Bruce Edwin started subnormal magazine with writer and publisher Zadge, back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. The fanzine turned gloss color cover, hard copy magazine was created initially to publish poetry, to get kids who don’t read poetry to read it, mixing it in with rock band interviews, and secondly, to interview great bands and give them the attention they deserved, in reaction to the other mainstream and alternative press at the time.
subnormal magazine issue #1
The first issue of subnormal featured comic art by Nikki Z, who went on to work for major entertainment companies in Hollywood. The first issue also featured an exclusive interview with drummer Steve Shelley from the rock band Sonic Youth.
The magazine was cut and paste, and made at a Kinko’s copy shop, at just over 12 pages, and sold for 50 cents.
Bruce Edwin states, “I couldn’t keep making the first issue fast enough. I ran off ten copies, sold those at the great store called Mother Murphy’s in Normal, Illinois, which was the first to carry it, then had to copy 20 more. Then stores started wanting it so I had to make 100, and so on. And we started getting mail orders form around the world after the other zines including Flipside and Maximum Rock N’ Roll began reviewing it. It was phenomenal, and I realized we were really on to something. We quickly went into production on issue number two, making it bigger with more pages, and raised the price to 75 cents to cover postage.”
The magazine was later banned in numerous U.S. prisons. Wardens alleged it would “start a riot.” Prisoners would regularly write the magazine claiming that they had smuggled in the ‘contraband.’
The Bleeding Platypus
Bruce Edwin continues, “I had begun leafletting in the late 80’s, all around Chicago and central Illinois. They were one page zines and fliers that were called various names for each issue. One was “The Bleeding Platypus,” in tribute to a story I read in the Chicago Tribune about these people that had beaten a platypus to death, which greatly disturbed me. That zine became a regular, and the record labels and most everyone that saw it at the time loved it.”
Bruce adds, “Another was of course subnormal, inspired by living in Normal, Illinois, which I dreaded at the time, yet later came to appreciate because of the great music scene there. Normal has ISU, where there was just the coolest underground scene of artists, writers, musicians, poets, and singers at the time. The Gallery was this killer club there at the time where I’d see bands before they got really famous, including The Smashing Pumpkins. Then we had these party houses called 302, 304, and the Inferno. I saw The Flaming Lips at the Inferno and so many more. I’d party with most of these bands 5 to 7 nights a week, year after year. It was all quite legendary.”
Chicago’s Music Scene
Then we had C-Street down in Champaign-Urbana where U of I was, which was this incredible all ages dance club. Peoria had it’s own little scene, Kankakee – where my early years started out getting into Siousxie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and Front 242 among more, and then up in the Chicago suburbs of course we had Medusa’s – this infamous all ages dance club. And in Chicago proper – well, that city was and is just a world unto itself. I was hitting clubs including Metro, The Riv, The Vic, and dozens more, hitting at least one or more of them sometimes once a week, plus all the music scenes downstate. It was amazing.
subnormal magazine took off, because it included parts of all the other zines on its page or pages, and was music and poetry based, in addition to having all these human rights components. Industrial Nation, and Permission took off, and we all supported each other. There were many more zines – hundreds of them.
“Before the internet took off, we had ‘punk pals.’ Kids would just pour out their hearts to each other in these pages of long hand-written letters. We had computers, but most didn’t like to type. It was considered too business-like and formal. And there was what we called ‘unity.’ A punk rocker in Miami or the other side of the world could always expect respect and a place to crash from a punk rocker in Chicago or anywhere he was connected to that scene. It was amazing.
