-Hi. Thank you for taking the time. First off please introduce yourself; who are you, what do you do, where do you come from, what do you like…
I’m Vesperale, a visual artist and DIY maniac. I’ve been creating artwork and organizing gigs in underground metal/punk scenes for ten years now, with various collectives around the city of Lyon, in France. I also contribute to obscure fanzines and witchcraft and art publications ─I think I’ve been doing that for even longer than the rest. I sometimes participate in radio shows or do the occasional vocal appearance in extreme music, but I’m still a shy beast. In 2020 I launched Stryga, a new fanzine about Black Metal, which I’ve been into for a long time now.
-Tell us about Stryga. How was it born? What does it deal with? What’s the main idea behind it?
When you can’t find what you’d love to read/see, do it yourself, right? Stryga was born by following this advice. I wanted a fanzine that would combine underground metal, art, culture and dark old school imagery with a further interest in folklore, history, literature, occult praxis and sociology. It’s fascinating to link various fields because music isn’t isolated, it’s inspired and promoted by other cultural outputs.
I have a deep interest in printed zines about Black, Death and extreme Metal, which are the music genres I listen to. I like them not only for the enlightening views of musicians about their creative process, but also because of the dark and raw aesthetics created by passionate minds. At the same time, I’m pissed off because of all the patriarchal, racist and conservative ideas present in metal communities and, consequently, in a lot of zines, gigs, fests… That was my main motivation to start a new zine.
It’s ludicrous how mainstream ideologies still prevail in a “counterculture” that should value stances against authority and aim to challenge the status quo. We could talk for hours about social factors that explain why people educated as girls are still a minority when it comes to metal musicians. PoC, women, queer, trans and disabled musicians are barely seen in most of extreme metal zines and are hardly considered as legitimate as cis white males in this community. Unless you match with some stereotype that falls in line with the popular opinion, you’ll have to prove yourself twice and it will probably not be enough to be accepted as a peer. The lack of representation is a vicious circle: if you can’t identify yourself with members of a certain scene, how can you feel you could belong? (Not to talk about the deep and repulsive effect of common intimidation and harassment within the community).
In our society, historically discriminated people are educated to feel unable to use violence, even if it’s just artistically. Dealing with it or accepting any form of inner aggressiveness rarely comes without guilt or shame. When women*, people of color and lower-class people express themselves in a violent way, it is often judged as pathological. That’s how the State and the dominant classes defuse our power.
But the right to involve ourselves in cathartic and violent manifestations of our existential feelings ─e. g. showing explicit anger or creating tormented works of art─ should not be just for some privileged edgelords. And that’s what Stryga claims. That being said, the criteria for appearing in Stryga still has to do with the music’s quality or originality in any of the subgenres we chose to promote (and that is subjective as fuck!). I talk about politics here but the content of the fanzine deals more with culture than with explicit politics. Each featured artist has her/their own opinion about Stryga’s approach and I’m not their spokesperson.
-Even if it’s something collaborative it’s your idea. How have you managed to pull it through and bring other people onboard? Who are all these contributors?
It began with sharing an online open call and sending some e-mails to people whose work I really liked. I also had the chance to meet other women involved in extreme music scenes IRL, and sometimes they were already writing interviews and reviews ─take, for example, the great Grünewald and Dysthymie. I invited these journalists along with amazing visual artists, writers and other fantastic projects like Queens of Steel webzine (wink). For this issue Zero, contributors are only women and queer and trans people.
I wanted Stryga to be an informal network where people from different parts of the world could converge and share their love for underground music culture. I had never met some of them IRL, but I’m grateful they all submitted something for this collective effort. I have included every submission I received ─except a text that didn’t respect the guidelines and an essentialist artwork─ because everything was beautifully fierce. In our pages you will see participants from Mexico, Slovakia, UK, USA, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, France… They are musicians, illustrators, tattoo artists, writers, journalists or simply black metal enthusiasts.
-How long did it take you to go from the initial idea to producing the physical object? How has the whole process been?
I had been dreaming about this feminist metal zine for years, but Stryga came out of my insomniac brain in 2020. The first thing I did was to post a public open call. Having already published various collaborative zines, I knew how to manage the whole process ─from the initial draft to the final distribution of copies. But that doesn’t mean it was simple for me, because I unfortunately had to do everything in my free time. It takes a lot of time and energy to talk with more than twenty contributors (plus a lot of curious people asking for info) and to deal with the layout of 64 pages and various technical issues… Not to talk about late submissions, invoices and choices of printing (with paper cost rising during the covid crisis) and finding and dealing with distributors! As I spent most of my time at my day job or in other collective actions, it took almost one year to print and release the zine. But it was worth all the sweat and blood, I’m thrilled about how all the texts fit together and I’m grateful for what each participant offered to this zine.
-How do you edit and finance something like this? Who are Absaintes?
Absaintes is the non-profit publishing house I founded to release this collaborative zine. It aims to be an anarcho-feminist collective of publishers and artists. We want to edit stuff outside of mainstream channels, provide creative workshops and organize events.
I’ve mixed feelings about crowdfunding, but I wanted to sell a larger number of copies than with my past zines because my goal was to raise enough money to help a polish pro-abortion network. So, in order to personally get enough money to print nearly 400 copies of Stryga and considering I was broke ─the artist’s life haha─, I managed to get hired in the only job that hasn’t sucked all life out of my soul… I became a university librarian!
Even if my first fanzines were cut and pasted and xeroxed in the good old way, I designed the last ones with publishing software because it offers greater possibilities for the layout, especially when contributors send only digital images and texts. So Stryga was printed with the offset press of a printing house instead of being photocopied because I had this opportunity and wanted to try a new way of printing. I wanted to pay tribute to the old school black and white raw aesthetics of the fanzines I loved, but also to give myself freedom to experiment with new designs and compositions, always guided by intuition.
