David Gamage is as punk as they come. Active on the UK punk and hardcore scene for longer than I'm alive, he's done it all. Along with playing in bands such as Rydell, Couch Potatoes, and Joeyfat, he was the name behind British Hardcore Press, one of the most influential fanzines in the UK during the 90s. Nowadays, he shows no indications of slowing down. Not only he runs a great independent label Engineer Records, but he also released his first book 'Punk Faction,' a retrospective of BHP from '91 to '95. He has a lot more coming up, so it was the right moment to reach out to him for an interview. Read it below.
First of all, congrats on your book! It must feel amazing to finally hold it in your hands?
David: Thanks very much. It does. This is an old collection of zines, from the time, but nevertheless, to have them as a book in one edition is very nice.
It's been out for some time now. How happy are you with the feedback you got so far?
David: Well, it’s early days yet, and the official launch of 'Punk Faction' is alongside another book being published by Earth Island called 'Compression.' It’s by Tim Cundle, and it's another "punk rock" scene sort of book. They are being launched at parties with bands playing and us reading and signing the books, early in October. That said, 'Punk Faction' has been on Amazon for over a month now, and quite a few review copies have gone out. All the reviews I have seen so far have been very positive, so I am stoked.
A book like this has a limited, but also a very dedicated crowd. I would guess that it went well with the fans, but have you got any feedback from bands or musicians as well?
David: (laughs) Yes, definitely a limited readership I’d have thought, but that said, a lot of my friends were in the hardcore punk scene in the nineties and have been into alternative music and lifestyle since then. Anyone that age into alternative music or politics would get it, and get something from it. It is as much a social commentary on the time and site, as is a collection of band interviews and articles. Many of the interviews aren’t that good really, but if you take it all together, it’s an interesting snapshot of the scene at the time and how it worked. It was very interactive, very positive, very inclusive. We could all learn from that I think.
A few of the guys who had original issues – of which there were just about 500 of each of the nine issues – have asked for it, and my sons and their younger mates often ask me about older scene stuff like that too, so when I found the old originals I thought, why not. I wrote an intro to explain it all, and luckily Frank agreed to write a foreword for it, plus a few other buddies wrote review type things too. It will be interesting for different people in different ways, but I think there’s something in there for everyone.
So, what was the main motivation for releasing this book, and why do you think now is the right moment for it?
David: My main motivation is that I am a bit OCD, a completist, a collector nerd and I wanted one for myself, but I had the old originals, and a few people on social media were asking for missing issues for their collection, so it was an easy solution. But I have to say that as the project progressed, it became much more than that. Reading back through now, some of it struck me as naive, even wrong now, but I didn’t want to censor it. That’s the completist in me again.
What you have there is everything from the time, warts and all and people can make up their own minds about what parts they want and what they agree with. Some will read the interviews and reviews, some the articles, some just flick through. That’s fine. Now is a good time for it as frankly, the world needs a far more punk attitude. Do it yourself, get together, help each other, don’t be led by lying politicians. All that seems obvious to my age group, but may seem less so in the age of internet propaganda and social media scaremongery to people now.
As someone who is born in '89 in Eastern Europe, I don't know much about the UK scene of that time, so this book was more than an interesting read for me. Did you ever have in mind, doing the BHP, that it could be used as an insight of the UK scene for people outside the UK decades later?
David: Yes, I really did. That’s not some grand ego thing. There were and still are way better fanzines out there than BHP ever was. But it did represent the UKHC scene at the time very well. Demos on cassettes, people exchanging phone numbers and home addresses freely, kids helping each other and great gigs with such energy and positive attitudes. I’m sure it still exists, it’s just harder to see, so here’s a handbook for anyone that cares to read it.
Also, we had letters from and wrote about bands and clubs and scenes from all over the world at the time. In an issue in later ’93, we had a Croatian scene report / political piece from a Croatian guy called Siniša Družeta. It didn’t paint a rosy picture at all, but it suggested a few bands to check out and few venues for touring bands to play. Even that was impressive at the time considering what had just happened.
I have to admit that, before 'Punk Faction' I haven't heard of you or BHP and its influence. However, just the fact the foreword was written by Frank Turner and his words were enough to see how important it was. How does it feel to be recognized, and hear such words from people who are a staple in the music scene nowadays?
David: It is great. I was stoked when Frank said he’d write the foreword for the book. I used to play in a band called Rydell and Frank used to come and see us play quite a lot, even supported us a few times in London with his first band called Kneejerk. We’ve chatted since, and he is also helping me with another book I am writing now, more of a novel about the UKHC scene from the nineties up until the present. It is taking time to put together but will be a decent book, I hope.
I also run a record label, called Engineer Records, so still have a lot to do with the scene. For me, it’s my life so I always will have, and to say it’s important for my peers to recognize me and to hear such words from them on any of my work is reassuring and I am very grateful, of course. But even if they didn’t, I’d still want to have done this and keep doing all the things I do, as it’s important to me. To be a creative and contributing part of the scene is vital. You can’t just be a consumer, and everyone has something to offer.
There is one thing that I found pretty interesting. There is an interview with Green Day, and the first question is literally asking them to introduce themselves and their band. Have you ever had the slightest idea that some of those bands, small and new at the time, can become so iconic and huge? How does it feel to look at interviews like that from this perspective?
David: (laughs) We interviewed Green Day three times actually and my band, well bands, Couch Potatoes and then Joeyfat, played a bunch of shows with them too. They were such nice guys and real punk rockers. This was before they signed the big deal with Warner Brothers, but even now I’ll bet they are still a lot more "punk" than you’d think.
They wanted their music out there and heard, and were determined to do it. They worked hard on it, and they were good at it. The first time we toured with them, just a few UK shows between the '39 Smooth' and 'Kerplunk' albums, they were on an eight week European tour. Eight weeks! And that was before anyone had heard of them really. And yes, even back then, everyone who knew them knew they would be huge. They were just great. Other bands too, like Jawbreaker, Quicksand, Sugar, and Rancid, all deserved to be big. Many more that we spoke with though are never heard of now but were just as good bands – check out Understand, or Schema – they should have been way bigger. Looking at the interviews now though it shows that they were all just enthusiastic punk rock kids doing what they loved.
One last - do you plan to continue to release related issues as well in this form? Also, do you have any other works we can expect to see anytime soon?
David: Well yes, I mentioned that I am working on another book. A bigger, better version of 'Punk Faction,' with much more information and stories in it. I don’t know what it’ll be called yet, but I’ll get that done ASAP. I am well over 100 pages into it already, but it’s looking like a 300+ pager, so I need to start abbreviating. I’m not really sure how much people want to hear about sharing tour vans and stages with NOFX, Samiam, Alice Donut, or Green Day, but I am enjoying writing it.
I’m also speaking with some other fanzine editors from the time about possibly doing collections for them. Suspect Device, Mass Movement, Fear 'n' Loathing, there were a lot of good ones that should be seen. I also work with great bands on Engineer Records all the time too and have new releases from Bear Away, Sleave, Jack and Sally, Escape Elliott, and many more in the works right now. Just drop us a line at the firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll send you some goodies.
Follow David Gamage:
David Gamage Twitter: twitter.com/davidgamage
Engineer Records Website: engineerrecords.com
Engineer Records Facebook: facebook.com/engineerrecords
Engineer Records Twitter: twitter.com/engineerrecords
Engineer Records Bandcamp: engineerrecords.bandcamp.com