Pump Up the Volume
Bruce Edwin states, “So after seeing this film called “Pump Up the Volume” in 1990, that film just greatly inspired me. In the movie, starring also Samantha Mathis, Christian Slater makes this underground radio station without a radio wave permit, and his station just takes off in the town he’s in. It causes a small revolution, as he is so radical, and speaking out against all the things the other kids want to fight against, but don’t have a voice to say. That’s how subnormal was to me. I wanted to be that voice for the kids around the world, and I think in some degree, subnormal was at the time. Keep in mind, this was before the internet!”
the subnormal tours
“The last hard copy issue of subnormal was published in 1999 and early 2000, with a 5000 press run. If you’ve ever printed 5000 of anything, you know that’s quite a lot. Well this issue was well over 100 pages, so it took up an entire moving truck. It was exciting. Tower Records carried the magazine in 15 countries including China and Iran, and throughout Europe. It was also carried in every major city in the U.S. from San Francisco to Houston to Chicago to NYC to LA and beyond. We had a premiere party for it in Honolulu, Hawaii and San Francisco, and it actually did really great in Hawaii. It did hugely well in San Francisco on the Haight, as I called it or it’s called perhaps.”
“When I was out of money, I’d just call San Francisco for more orders, or NYC, or run around Chicago to the record stores myself. It was up to 5 dollars per issue by this time, and it was huge. Maximum Rock N’ Roll said it was like carrying a phone book around, and they loved it. I booked some tours of bands I loved that were on Cleopatra Records, and went with them on the road as tour manager, selling the magazine city by city, gig by gig. It did very well.”
“By this time,” Bruce Edwin says, “most every major record label in the U.S. and beyond were working with me. I owe this all of course to Sonic Youth. I was at a Sonic Youth gig in Chicago one year, and I was just determined to meet the band.”
“The bouncer threatened my life and said he would beat me up or have me arrested if I didn’t get out of this area where the bands go in the alley near the backstage area. I just refused. I told him I didn’t care what he did, I had to meet the band. I think at now at the time, the bouncer really did me a favor, because if he wanted to make me leave, he probably could have picked me up and carried me off kicking and screaming or something (laughs).”
“The band told me he told them he tried to make me leave but that I wouldn’t, and told them that I said I had to meet them. They laughed, and I met them all. Steve Shelley ended up talking to me which seemed to me for like an eternity at the time. I hung on to his every word. I loved this band so much. They had changed my life.”
“When I first heard Sonic Youth, I hated them. I thought they were awful. Then, a few weeks later, I asked my flat-mate at the time who was that amazing band he was playing. He laughed and said, that’s that band you said were crap – Sonic Youth. I was shocked, and realized then how brilliant they were and finally got what they were doing. They were my favorite band at that moment, and still are my favorite rock band – to this day.”
The DGC Years
So Steve from Sonic Youth told me to call DGC, The David Geffen Company in NYC, and told me what to do, and said to tell them he told me to call. So I did just what he said, and before long, Geffen Records was calling me on the phone, sending me all this Sonic Youth material, putting me on the guest list for their future shows, and sending me all their other bands stuff to review.
And the major labels back then, they did, I believe, all share the same press databases, because very soon after, I was getting phone calls from all the major record labels, and they were all filling up the subnormal mailbox every day with cd’s and the band press kits to review. It was hugely exciting, and we really owe it all to Sonic Youth and Steve Shelley. So I guess you could say my major break in the music industry – beyond what I made happen for myself – came from Sonic Youth, which was perfect, considering how much I loved them and lived to see their next show at the time.
We used to give bad reviews to music we didn’t like. All of the zines did at the time. subnormal was pretty powerful in the indie music scene back then, so it carried a lot of weight. Unfortunately, we hurt some feelings. We also made a lot of friends.
The Hollywood Sentinel
Bruce Edwin continues, “Later, I started Hollywood Sentinel, and started bringing back subnormal magazine online on that site. Hollywood Sentinel focuses on only the good news, and does not give any bad press. So with subnormal now, we basically have decided to not review an artist if we don’t like them. Because it’s not worth our time. There is so much great music out there worth writing about instead. And really, if we don’t like something, who cares anyway?”
“I’ve always hated critics, and I don’t want to keep becoming what I hated. It’s all just some blokes opinion anyway. And most critics are just failed artists who are jealous they don’t have what it takes to be or do what they are hating on, in my opinion. So we either give a band truly good press that believe is warranted, or – we ignore them. Sometimes we ignore great bands, just because we are super busy, or have not discovered them yet. There are so many great new artists out there, it’s amazing.”
