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Big Takeover - Big Takeover Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 13 / 1 / 2002

Big Takeover - Big Takeover Interview


Jack Rabid is the editor and founder of New York's highly acclaimed 'The Big Takeover' magazine, one of the longest-lasting and most important of all American alternative music fanzines. 'The Big T

Jack Rabid is the editor and founder of New York's highly acclaimed 'The Big Takeover' magazine, one of the longest-lasting and most important of all American alternative music fanzines. 'The Big Takeover' began in 1980 as a one-page punk newsletter with an edition of 100, and over the course of the last two decades Rabid has expanded it into a twice yearly 230 page tome with an international circulation of 12000 copies. While in its early years 'The Big Takeover' focused entirely on punk rock , Rabid has since widened its emphasis to concentrate also on all other kinds of post-punk, independent and underground music, and what he defines-in a slogan on the front cover of each edition- as 'music with heart'. Rabid has been resident in Manhattan for over years, living and working on 'The Big Takeover' from the same small apartment that he has rented since high school graduation. The Big Takeover's original conception, however, came thirty miles to the west in the small New Jersey commuter town of Summit, where Rabid, whose real name is Jack Corradi, grew up, listening as a young boy to 'The Beatles', and then in his teens to David Bowie, Iggy Pop, 'The Velvet Underground' and 'The Ramones'. By 1980, aged eighteen, he had discovered the new and then still-to-be-named 'Hardcore' movement, and starting to make regular trips into New York, had become a part of the punk scene that was still congregating then around the legendary Max's Kansas City and CGBGs clubs. The first edition of 'The Big Takeover', which was written in an afternoon, was about one of the bands from that movement, 'The Simulators', and Rabid and his founding partner, Dave Stein, chose the title for their new magazine from a song by another of the groups from that era, the punk/dub reggae outfit 'Bad Brains'. " Bad Brains were actually living at my house at the time." Rabid reflects in an interview with Pennyblackmusic. "They were by far the best local band and had just moved up here from Washington D.C. Before that they had been playing here more regularly even than a lot of our New York bands, and they hadn't released anything but one single. A lousy two songs ! 'The Big Takeover' had itself not been released, and would not be released for another two years. We felt that we were incredibly cool calling our magazine after something which no one would have any idea was a Bad Brains song except for the people who saw them regularly." Rabid and Stein drew up the first issue on a hand typed piece of paper, and photocopying it at the local public library, went into New York that night where they handed out most of the hundred copies at Max's Kansas City. The remaining copies they left at two downtown record stores, 'Bleeker Bob's' and '99 Records'. "It is something that no one thinks about now, but punk rock was considered dead by the entire media in 1980 and they had all moved on" Rabid says, describing his original motivation for putting out 'The Big Takeover'. "They were all saying "That was three years ago." "That was 1977" or "That was 1976". Amidst all the post-punk stuff and all the different scenes that were happening-the ska, the rockabilly,the new wave and power pop-I, however, thought that punk was far from dead, and it was the one thing that was no one was covering." "A lot of the West Coast bands were hanging around like 'The Germs' and 'The Weirdos', and new bands were forming like 'The Dead Kennedys', and no one was covering them really outside the punk fanzines, and there certainly wasn't any coverage of the East Coast bands like The Bad Brains and The Stimulators, or people like that, so we just figured we would do it. We were going to these gigs regulary and were meeting all kinds of like-minded people, and we just wanted to throw our hats into the ring." "Within years, of course, the press began to change their minds because the beat was given a new name, Hardcore, and it actually for the first time ever got out of the five or six cities in America that punk rock had an establishment in. If you were a punk rock fan here in 1979, it wasn't like in England where the music was in the charts. It meant that you and a hundred other people had stumbled on this music, and you went to all the gigs and you got to know each other. It wasn't this massive movement. It was very tiny and it was really restricted to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Houston, Toronto, and that was about it. Even Chicago didn't get on it to later. There would be a few people at those gigs, but not many." By the time of the second issue, Stein had left New York to go to college in Boston, and Rabid carried on alone. The first twelve issues of 'The Big Takeover' were all free, and there were no interviews for the first seven years until 1987 and Issue 23 when Rabid interviewed guitarist Steve Diggle from 'The Buzzcocks', and quickly followed this up in the next edition with interviews with both Ian McCulloch from 'Echo and the Bunnymen' and Steve Fellowes from 'The Comsat Angels'. By the mid-eighties, fanzine publishing was in crisis with many magazines in financial trouble being forced to close. "Within a few years, all the magazines that covered the post-punk stuff, and all the underground stuff also folded. 