Most people don’t associate Los Angeles with a thriving punk scene. But Slash magazine, in a short run from 1977 to 1980, offered proof of a gritty punk subculture teeming in the balmy Southern California climate.
The weekly publication started as an art project by then-couple Steve Samiof and Melanie Nissen, Slash’s co-founders. They were deeply entrenched in the punk and new wave scene, and wanted to showcase Nissen’s photography that chronicled it. So in 1977, they founded Slash, combining Nissen’s documentarian lens with original interviews, album reviews, flyers for upcoming shows, as well as other artistic contributions from their friends.
After nearly 40 years, the print issues of Slash have been anthologized into a book, Slash: A Punk Magazine From Los Angeles, 1977–80, released by Hat & Beard Press. The book includes reproductions of all 29 print covers, featuring punk icons such as Debbie Harry, Johnny Rotten, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, as well as noteworthy interviews and reviews. New essays and Q&A’s from former writers and people in the scene have been added for context, and so has a folder filled with reproductions of flyers of 77 notable bands like Germs, Screamers, Weirdos, The Bags, X, Catholic Discipline, The Zeros, The Go-Go’s, and others.
Slash discerned itself and the Los Angeles music scene by introducing an unlikely optimistic vision of punk with an opening statement published in the first issue of the magazine:
The magazine was built out of curiosity and out of hope. Curiosity regarding what looks like a possible rebirth of true rebel, music, hope in its eventual victory over the bland products professional pop stars have been feeding us. May the punks set this rat-infested industry on fire. It sure could use a little brightness!
While New York’s counterpart magazine, Punk, promised to document punks in all their “warts, moles, pimples and all,” Slash saw vibrancy in the mosh pits, and sought to capture the energetic Los Angeles scene and its abundant creativity. Samiof told the LA Weekly, “It was an act of love and joy, and that’s about as anti-punk as you can be.”
But beneath Slash’s eager and inquisitive outlook was plenty of brutal candor. It recognized that disco, a genre which superficially represented all that was fun and upbeat, was in reality quickly decaying. They were firmly against popular music and lambasted out-of-touch rockers: “About time we squeezed the pus out and sent the filthy rich old farts of rock ’n’ roll to retirement homes in Florida where they belong.”
Slash believed “objective reviewing” was a thing of the past. Their interviews were always informally raw and relaxed, often done drunkenly and without prepared interview questions. Its first interview with the members of The Damned — who badmouth virtually every other punk musician of the time — is one example of Slash’s adherence to uncensored and ruthless journalism.
While the magazine did early interviews with eminent LA punk bands like X and The Screamers, Slash didn’t limit itself to covering punk music. It gave press to local reggae, rockabilly, and blues bands of the time, and featured Peter Tosh of The Wailers on its cover in 1978. Its regular writers-slash-musicians, such as Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Chris D., Pleasant Gehman, and Claude “Kickboy Face,” later went on to contribute music reviews to larger publications like SPIN and the LA Weekly.
Samiof and Nissen both studied photography, but were informed by the anarchic aesthetic of punk album covers of the time. Many of their magazine layouts were limited by cost and resources, and so they were always haphazardly put together. Years later, they admit they were forced to improvise when the sizes of the text or photos were off.
Nissen’s images captured bold styles of that era with images of punks wearing safety-pin piercings, torn clothing, and mohawks. On-the-ground at live shows, Nissen documented the energy of the scene, often in bygone venues like the Tropicana and the Starwood. Print magazines, and underground zines in particular offered entry into subversive music scenes the mainstream media shunned. Because Slash included event flyers and album reviews as well, it was often where people looked to find music and shows. Gary Panter’s comic Jimbo, which satirically documented punk subculture, was also featured in Slash long before he gained mass artistic recognition.
Recently many seminal punk zines have been anthologized, such as Destroy All Monsters, Punk, and Touch and Go. Two other California punk zines, No Mag and Damage have also been digitally catalogued, though Slash differentiates itself because it both honestly documented the Los Angeles punk scene in the late ‘70s and created a singular aesthetic that was both raw and artful. Alice Bag of the Bags recalled, “They had the best documentation. They were the most professional of the publications.”
After its founders broke up in 1979, Slash magazine folded in 1980. New management turned it into a record label in the ’80s. The founders took very separate paths, with Samiof going into hotel trade and Nissen becoming a professional photographer and art director. In recent interviews, they describe Slash as kind of an experiment done on a very low budget, but the magazine foretold the rise of many prominent punk bands.
Anthologizing a short-lived magazine might not seem truly punk, but Slash: A Punk Magazine From Los Angeles, 1977–80 offers a physical format likely to engage uninitiated readers. The book organizes fragments of the magazine while retaining the spirit of the original publication, contextualizing the subculture in a freshly accessible, albeit more refined form. With new commentary and ephemera, the punk subculture of the time is revitalized and canonized in a 500-page glossy art book Slash’s founders never imagined could be realized.