Wednesday, May 10, 2006

True to type

For some reason I have been quite taken lately with trying to remember all the obscure indie bands I liked in the 80s. How quickly we forget - until I looked them up I'd almost forgotten they existed: The BMX Bandits; Close Lobsters; The Orchids ("I'm drinking Irn Bru and I'm thinking of you" - clearly a classic of its time); The Bodines. In some circles it was a point of honour to be able to name bands no one else had heard of.

Before CDs, before the internet, before digital technology of any kind, you could write off for a fanzine (one I remember particularly was an Edinburgh "'zine" called Alternatives to Valium, which I thought was very cool at the time) which would consist of four sheets of photocopied A4 paper stapled together, with a seventh-generation band photo on the front and written entirely in Courier because that was the only typeface on the old typewriters - the kind where you had to hit the key quite hard and a skinny length of metal shaped a bit like a grasshopper’s leg, with the letter on the end, would spring out of its bed and whack a length of ink-soaked cloth to create an imprint on the paper.

I think in some ways the fanzines were a reaction to the looming onslaught of technology and the shock of the new, the slickness of the 80s; they were home made and low-tech, and often came with a flexidisc of some quasi-plastic material hardly more durable than rice paper, which when played on your turntable emitted the tinny, scratchy sounds of effete guitar bands with whimsical names. CDs were regarded as the enemy; as heralding the Death of Music; and as somehow not being as real as vinyl.

When I first started in legal publishing, which was in the mid-90s and not that long ago, all the terms used actually meant something: “leading” was the divider between the lines of type holding them in place, which was made out lead; and “typesetting” was literally setting type, each letter individually placed in a row next to the others to make up a page.

We outsourced typesetting to a company in Roslin, near Penicuik, which was full of old men who had been working there for years; they all seemed to have beards and pot bellies and stood around with their sleeves rolled up, with the ease borne of long experience, smokin’ a fag with half an eye on the machines, presumably wondering what things had come to with these wee lassies telling them what to do. They were already using newer technology but still regarded the old methods as the real thing, and one of them showed me the rapidly-obsolescing equipment with real pride, hefting the heavy letters in his hands.

1 comment:

Herschell Hershey said...

Thanks for remembering Alternatives to Valium. You can find more of the same on the blog of the same name, though I haven't worked out how to wire my Olivetti typewriter up to the internet, for that authentic Courier typeface (complete with bulges uf Tippex).