printed. There’s something about the freedom of expression it offers. It’s a fleeting opportunity to just express that I like a thing, to respond to some spark and create a fire.

After my joke Charlie XCX tweet I got thinking about this freedom and live performance. What would a zine look like if it was performed and not read? What would a collage look like if it was performed instead of cut and pasted from old magazines? I know theatre can be hyper responsive to world events and politics, so what could it do if it was responding pop culture? Zines existed as an exercise in counter culture, of a small group of fans coming to express love or express criticism in a thing. Star Trek fans writing slash fiction about Kirk and Spock in an act of thirst, bringing LGBTQ+ stories to that universe. Football fans finding a way to deliver news to other fans, discouraging them buying The Sun. Gestures of fun, exercises in joy, also acting as political solidarity. You love to see it.

I want to see live performance that comes from a place of excitement and joy. I think this format can offer that.

So far the Live Zines have offered interpretations of an artist’s work. A song about driving a car? How about a performance about fucking a car whilst offering creamed goods to an audience? I feel like this is reflective of the proposal on offer. Make a performance out of a song you like. There is something incredibly exciting about this because you get to see what inspires performance makers by the song they chose or the live zine they respond to. It creates a bigger picture of that maker. It offers to opportunity to view that artist through a lens which focuses on what drives them to create. Artists who create visual expansive work and lyrical texts, both in no traditional elements, have an opportunity to follow a framework that isn’t related to theatrical practices, it offers them a new blueprint to follow. Fuck three act structures, what can you get out of a 3 minute pop song? This format provides no pressure. It offers the chance to create something fleeting, something that will never exist again because it sits into this very specific space. Scratch nights and short work nights bring in the idea of having to develop a single piece of performance which in turn will develop your voice as a maker. These nights disagree with that. Make something you want to make that only has to be done once and only for this audience. You don’t have to think about what its next steps are or having to explain it to programmers. It needs to sit in this space for one night and that’s it. Use that anyway you can and want.

The next step is for these events to offer a more critical eye to what they’re responding to. You can’t separate an artist’s work from who the artist is. We did a St Vincent night. Her music explores sexuality in a free and expressive way that speaks to a lot of queer artists, yet she’s been on a weird “Does it offend you,yeah?” crusade at the moment. She’s been tweeting about how good Ricky Gervais Golden Globe speech was and talking about how important plays like Bitter Wheat are on Instagram posts. How does this impact readings of her songs? Charli XCX is a big ol’ super posho who scared a lot of her fans with a weirdly politically neutral tweet about voting…it makes sense that a lot of her songs use super expensive cars as metaphors. It’s great adoring things and being super connected to these artists via social media can be utterly crushing. What does that do to fandom? Online it’s weirdly dislocated, what would this disappointment manifest in live performance?

I’ve written this because I feel like makers will be reading this. I want this to encourage whoever is reading this to come to one of our nights and to perform at one of our nights as well. The nights can’t exist without you, it’s cheesy but its true. If you are a maker and you’ve caught some spark from this –

I want you to make a piece of art on a thing you like.

A song you like. A film you like. A website you visited as a kid

See what that does.

See what you make

Never show it to anyone.

Set it on fire

It’s yours now.

Bojack Horseman Live Zine is on at Katzpace on 19th January. More info and tickets here


Josh Coates is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine



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