Mike Slocombe is a techno-activist. He edits Britain's leading online counterculture magazine urban75 and works as a freelance web designer from his Brixton flat. He also plays the drums
Picture: Andrew Crowley
Transcript from Daily Telegraph interview with Mike Slocombe (urban75) 17th 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 1960s. 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 legendary Roxy club in the late '70s - although by that time, punk was on its last legs. "There were literally six people and a dog there; the scene had clearly been and gone." He then, he confides, "got caught in the '80s thing": record deals, tours, bad haircuts, but little serious success.
In the '80s, 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 'zine, 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 would read it. I only got one complaint, from this big thug who said: 'The trouble with your magazine, mate, is there's not enough violence in it!'"
Slocombe immediately realised that the measures curbing the right to protest framed in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act would impact seriously on football supporters. Demonstrations against boardroom incompetence or unwanted bond issues would be compromised. "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 rock band The Levellers donated a modem.
After spending an afternoon learning HTML, he launched Urban75, his own Webzine, 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 direct-action camps while features decry the banal pieties of a rave scene which has sold its soul to commerce. The most popular area contains Shockwave games which enable browsers to 'punch a politician', 'belt a bullshitter' and 'slap a Spice Girl' (because of their support for the Tories).
Urban75 was originally intended as an old-media publication, but the cost proved prohibitive. However, the speed and directness of the Web soon got Slocombe hooked. "When Reclaim the Streets did an action on the M41 last year, I managed to get a report up in about five hours. That's what's good about the Net. I don't think it replaces conventional posters and flyers, but it's perfect for small campaigning groups because constantly photocopying and mailing stuff burns a hole in your pocket."
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. "I posted on various newsgroups saying I could do graphics and Web design, which wasn't entirely true because I'd only done about two pages at that point."
He has worked for Head New Media on sites for Snickers and Internet providers 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 under any amount of duress do a McDonalds or a Shell site. I'm an Internet designer but I'm also a campaigner - the two have to go hand in hand."
by Matthew Collin ©Daily Telegraph 1997
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