Southend fanzine archive coming soon!

CERG are very excited to announce the soon to be published Southend on Zine project by Graham Burnett. We have written a foreword to this stunning collection of zines throughout the years – You can read our text below. As soon as it’s published, a link will appear on this blog.


Kicking Cultures: How Fanzines Make the Alternative

The impetus for Graham Burnett’s wonderfully comprehensive curation of local fanzine culture apparently began after he attended one of our Club Critical Theory (CCT) events back in 2018. The modest aim of this event, and the others we organised between 2014-18 at the much-missed Railway Hotel, was to generate critical discussion about the usefulness (or otherwise) of theorising the everyday practices we find in local communities. In some ways, we might consider CCT as a kind of hybrid format of fanzine culture. We certainly concentrated on alternative culture, albeit, in our case, the focus was on the application of critical theory to a wider range of cultural and political concerns. CCT was evidently delivered in person rather than in print, nevertheless, like most groups with a vested interest in local culture, we felt our approach deserved a wider audience. For us, criticality is all too often restricted to the rarefied confines, norms and paywalls of the university lecture theatre, as well as the status-seeking antics of a predominately middle-class academic population. CCT was our alternative to this world.

There are other associations to be made between CCT and fanzine culture. All three of the founding members of CCT have participated in the local music scene to some degree at various points in the trajectories of our lives. We have played in bands, DJ’d and significantly contributed to fanzines. Subsequently, from our experiences, we know first-hand that passionate discussions about the ideas and values people care about are always going on in every pub, bar and venue you enter. Another aim of CCT was to provide some structure to these debates. We invited people to speak who had something interesting and relevant to say. One such speaker was the journalist Tim Burrows, an Essex native himself, working for The Guardian at the time. In short, Tim’s writing documents Essex in alternative ways to the norm. His work presents a version of our much-maligned county that reaches out beyond the stereotypes of TOWIE and Essex Boy gangsters that tend to dominate mainstream media accounts. His interest in Essex resonates in many ways with the aims of CCT. Indeed, it was the interaction between Tim and Graham at this particular CCT event (on media demonisation and governmental neglect of coastal towns) that provided the inspiration for the fanzine project. Which is to say, beyond the clichés of seaside culture; beyond the tourist assets of Southend Pier, the amusement arcades and variety show venues, there were seemingly misplaced alternative histories of local culture. Graham’s conclusion at the time was that if these alternative cultures were to be acknowledged by a wider public, then, he needed to document them!

And now, over three years later, in this brilliant publication, Graham’s extensive documentation project has finally been realised. So, as critical theorists, our job in this foreword is to briefly ponder over what Graham’s efforts might tell us about the practices that have made Southend and its surrounding areas such a vibrant space for alternative cultures. One approach to this dynamic might draw on another CCT contributor, the historian Matt Worley, who takes his lead from the notable cultural theorist, Raymond Williams. For Matt, culture can be ‘bottom up’. It can be, as such, what Williams calls ordinary. We might say that the ordinariness of alternative culture emerges because people are impatient to make their voices heard and impart their own take on the world they inhabit.

Another approach needs to consider that all culture is produced. Culture is never a given; it is made. Importantly, then, the creative aspect of alternative culture does not occur in isolation. There needs to be a counter force! As the title of one of the fanzines discussed and archived in this collection makes clear, Southend’s music scene was not only Alive in the 1980s. It was Kicking too! Along these lines, the production of alternative culture needs to be negotiated in opposition to a standardised model of culture; it needs to importantly kick against the norm. But what is the norm that the alternative kicks against? As Matt would readily acknowledge, the production of alternative culture occurs against the backdrop of a relentless reiteration of what we might call official history. Exactly what these official histories amount to is, unsurprisingly, contested in critical theory. On one hand, we might consider them authorised histories, sanctioned by established agencies of the State who have a vested interest in promoting a sanitised version of the world that accords with the values and beliefs that maintain hierarchies of power. In some cases, these are histories of the so-called highbrow cultures one might experience through a ‘good’ education. In others, they are the result of neoliberal economics and crass commercialisation. Culture of this kind is made by local authorities interested in promoting bland tourist economies or local newspapers reporting on culture alongside column space for an advert for double glazing. On the other hand, though, these official histories seem to become further intertwined with the productions of discursive formations of power, which can, sequentially, produce their own stereotypical subjects. For example, dominant media culture can render working class communities, like those living in Southend, as somehow lacking in supposed cultural capital. Condensed in this way, Essex boys and girls become ideal fodder for such things as reality TV, poverty porn and low budget gangster movies.

Nonetheless, wherever we locate the dominant norm, people can become alternatively inspired by what they learn through direct interactions with their local environment. For instance, as an alternative to experiencing culture through the mediation of a local authority press release in The Evening Echo, people can simultaneously negotiate their own experiences in contrast to the normative assumptions they are presented with. Profoundly, then, to be alive; to even exist, alterative cultures need to kick against a norm. As follows, Graham’s documentation of alternative fanzine culture works like an underground press since it only really makes sense if there’s a ‘mainstream’ to kick against. In other words, there is no alterative radical underground culture without a mainstream conservative set of conventions to rally against.