'The New York Rocker' folded, 'Trouser Press' folded, 'Slash Magazine' folded, and all these other 'zines folded, so all of a sudden I couldn't get any coverage on any underground music, so we widened the focus of the magazine around '83 to cover all other forms of post-punk and underground music." Each edition of 'The Big Takeover', therefore, grew subsequently steadily bigger, and has continued to grow ever since. Now in its forty fifth edition and at 200+ pages, glossy-covered and computer-generated, every new magazine carries on average ten long interviews, another ten 'Short Takes' in which groups, who are generally new or upcoming, are profiled ; a range of editorials and live reviews, and also up to a hundred pages of album reviews including Rabid's Top 40 picks of the moment. For the first ten years 'The Big Takeover' ran at a small loss, but from 1990 it has broken even and in the last few years it has made a profit. Rabid for its first fifteen years held down a variety of day jobs, having spells of employment both in an accountant's office and as a teaching assistant, and finally as the drummer in the indie rock trio 'Springhouse' while he worked on 'The Big Takeover' in the evenings and at weekends. Since 1995, however, Rabid has been able to earn enough income from it to be able to make it his full-time occupation and job. He puts its success down to a variety of factors. "We grew so gradually and so slowly that we never over-stepped our balance"he says. "We have never taken a penny in loans, even from friends, let alone institutions, so we have never been in debt, and by growing slowly the funding has always been modest. There has been always just enough money to get out another issue. We have, as a result, never been put in the position where the money was killing us. We lost money the first ten or twelve years, but it was always in a moderate sum, and it was like a hobby." He thinks of 'The Big Takeover' as " a magazine with some fanzine values",and his tireless enthusiasm and energy both as a music fan and a writer , often working late into the night and giving up entire weekends for it as a result, especially in its early years, have also contributed greatly to its success. "Many magazines fold because it is a tremendous amount of work, a tremendous amount of effort." he acknowledges. " You have to show a lot of dedication. You do that a few times you may get tired of the burden and responsibility of it and fold. I can see that." "Maybe" he jokes "those people were the smart ones , and I was the dumb one." While he still writes the bulk of 'The Big Takeover' himself, various other like-minded people have become involved over the years, both in the writing of the magazine and in its production, and their help has been another important component in the magazine's development. The relationships and the friendships that Rabid has been able to strike up with many of them is the element of working on 'The Big Takeover' that he has enjoyed the most. "As we have grown we have added people who are music lovers" he reflects."And as a result it is not a job to them . It is not a giant hassle." " I've actually met pretty much all my girlfriends through it all over the years" he says, adding self-deprecatingly " Not because they read the magazine and said "I admire his work, I would like to meet him", more because they were contacts I made." "The girlfriend thing is, however, just an outgrowth of that. I have met so many interesting people, so many people who are great music fans and to whom that is just a window to a much more interesting personality, whose interests extend long beyond music. The people who like this sort of music-the more intelligent form of rock and pop music and other forms of music-tend to be people who are bright and intelligent, and who prefer it because it is intelligent. The reason that they don't listen to 'Guns 'n' Roses', and they do listen to someone like Billy Bragg is not a coincidence. It is not arbitrary. It is not just because they stumbled on a Billy Bragg song, and said "Oh, That's catchy !", or because they thought it would make them feel cool to say they liked him. It is because they heard something in the music that touched them and moved them and made them think, and