-In Stryga there’s not only music. Yet everything is Black Metal. How do you bring together the Black Metal imagery with your political ideas? What connections do you make?
It was important to feature articles about culture and also illustrations, because a music genre is not complete without its aesthetics and the cultural sources that inform it (and sometimes these sources are the problem). The visual codes that shape black metal build a powerful identity and it’s very exciting to play with the rules. Regarding cultural articles, for example, the text about Satanic Feminism written by Grünewald (which covers the main points of a bigger scholar work) explains very well the bonds between the dissident luciferian spirit that inspires BM and the leftist struggle for emancipation.
Stryga is a zine in which to share our passion for black metal. But we’re not satisfied just by blindly following the “kvlt”. We want to desecrate conservative ideals of purity within the genre, defile its codes to reclaim its initial subversive spirit. We want to explore this violent, raw and eerie imagery that we very much love as an act of empowerment. The history of BM is evolving all the time, and there are breaks and continuities… So it’s interesting to acknowledge its non-monolithic aspect without being idealistic and romantically naive.
-Black Metal doesn’t precisely stand out for this kind of political involvement (e. g. compared to Hardcore/Punk). What have you ran into during the process? Has it been a hard journey?
It’s common knowledge that the BM scene is plagued with sketchy conservatives and fascist people. But I don’t think they’re a majority even if they’re more visible (let’s just not keep making room for them). The zine has been very well received by a lot of other black metal fans, much to my surprise. I’ve had to deal with a few critiques in my immediate circle, some blaming Stryga for being too committed and not following trve kvlt BM orthodoxy, and others for not being political enough. It was a big challenge to combine feminism and BM so it’s normal it has disturbed some purists confined to both fields. Our purpose is not purity, it’s to explore new liminal territories, to create fruitful dynamics of confrontation and creative emulation.
In some of my other zines I chose the most explicit way of speaking about radical ideas, but with Stryga I’m not interested in preaching to the choir and the content is artistic above all. It’s fine if Stryga is more open and maybe reaches unaware metalheads who have sexist views. Not as a trap or propaganda, but maybe as a chance for them to discover content they like even if it doesn’t stick to their ideology (so optimistic haha). That being said, Stryga does not compromise and contains some violently radical artworks and texts because, let’s face it, we like this music for its sublimation of violence. We need it. We need artistic spaces to express aggression when even our activist groups ask us to act gently “not to do disservice to the cause” we fight for. Yet the injustice around us fuels an inner fire that wants to bring this society to ashes (and that could burn out our inner selves if we keep completely passive).
It’s uplifting to see that Stryga receives more and more great feedback from old school metal zine makers. And fans are very curious about our initiative. The graphic design seems to bring all the readers together and people congratulate us for the illustrations, for the layout and for taking a stand without being boring. A few are hostile to the idea of “not promoting any men-only projects”. But their weak reasoning does not stand to scrutiny: there are already plenty of Metal zines talking about cis men projects only, without even realizing they’re doing that. So if you think that selection by gender is unfair, then the content of the majority of metal zines should not be acceptable for you. I’m not fond of the concept of “positive discrimination”, but let’s admit that the actual social discrimination makes it necessary; this tool is not good in itself, it’s needed only regarding the situation and shouldn’t be used thoughtlessly.
-The proceeds of the fanzine are donated to a charity. Please tell us more about this.
I prefer to use the term “solidarity” because in French “charity” implies an insane vertical relationship. Having been involved in various feminist, antifascist and anti-capitalist actions, it was important for me to find a way to keep helping even in a moment when I feel the urge to focus on artistic activities. As a non-profit zine and since we do non-paid volunteer work, selling the zines allows us to donate money to support direct action and not only recover the printing costs. When it’s possible, distros sell copies at “pay what you want” price because we want cultural goods to be accessible for everyone (our online distro sells it at 5€ because there’s no “chosen price” option), so we can’t know in advance exactly how much we will be able to donate, but the numbers are already encouraging.
At the release of the first issue, before the devastating overturn of Roe vs Wade in the US, we chose to support ABORTION WITHOUT BORDERS, an NGO network providing access to abortion for people in Poland. In this country, this basic right is considered a crime by the State, so people are forced to act in dangerous illegal conditions. AWB provides information, practical support and funding. This network is the result of collaboration between activist groups in four countries. These NGOs give information about safe medical abortion pills, internet sources for abortion pills and counseling, advice on abortion clinics… They also help to arrange travel and accommodation and/or offer funding for the costs of abortion abroad.
Nothing is ever won forever; we have to keep fighting everywhere. Even in France, where conservative parties want to cut back on hard-won reproductive rights. The right to abortion is a human right; we should all have the choice about whether we want to carry a child or not and, in general, about what we want do with our own body. These rights shouldn’t depend on where we are born or what passport we carry. Like in the US, anti-abortion laws have been imposed in Poland by a minority, due to the pressure of conservative catholic institutions. It’s distressing to see how bigoted moralists still have so much power upon our lives. The basic anti-Christianity that fueled the original black metal was a pretext for edgy in-need-for-attention teenagers to burn fragile wood churches at night… But maybe there are more significant causes to join for those who want to crush Christian authoritarianism?
-That’s all from our side. Thanks for your time and for your work. Feel free to add any last words if you feel like it. Or to tell us if there are plans for #2.
The open call for the second issue of Stryga is out! Go to:
Thanks for your invitation and congrats for what you do with Queen