For a while I was bummed out about new music after the 90’s. I didn’t find anything new very appealing anymore. The Killers and maybe a small handful of others were an exception. Then the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s came along. Karen O. was and is just so phenomenal.
Things started getting exciting again for me in music. Empire of the Sun and MGMT and their whole scene was also very interesting to me, what they were doing. Warpaint changed everything. They along with Silversun Pickup’s and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s really took and expanded what Sonic Youth started in such brilliant ways. Warpaint are just so phenomenal – as is of course Karen O and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. I’ve seen them both many times. MIA paved the way for a lot too, but of course before her – we had the Slits and Public Enemy.
The Internet and YouTube changed everything. Gradually there was just this build up and finally explosion of great music coming to the surface online from all over the world. I really think today we have some of the best new music out of all time, It’s a resurgence of creativity on every level, from the vocal techniques, musical styles, and even down to the videos. It’s amazing.
There has always been great music, but sometimes you have to dig more for it. Those 8 years we had Obama – liberals were pretty relaxed. There wasn’t much stirring them up. Now – with the current U.S. President – it helps energize radicals more. Good music always comes out of regimes like that. It happened under the Bush regime too. So love him or hate him – you can thank you know who for some good new music being created.
“I can’t say enough good things about Grimes. When I read she was a Skinny Puppy fan, it made perfect sense. She does her own production and it’s just so brilliant. Artists today are blending styles I grew up on from punk and new wave, to even rap, blues, jazz – everything, pop – they are just blending it all together in ways that have rarely been done before in music. Genres don’t exist any more so much like they used to. They don’t matter as much.”
Bruce Edwin states, “Tove Lo for example, who is just brilliant, and wrote that big hit for Lorde – she can come out and do Disco T – -, yet later do this searing, dark ballad. She’s brilliant.”
Elliphant is so amazing to me, I just love her, bringing in the African, Reggae scene, rap, pop, techno, everything – she’s a true artist.
MO I love – such a phenomenal voice – brilliant. And her too we read she had that early punk band and was into the punk scene. It’s so perfect. I could listen to her all day.
Niia is so stunning to me. When I heard her Sade cover, I’m like – of course. She is like the next Sade – yet expanding that jazz perfection and bringing in blues, soul, pop – she’s so great.
Starcrawler are just simply mind blowing. Both out of LA of course. I saw Starcrawler at the Echo here in LA and they just ruled. Chairlift were amazing. St. Vincent is great. Phantogram are brilliant. I’m excited to be seeing them soon – they are on tour now.
Kimbra is brilliant. She is just so under-rated. I think she is phenomenal, and such a great performer and so creative with such a dynamic voice.
I guess you could say I just love female vocals so much, and I find that there are more great female led bands and singers out there now more than ever, that are making the best music. That’s exciting. Back in the 90’s, I was seeing The Cranberries, PJ Harvey, Letters to Cleo, Veruca Salt, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Lydia Lunch, Blondie, Exene Cervenka, Ute Lemper, Poe, Sneaker Pimps, Garbage, and so many more; all of these great female artists or female led bands I’d see live. Many I interviewed. What’s changed now is that we actually have even more great female artists in my view. They are the majority, where as before, it was about half and half or a little heavy on the male side.
Of course, I still love and listen to the classics from rock, new wave, so called punk, so called gothic and industrial – Jane’s Addiction, The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, Billy Idol, Depeche Mode, U2, Ministry, Death in June, Suicidal Tendencies, Misfits (with Danzig), Sisters of Mercy, and countless more. There are and always have been great male or male fronted bands out there. But I really love female vocals so much, and I think right now the most creative new music out there is coming from women.
subnormal encourages great new bands and singers in the style of any of the artists mentioned in this story, to get in touch with the magazine at 310-226-7176, for potential free press, or other free help and advice.
Check out the latest new music recommended by subnormal here below, and visit subnormal each week here at News Blaze dot com and at Hollywood Sentinel dot com.
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