Astronauts #4

Something interesting that often comes up when perusing some older fanzine is getting a read on which bands my personally-beknighted critical cognoscenti were flipping out on at the time. It often makes me wonder just how regularly these folks are spinning those bands today. Dave Lang is really good at poking at these sorts of holes at both himself and others on his Devil’s Lexicon Instagram (which he now thankfully pledges will turn into a blog in the near future). I’m certainly not immune – anyone who wants to know how awesome the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion were in 1992-93 is welcome to read my old fanzine saying so. And I’m sorry.

A great example from Jon Dale’s Astronauts #4 is Tower Recordings. Hey, anyone out there play Tower Recordings this morning? Hall of Fame? I didn’t think so. But listen – I didn’t come here to guffaw and chortle. In fact, Astronauts is a magazine that I found this 2003 copy of a few years back, right around the time Matthias from Fordamning and now Discreet Music was doing this short-lived thing on his own Instagram, scanning these amazing DIY/noise/improv/ sub-sub-sub-underground fanzines, none of which I’d ever seen. Like Dale’s Astronauts. I put together an order with Ed Hardy at Eclipse Records and hauled in 5-6 really great ‘zines from the late 90s/early 00s, a time when I really wasn’t paying any attention whatsoever to Tower Recordings and the Vibracathedral Orchestra and so forth.

It was really a mental reconstruction process on my part. Thankfully Dale’s a tremendous sherpa in that regard. He’s been writing all over the place for years, both in underground and overground publications, online and off. I associate him with deep knowledge of The Garbage and the Flowers and other aspects of the 90s New Zealand underground, from the lathe-cutters to “bigger” names you’d see on labels like Siltbreeze or Drag City. Astronauts #4 is a great companion piece to that world, just 8-10 years later and focused on global acts straddling atonality, folk, discordant noise and experimentation in many forms. So much of the stuff was so deeply a part of a “limited edition” underground that there are acts covered in here that I simply can’t find on the internet, and records that aren’t pull-up-able on Soulseek. There’s even a reprint of a Shirley Collins interview from an earlier issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope. Now her I know!

So I asked Dale via email five or six years ago if he might have any other back issues of Astronauts I might be able to procure to further help my learning process along, and well, let’s just say he’d rather not think about it. I believe his words were something to the effect that he’d “likely be sick” if he looked at his own writing in this magazine from twenty years ago. Thou doth protest too much! Sure, the cover of Astronauts #4’s not much to look at, but I think this captures a time, place and an aesthetic of exploratory, rock-adjacent music-making exceptionally well. I’m honored to have it in my collection, and might even give Tower Recordings another go one of these years.

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