it is not surprising that they train those facilities to other forms of culture, such as politics and economics and history." Advertising, which is The Big Takeover's principal source of funding, has had a key role to play in its expansion also. Rabid believes that adverts are "important" as "they are information too", and every issue contains between fifty and sixty pages of advertising. Rabid admits frankly that " if I am to survive I need those ads and I need the revenue. I have long since learnt that if there are no ads that there is not going to be any writing, and it is always my first priority with a new issue to go out and look for them." He, however, maintains a strict policy about the kind of adverts that appear in his magazine, and unusually for a publication of its size and type, the only advertisments that appear on The Big Takeover's pages are those for music products. "Our ads are not for jeans. They are not for cars. They are not for perfume.They are not for clothing chains.They are not for vodka, cigarettes and all that crap. We are not a lifestyle magazine, and I resent greatly the so-called music magazines for whom the majority of their advertising is not for music. I don't begrudge a certain amount of those kind of ads because I know they are economics, but if you claim to be a music magazine, and there are no music ads in your magazine you are not a music magazine. You have priced out the labels. You are a lifestyle magazine of which music is just one passing entertainment." It is a policy that has proved to be practical as well as ethical. The increased number of indie and underground labels in recent years, and their subsequent need for advertising , have given Rabid further capital and resources to work with."The success of some of the alternative rock bands here in the early nineties has made it possible for me to make out a living now because there are so many independent labels that we can get advertising from." "In the late eighties we were much smaller because there were so fewer labels. The majors didn't want to advertise with us, What were they going to advertise ? Huey Lewis ? And the indies ? I could count twenty or thirty indies that had money of any kind. The others were just run by bands putting out their own records, who weren't able to advertise at all, so there wasn't any money in this." "Now there is a little float of labels who got their start because there was so much money pumped into the industry a while back, and there is a lot more people aware of this kind of music who can actually get a roster of bands together and market them." About now to enter its third decade, 'The Big Takeover', continues to grow and to develop, its size and circulation continuing to expand. The reputation of it and that of Rabid , who was elected by 'Request Magazine' as one of 'The Top 25 Influential People in Indie Rock', for intelligent,well-written, and focused journalism seems consolidated. The forthcoming year promises to be a busy one for Rabid. As well as working on 'The Big Takeover', he has sidelined since the early eighties as a musician. He was the drummer in a punk band 'Even Worse' from 1980 to 1984 and began his group Springhouse, who have recently reformed, in 1988. The band, which also consists of guitarist and singer Mitch Friedlander and bassist Larry Heinemann, originally split up in 1994 after in quick succession having their equipment stolen on a disastrous American tour and then being dropped by their record company 'Caroline'. They are now back in the studio working on a follow-up to their previous two CDs 'Land Falls' (1991) and 'Postcards from the Arctic' (1993). While previously it was a full-time concern, they are this time around working at a slower and more casual basis, all three members working in other jobs and projects as well, but have the added option of self-producing their own material for the first time. 'The Big Takeover', however, remains Rabid's main focus. Its forty fifth edition was released in December. It includes interviews with Joe Strummer, Brian Wilson, Astrid Williamson and former 'The Go Betweens' members Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, and short takes with 'Guided by Voices', Echo and the Bunnymen, 'The Delgados', Luke Haines from 'The Auteurs' and 'L7'. Rabid has already begun work on the follow-up, and the next edition which will feature ex-'Strangler' Hugh Cornwell, 'The Buzzcocks', Robyn Hitchcock and a rare interview with East River Pipe's F.W. Cornog ,will be The Big Takeover's twentieth anniversary magazine and he promises that it will more than a little special. 'The Big Takeover', "The Edwards Science Catalogue" of indie rock as it has once been described , will hopefully continue to inform and entertain us for many years to come.

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Big Takeover - Big Takeover Interview

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