VOX 80-83 – No.1-No.15 complete (Hi Tone Books 2019)


HiToneBooks-VOXVOX has always been considered the great “lost” Irish magazine. Founded by editor Dave Clifford in a hugely fertile period of underground culture, it ran for 3 years and has unintentionally become an important body of reference, a visual archive and a historically accurate document of that which was destined never to be mentioned, praised or mocked anywhere else.

…On the night that this was launched, the gathering was a little too shoulder-to-shoulder for peace of mind, so I found a quiet refuge of libation nearby and used the initial flick-through as a poor and transparent excuse to huff the fresh print… it’s like an unadvertised gift and seemed like the right thing to do at the time…

Archival coffee-table editions of what were essential independent press from the bubbling froth of the 1970s underground onward started to appear in the late 1990s – SEARCH AND DESTROY in 1997, SNIFFIN’ GLUE in 2000, BEST OF PUNK MAGAZINE in 2011 and RIPPED AND TORN in 2018… Even smaller titles like Manchester’s ABLAZE in 2012. The later existed in the late 80’s/early 90’s and as something I used to buy, I was excited about the prospect of a collected edition, but ultimately disappointed that time hadn’t somehow made it amazing instead of just… well… as good as it needed to be at the time… but that’s fanzines for you…

…And while a gradual digitisation of our world meant that curated information no longer needed to sit and expire in half completed paste-up layouts for 6-9 months, it also activated very different user behaviours. The corpses of short-lived geocities sites and blogs were somewhat of a running joke for a while, but mostly forgotten as a miracle of instant and autonomous information/communication mutated into pictures of cats and brunch, generous financial proposals from deposed Nigerian royalty, catfishing, strange gullible outrage and shouting at each other in all caps.

VOX is the first and probably one of only two feasible Irish titles for this sort of archival treatment in terms of volume and historical value, the other being the slightly earlier HEAT magazine. But where HEAT was kind of ambivalent in it’s content after a few issues and didn’t really know what it wanted to be (probably unfair – it existed at a time of little precedent), VOX seemed to have a very solid style and clarity of mission right from the get-go.

Vox2Clearly, VOX was too slick a publication to be called a fanzine. It definitely came from fanzine culture, but in terms of quality, it had more in common with the likes of ZIGZAG in England than any given stapled bunch of local rabid xerox, and its production values at least matched that of Hot Press in the same era. While it has a comparatively rudimentary appearance now, what you are looking at is manual labour – A world of typewriters, Letraset, Letratone, Letraline, burnishing tools, rubylith, halftone screens and reprographic cameras (if you had access to a dark room), pica/point rulers, Tippex, cow gum and other tools of war that time has long traded for software…

Such is the quantity of information presented in this collected edition of VOX that an attempt to accurately summarise everything would be utter futility. Its diatribes, editorials, guest essays, interviews, poetry, reviews, street photography, portrayals of bands and artists all urgently flow into each other. Everything is aligned in a continuous 2-column paste-up layout that exercises egalitarianism and denies perceived status of one band or artist over another. Its front covers are randomly Cosey Fanni Tutti, Alistair Mac Lennon or a Danielle Dax scribble – Its record shop ads remind us that Crass, Spizzenergi and Clock DVA used to be bestsellers in that Starbucks or hair salon you just walked past – and its street photos capture Dublin city as somewhat of a stand-around cultural Parish stretching from the Project Arts Centre to Gaiety Green.

The strength of VOX now lies in the fact that, with tenacity and faith, it kept Irish underground music as a central focus. Certainly The Blades, Stano and the Virgin Prunes benefited greatly from repeated column space, but as many entities – The Low, Nun Attax, Michael O’Shea, Pretty & the Keltic Klan – found their most empathetic and coherent support here.

From punk to pop to avant-garde to performance art, VOX was articulate, insightful and genuinely leftfield in its approach to content. It was unusual for such lateral communication skills to be applied to underground press in Ireland, with the result that there’s a tendency to over-academicise the publication in retrospect (certainly the case in parts of the excellent supporting content). But rather than being willfully high-brow, VOX seemed motivated to draw all aspects of fringe creativity onto common ground, and maybe the style of writing, existing in a space beyond formal editorial control, was simply a natural idiosyncrasy.

Vox1By all accounts, those who remember VOX from first hand experience have an unyielding fondness and respect for it, but what does it all mean to those from a different time? When VOX existed, the most important publication in my life was probably 2000AD. Beyond the Top Of The Pops alumni – Dollar, PIL, The Human League, Gary Numan, Bow Wow Wow, U2 etc. I wouldn’t have recognised a name in the magazine – But as I flick through it now, I see names on every page that I subsequently discovered, loved and/or was eternally inspired by. These seeped into my world one by one… I first heard the Blades while playing Jet Set Willy on a friend’s Atari… Napalm Sunday fairly randomly appeared on the TV one afternoon… Wire, Virgin Prunes & Throbbing Gristle became unhealthy obsessions that continue to this day…

Ironically, it took the death knell for greater fanzine culture, the Internet, for so many of us to discover the finer sonic details and long-deleted obscurities of this era, ripped and shared across multitudes of niche blogs. When I first obtained photocopies of VOX in the late 90s, there was so much in it that was alien to me. Given the volume of information it presents across 15 issues, there are still many outstanding curiosities and potential treasures demanding attention.

Undoubtedly, VOX was much more than a music magazine, but would it really be getting this reissue treatment if it were just an abstract arts magazine from yesteryear? The era of noise it inhabited, while in dusty doldrums for many years, is more recently recognised as a mainstay of major cultural currency and considerable influence. And the beauty of this particular publication is that the lure of better known names throughout the content is more than enough to send the average enthusiast digging toward the obscurities and, in particular, Irish entities long buried in successive mudslides of life.

It would be a major oversight to round up this dissection without mentioning Hi-Tone Books – ever the purveyors of studiously passionate archival, editorial and design quality – I would expect no less. We are lucky to have them!

…Get it here…

…review of… WHERE WERE YOU? – DUBLIN YOUTH CULTURE & STREET STYLE 1950-2000 ( Garry O’Neill / Hi Tone Books 2011 )

2 Comments on “VOX 80-83 – No.1-No.15 complete (Hi Tone Books 2019)”

  1. Good article…but I think we had a fairly good idea of what we wanted Heat to be. Maybe it didn’t always work but as the “scene” grew , I think we changed to cover it. Promote good music,including Reggae and Local combos…and support and encourage them .Take the piss. Celebrate comics and movies and err Take the piss .

    All the best

    1. …cheers for your comment Jude… Would love to see HEAT collected in the same way some day…

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