|Based in||San Francisco|
Maximumrocknroll, often written as Maximum Rocknroll and usually abbreviated as MRR, is a not-for-profit monthly zine of punk subculture. Based in San Francisco, MRR focuses on punk rock and hardcore music, and primarily features artist interviews and music reviews. Op/ed columns and news roundups are regular features as well, including submissions from international contributors. By 1990, it "had become the de facto bible of the scene".MRR is considered to be one of the most important zines in punk, not only because of its wide-ranging coverage, but because it has been a consistent and influential presence in the ever-changing punk community for over three decades.
Maximumrocknroll originated as punk radio show on Berkeley's KPFA in the late 1970s, but it is in its zine form that MRR exerted its greatest influence and became as close to an institution as punk ideology allows. It was founded by Tim Yohannan in 1982 as the newsprint booklet insert in Not So Quiet on the Western Front, a compilation LP released on the then-Dead Kennedys' label Alternative Tentacles. The compilation included forty-seven bands from Northern California and nearby areas.
The first issues focused on the local and regional music scenes, but the coverage soon expanded to the entire continent and, by issue five, cover stories included features on Brazilian and Dutch underground punk. In the '80s, MRR was one of the very few US fanzines that insisted on the international scope of the punk movement, and strove to cover scenes around the world. Today the zine has surpassed its 300th issue, and continues to include international content and a strong political bent. It also includes artist interviews, letters, commentary, guest columnists, and extensive sections for independent reviews of punk recordings, demos, books, films, videos, and other zines.
MRR has a large and dedicated all-volunteer staff motivated by a robust DIY ethic. MRR reinforces the values of the punk underground by remaining independent and not-for-profit in contrast to the small number of the major media conglomerates which fund most mainstream artists. Every month, MRR publishes many band interviews freely contributed by fans. In addition, first-hand "scene reports" from across the globe keep the worldwide punk scene connected.
MRR has always had a policy of not giving coverage to, nor accepting advertising from, bands that record on major labels. That policy extends to bands that are "produced and distributed" by a major label. For many years the magazine turned a large profit, but much of that money was reinvested in community projects, most notably the performance space at 924 Gilman Street. Using a mostly volunteer staff, "Gilman" remains one of the world's most important and longest-lasting punk rock clubs. MRR also directly sponsored The Epicenter Zone, a record store and show space in San Francisco, and helps fund numerous other clubs and musical projects around the world.
Since Yohannan's death in 1998, the magazine has continued to operate on essentially the same economic principles.
1994 content controversy
With punk rock achieving mass and even mainstream popularity in 1993, MRR found itself swamped with promotional records, interviews, and advertisements only tangentially related to the original raw musical form of previous decades. This prompted a tightening of content parameters, first marked by a short statement by founder and de facto editor in chief Tim Yohannan leading the record reviews section of the January 1994 issue. Yohannan declared that the magazine would not review releases by major labels or their subsidiaries or those from "big indie labels that used to be known as 'punk' labels but are turning out the most dreadful rock imaginable." He further declared that "less and less emo, heavy metal, post-hardcore, and pop" would be reviewed owing to a tendency of those musical forms to adopt "all the egotistical self-indulgences of early '70s hard rock."
This hardening of the publication's musical line was further emphasized in the following issue, dated February 1994, in which Yohannan responded at considerable length to the leading letter to the editor critical of the new review policy. In his reply Yohannan noted that the printer had declared that a maximum physical size for the publication had been reached, that the number of record releases had been expanding dramatically, and that lengthy backlogs ranging from 1 to 4 months existed for advertising and interview publication. Cuts were thus necessary. Yohannan asserted that certain musical subgenres such as "some emo, some metal, some pop, some grunge...but not all" had deviated from their punk roots so far "as to be no longer be identifiable as such." Consequently, not only would reviews of such music be rejected, but advertising for such musical releases as well.