The recollections in this archive are mostly accounts from people producing their own kind of kicking cultures. These are people doing it for themselves, seizing the initiative, and often in less-than-ideal material circumstances. This is because the production of alternative fanzine culture necessitates innovation and street-savvy approaches to resources with near to zero budgets. Certainly, the relation between bottom-up cultural production and cost-cutting exploratory uses of technologies, like early photocopying machines, Letraset transfers and DTP, warrants its own alterative history. This kind of cultural labour requires a highly motivated and skilled worker with an extraordinary degree (not a BA!) of visual creativity. The accounts in this publication of people looking back on what motivated them to produce their fanzines is in itself a fascinating archive of alternative cultural enterprise. In an age when there’s a design app to reproduce every established aesthetic take, it’s remarkable to be reminded of what people with drive, ambition, and a little kick can do on a limited budget. We enjoyed the ride, we’re confident you will too.

Andrew Branch and Tony Sampson

Co-founders, along with Giles Tofield, of the Cultural Engine Research Group, incorporating Club Critical Theory

Essex, summer 2021

Club Critical Theory Present Essex Futures Free Conference

Club Critical Theory: Essex Futures Conference

Venue: Civic Centre Southend-on-Sea, Committee Room 4a (close to Southend Victoria and Southend Central railway stations)

Dates: 15th-16th September, 2016

Club Critical Theory (CCT) host a free two day conference exploring ideas relevant to three public policy areas that have an impact on local communities within a national context

Keynote speakers

Robert Hewison (cultural historian and author of Cultural Capital: The Rise and Fall of Creative Britain)

Jack Monroe (writer, journalist and activist)

Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive of the RSA)

Programme will also include local entrepreneurs and key policy maker respondents – full details to follow.

Day One: Thurs 15th Sept

Doors open 9.30pm

Morning session 10am – 1pm

Introduction to CCT: Tony Sampson

Creative Industries and Entrepreneurialism: Exploring the drive by local authorities and other agencies to encourage growth in ‘creative sectors’. What impact is this really having on regional economies, and is it any more than simply ‘branding’?

Chair: Andrew Branch

Afternoon session 2-5pm

Food Cultures: Who is really setting the agenda in terms of policies on health and wellbeing in respect of what food we buy and consume? What can be done at a local level to improve ‘food cultures’ in the context of national policies which endorse a free market vision of society?

Chair: Giles Tofield

Evening drinks at the Railway Hotel

Day Two: Fri 16th Sept

Doors open 9.30am

Morning session 10-1pm

Cultural Policy, Heritage and Place-Making: What do we mean by ‘place-making’ at a local level? Who creates the stories and narratives that define how our towns and cities are to be ‘branded’? Does local cultural policy (where it still exists) have a role to play in creating really distinctive identities and differences in a globalised world economy? How is local ‘heritage’ being used to promote new narratives of towns, cities and regions?

Chair: Giles Tofield

Closing remarks by Andrew Branch

Free Registration here:

Conference Funded by the University of East London

About the Organisers

Club Critical Theory (CCT) is a partnership between the University of East London (UEL) and Southend based social enterprise, The Cultural Engine. Established in 2014, CCT is a public engagement programme that seeks to encourage academics to get out into community spaces to explore how radical theory can inform the imaginative life of society.

CCT co-founders: Giles Tofield (The Cultural Engine), Dr Andrew Branch (UEL) and Dr Tony Sampson (UEL)

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When Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 9:30 AM – Friday, September 16, 2016 at 1:00 PM (BST) – Add to Calendar Where The Civic Centre – Southend-on-Sea Essex


Thank you all for attending first CCT event

The first CCT event

We met yesterday to review the first CCT event and put in place plans for the next.

All of us are very pleased indeed with the turnout, interaction and feedback on the 17th April. Over the moon in fact.

It is great to know that there are so many people in Southend with an interest in critical theory, and ready to come down the pub to engage with it. Please tell your friends about us. We welcome anyone who wants to contribute or just listen (over a pint) to what critical theory has to say about Southend related issues.

We will be publishing a summary document of the first event on this site in the next few weeks. More to follow.


Re. next event

There will most probably be a change to the initial advertised May 25th date for the Kursaal as Heterotopia special. We want Angie Voela (from UEL) to come down and do her stuff on Foucault to complement artist and curator Jane Millar’s fascinating proposed project on the amusement park – and possibly another guest to be confirmed.

We  also have a guest DJ on the night – Twig the Wonder Kid 🙂

Hope you can all make this free event – will keep you all updated about new date and times here, twitter and on FB.


Iry’s Photos

Before Thursday evening’s first ever CCT event upstairs at the Railway we’d like to share some of Iry Hor’s specially commissioned photographs of the various territorializations and deterritorializations found in Southend’s urban spaces.

The photographs focus on the contrasts between the new college/university sites and the so-called gateway to Southend, including Heath House (below) and the old derelict college building nearby in Canarvon Road.

DSC_0124 modified copy

See more here