Week 6: Esoterra and Answer Me
Esoterra began as a little zine covering occulty type stuff and industrial music and gradually became the definitive in-house journal of what they called “extreme culture”. It had excellent production values with loads of great photos and graphics in each copy. I ended up distributing it for a while and was rewarded by receiving one copy of each issue which had an extra silk-screened cover.
Esoterra’s development into a full-blown magazine covering all aspects of the “extreme” mirrored my own interest in it. And by ‘mirrored’ I mean that, step by step, we were moving away from each other.
One thing which this exercise of clearing out has impressed upon me is that I used to really get into the detail of belief in a way I don’t now. I think I was operating on the basis that anything extreme was worth a look simply because it was “forbidden”. As if I was trying to draw a gigantic map of human consciousness by walking around the outer reaches of the coastline.
I am sure that part of this was due to a reluctance on my part to actually amalgamate all of this contradictory (and in some cases ludicrous) stuff into a coherent whole. That would have meant rejecting some stuff out of hand and wondering about how to actually apply all this weirdness in the real world. I think there is something in the psyche of a lot of young men which is attracted to just collecting stuff, of knowing about things that not many people know about. It is probably a substitute for having an identity of your own. Mind you, there are aspects of all that material that I am still interested in, and the experience has obviously been part of a process of growing up and becoming the (cough) well-rounded person I am today.
It is also worth mentioning that it was almost impossible to find out about a lot of things prior to the internet. Now that everything seems to be available, I think these areas have lost their power.
My voyage into the extreme began to hit the buffers when it became clear that there were actually people pushing rigid ideologies under the guise of “information access”, or freedom of speech, or transgression for the sake of it. For example anarchists in the US who seemed to have no problem welcoming the paedo-apologists of NAMBLA under their “anti-authoritarian” banner. And then there were the fascists.
Industrial music and punk had often flirted with fascism and the fascist aesthetic. In the case of Throbbing Gristle the imagery was used to raise questions about conformity and authoritarianism. Some of the bands that followed took the imagery and just ran with that, missing the point entirely.
The mid 90s saw the emergence of a few populist occult/fascist groups and magazines, largely based in the US again. At first some of this stuff came across as refreshingly different, but it turned out to be the same old wine in new bottles. The “movement” began to solidify into a scene, with all the usual cliches and limitations. Just as punk bands were routinely asked about animals rights or Crass, everyone now had to have an opinion on the end of the world or Anton LaVey. There was a love affair with fascism going on but most people kept it at the aesthetic level or at least denied that they held any political beliefs (for example Boyd Rice’s absurd “When I say I am a fascist I don’t mean it in a political way”).
The breaking point came for me when Esoterra issue 6 landed on my doormat. The contents were by and large up to the usual excellent standard. But there was also a full page advert for a group called RAHOWA included. RAHOWA = Racial Holy War. Here was a group with actual connections to political fascism (in the form of the wacko Church of the Creator). Undeniably “extreme”, but a line had been crossed.
I ended up having an argument with the editor and not distributing that issue. He informed me that the group had offered him money for a whole lot more advertising if he published an interview with them, but he had declined. We remained on reasonably good terms after that and no similar adverts appeared.
The next issue featured my interview with Mother Destruction – a brilliant group who managed to avoid all the stiff-right-arm posturing which seemed to be becoming the norm.
After that I think it dawned on me that the music was beoming less interesting compared to other things. It was pointless hanging about and watching an entire scene go down the toilet musically and ideologically at such an exciting time for dance music and other things.
To his credit, the editor of Esoterra continued to send me copies. By issue 9 I could see the funny side. He remains good natured to this very day and even dropped me a message via ebay to say hello and wish me well with the auctions.
Answer Me! was possibly the definitive article in “extreme”. Unlike yer proto-neofolk goths, Jim and Debbie Goad were true outsiders who didn’t seem to give a fuck about anything. Whilst the satanists were busy building up a whole new rack of “off the peg” cliches, the Goads were pouring more ketchup on sacred cows.
Each issue of Answer Me! was tens of thousands of words long, nearly all written by the couple. Rants included “why I hate being a jew”. There were extended articles where the Goads would report on various drug and alcohol dependency meetings, or call suicide helplines. Whilst US anarchists were cosying up to NAMBLA (see above) the Goads conducted a piss-taking phone interview with them.
Within the great writing were a few observations of Jim Goad’s background which revealed that he’d managed to rise above more badness than the average twenty-something satanist could even imagine. He later wrote a book entitled “The Redneck Manifesto” which on the surface was all about race in the USA, but was actually much more about class – a concept completely absent from virtualy all of the counter-cultural posturing I had witnessed. Now, why would that be?
RESULT: Most of the Esoterras went for over a tenner a piece. Some of the earlier ones (including the ultra-limited silk screen covered ones) went for a mere £3.65. Bizarrely Answer Me went for a paltry £1.24, i.e. less than I paid for it in the first place. Weird.