Wired world: Eighties survivor cracks the zine scene

Matthew Collin meets Mike Slocombe

Wired: Tuesday 17 June 1997

OVER a cup of strong coffee in the bustling Dogstar pub on Coldharbour Lane, one of the meeting points for Brixton's new Bohemia, Mike Slocombe is discussing the revolutionary potential of the Internet. The McSpotlight site, which exposed the issues raised during the McLibel trial, attracted huge numbers of visitors and demonstrated that the Net could perhaps fulfil the same role that the underground press did for the counterculture of the Sixties.

Slocombe, a dreadlocked political activist and Web designer in his thirties, has popped down from his high-rise flat in a nearby block which John Major once condemned as an example of the dismal failure of public housing schemes. Slocombe likes it there. He's got his computer, his modem and a panoramic view of London, and there are plenty of decent techno parties in the area.

It was music that brought Slocombe to London from his native Wales. As the drummer in a punk band, he played at the Roxy club in the late Seventies - although by that time, punk was on its last legs. Then, he confides, he "got caught in the Eighties thing": record deals, tours, bad haircuts, but little serious success.

In the Eighties, football fanzines began to give new, more thoughtful and often dissident voice to supporters who didn't fit the stereotypical image of the soccer hooligan. Slocombe's Cardiff City magazine, Bluebird Jones, was a hilarious compendium of cartoon art and politics.

"It took on issues like racism, sexism and homophobia in a comic-strip format. Racist, homophobic thugs would buy it and pat me on the back, saying, 'Nice one!' That was great, it showed me that if you communicate the message in the right way, people read it."

When the 1994 Criminal Justice Act was proposed, Slocombe realised that its measures curbing the right to protest would seriously affect football supporters. "It was obvious, the CJA was about public order, about controlling crowds, about how police treat gatherings of people." He launched Football Fans Against The Criminal Justice Act and this formed his introduction to the Internet, when a well-wisher offered him free Web space and the rock band The Levellers gave him a modem.

After spending an afternoon learning HTML, he launched Urban75, his own Web magazine, last year. It is probably the finest and best-designed independent site in Britain, and one of the most popular, claiming around 100,000 weekly visitors. Urban75 unites all Slocombe's passions: eco-activism, underground techno, arts and football. The news section details the state of play at the Manchester Airport protests, while features decry the banal pieties of a rave scene that has sold its soul to commerce.

Slocombe excels at attracting publicity for his ventures, and is adept at what he calls "bluff and blag". After the success of Urban75, he began to hire out his talents to Web site production companies. He has worked for Head New Media on sites for Snickers and Internet provider Direct Connection, employing the same graphic verve that makes Urban75 so entertaining.

"I could only work for companies I think are cool, though," he states. "I couldn't do a McDonald's or a Shell site. I'm an Internet designer but I'm also a campaigner - the two have to go hand in hand." ET meets Urban 75: 'I never knew there was so much in it'

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