Yohannan observed that
"As this scene has gotten bigger, the pressure has increased on MRR to meet everyone's needs. We can't.... What I've asked these labels to do is make ads for the releases they know we'll cover, but it is ok to mention other releases somewhere in the ad. Or, they can use classifieds. That's better than nothing, and still allows us to have fun doing what we want to do."
The outrage of affected labels and critics of the notion that punk rock was a musical form rather than a lifestyle pose was palpable and the reaction swift. By May 1994 a rival emo-friendly publication had emerged in Chicago called Punk Planet, prominently featuring among its columnists Lookout Records chief and former MRR columnist Larry Livermore — by now beginning to come under fire from Yohannan due to the growing commercial success of his label.
Acknowledging MRR's decisive place in the American punk rock scene, Livermore charged that MRR had unfortunately "fallen victim to the fate that generally affects institutions when they become so big and powerful that they lose touch with their roots." Asserting that MRR had increasingly come to resemble "a lifestyle journal for retro-punks," Livermore declared that "strict rules (and if MRR gets their way, they'll be even stricter)" had emerged "determining how punk is to be played."
Some 80 issues of Punk Planet would be produced before the magazine expired in 2007.
In addition, yet another rival fan magazine would emerge in response to MRR's 1994 tightening of coverage, HeartattaCk. Published by Kent McClard and Lisa Oglesby, HeartattaCk would be published from March 1994 until its termination in June 2006.
Maximum Rocknroll would continue along its appointed course, impacted only minimally by the content controversy and the 3-way split which resulted.
Over its years of publishing, MRR has featured a number of prominent writers, musicians, and personalities as columnists, such as Mykel Board, Brian Zero, Jeff Bale, Chris Bickel, Jennifer Blowdryer, Anonymous Boy, Mike Bullshit, Eugene Chadbourne, Felix Havoc, Larry Livermore, Kent McClard, Nick Pell, Jack Rabid, Ben Weasel, Matt Wobensmith, Wells Tipley, George Tabb, Jen Angel, Sam McPheeters, Daniel Stewart, Layla Gibbon, Alexandre Simon and editor Tim Yohannan. Its pages have also served as a springboard for artists and illustrators like Ted Rall and Dan Henk.
The fact that MRR has become so large has not been without controversy: the zine has many critics on a number of issues. Editorial policy has sometimes been accused as narrow-minded or even elitist, causing some labels to boycott advertising in the zine or sending releases for review. The fact that punk is often considered as a movement opposed to authority and large institutions (see punk ideology) has also been an argument used to criticize the zine, which has sometimes been referred to as the "Bible of Punk".
Musicians have also spoken out against the magazine. Jello Biafra claimed the magazine's criticism of him inspired people to assault him at a 1994 performance at 924 Gilman Street, though his assailants were not known to be affiliated with MRR in any way. He also claimed that their narrow definition of punk music amounts to a new form of political correctness. According to Biafra, "If 'Holiday in Cambodia' were released today, it would be banned from Maximum Rock N'Roll for not sounding punk." Jared Swilley, bassist in Atlanta punk band Black Lips, has criticized the magazine saying in an interview with Clash that it is the "most bullshit piece of fuck garbage poor excuse for a magazine ever. They’re like: ‘Oh, we want to keep everything ‘authentic’…’ And I’m like, fuck them! Don’t use a computer, don’t use a car, don’t drink Coca-Cola. Move to a field, grow your own food."
- Tim Yohannan, "Record Reviews," Maximum Rocknroll no. 128 (January 1994), pg. 124.
- Jeff H. to MRR and response by Tim Yohannan, "Letter A," Maximum Rocknroll no. 129 (February 1994), pp. 14-15.
- Larry Livermore, "Column," Punk Planet, no. 1 (May–June 1994), pp. 5-7.
- Dan Sinker, "Punk Planet Was Awesome: It Changed a Lot of Things. Then It Ended." www.punkplanet.com/
- Bad Subjects: Interview with Jello Biafra