The Rebirth Of Freaky Trigger

When I was small, one of my favourite TV programs was Blake’s 7. It was a sci-fi series about a group of rebels in space, fighting against oppressive regimes. I liked it for all sorts of reasons: it was exciting; it had a sexy villain; it had a cool computer with a funny voice; it was sometimes shockingly downbeat. Most of all I liked it for two simple, instantly appealing reasons. One of these reasons I could have explained easily, one I could never have put into words. First, the goodies were a team, and second, Blake wasn’t in it.

From TV to comics to games to writing to real life, these ideas have continued to pull. A group of people, not always agreeing, working together for some distant common aim. An absent leader, a missing center, a responsibility escaped. There’s probably a desperately simple explanation, and it’s probably that at school I was rubbish at sports. Whatever the reason, the themes kept cropping up. Before I’d ever watched Blakes’ 7, I adored the Lord Of The Rings, where a fellowship is made and its leader swiftly removed. When I first bought American comics, I insisted on avoiding the heroes I’d heard of and buying team comics like the New Mutants, filled with squabbling no-marks. I would referee role-playing games and straitjacket the players into some twisted team dynamic. At University I wrote and directed a play, assembled a production team, and then insisted my name be taken off the programmes and credits.

What has this to do with pop music? Not much. When I started improperly listening to pop my little obsessions didn’t carry over. The interpersonal dynamics of a band can be a fascinating subject (check out Kate St Claire’s theorising on I Love Music for proof) but to be honest I mostly couldn’t care less. And you might expect my ears to prick up when a key member leaves a group and the others struggle on alone. But, no. (I like New Order more than Joy Division, if that counts, but it might just be because their beats are better.)

My love of team dynamics did link into my teenage pop awakening via the music press, though. I got into the habit of buying the NME each week, and soon I got the critics’ names down pat and could start to imagine the passions, feuds, strange allegiances and uneasy alliances that went into making the paper. A mixture of pride and shyness stopped me ever thinking I might one day join in myself. And just as well, since the imagined NME was utterly rose-tinted, entirely free of drugs, drunken promises, hungover regrets, sexual jealousies, favours to friends and bitching about bosses. It was entirely, absurdly dedicated to music. The real life NME, I now morosely suspect, was just another office with more squabbles over the CD player than usual.

Still, if I couldn’t ever join my phantom NME, I could at least recreate it. Freaky Trigger has always had a fairly simple aim: to be the kind of pop zine I would like to read. It’s been dogged by accidents, incompetence, distractions, rubbish jokes and especially idleness but on balance I think it’s done rather well. If you factor in its message board spin offs then it’s been absurdly important to all sorts of people’s current lives and careers, but even without that the basic mission – to make my own ideal pop mag – has been a qualified success.

But as an ideal pop mag, of course it had to die. I expect that every ‘webmaster’ knows very well the vertiginous edge-of-platform giddiness that you get when you dream about killing your creation off. What will people say? Will anyone really miss it? Won’t it be great to have some free time? Who – no, really, who – cares? “Quit when you’re ahead” is a truism that seems particularly true for pop. The theory being: build up an audience, make them love you, then cut them free, and who knows – they might go on to do even more marvelous things on their own, out of nostalgia and spite.

I’m not sure that killing off Freaky Trigger a year or two ago would have had that effect on very many people, but I hope it might. I’ll never know, of course, because I chickened out. What I did instead was hand the website over to the excellent Ned Raggett – the vanished leader thing, again – and then chicken out a second time and ask for it back. Freaky Trigger has rolled on since then, in a low-key way, publishing some excellent material (not much of it by me) but somehow, in my self-critical eyes, lacking heart. I got a sharp e-mail from a reader a few months ago, subject line “Increasingly Irrelevant”. Fair enough, I thought.

And all that leads up to this: a relaunch. A proper relaunch this time, with a new design and a complete re-focussing of what Freaky Trigger is. The site was always my thing, a way of getting through my late 20s and sorting out my feelings and ideas about pop music, the stuff that’s been my center of attention since I was 14. I’m now 30; I’m getting married in November; I still love pop music: I don’t worry about it as much. A happy ending, if you like. The fact is that these days I prefer talking to friends in the pub to sweating over a keyboard trying to get some idea, some phrase just so.

So, I and others ended up thinking, why not have a website that’s a bit more like talking to friends in the pub?

The new Freaky Trigger has two important differences from the old one. It’s edited by a team – me, Pete Baran, and Tim Hopkins. Tim and especially Pete have made huge inputs into FT as was, anyhow, so the editorial tone won’t shift much. The second difference is a bit more important for a music webzine: it’s not about music any more. Where Freaky Trigger used to be made up of articles and a daily weblog all about music, it’s now made up of articles about anything we fancy, and five daily weblogs, each with a different focus.

Making a music magazine I wanted to read was easy, because there had been plenty of them, they’d just all gone bust. Making a general interest zine I would like to read is much harder (and more interesting!), because I’ve never liked them. Freaky Trigger is run by early thirtysomething men but is I desperately hope not necessarily for them. In fact one of the reasons we’ve shifted the focus so much onto the new weblogs with this relaunch is that I’m still, after all these years, hooked on the idea of the team.

Weblogging – by which I mean instant personal online publishing – is a remarkable thing, yes yes, but I think there’s been too much emphasis on one-person weblogs, pages that are the outlet and focus for a single point of view. The team weblog has been a little bit neglected. As I see it a weblog is a fabulous compromise between the transient free-for-all of a message board and the more thought-out pulpit voices of long-form articles. Tight blog networks comment and reply on one another all the time – content breeds content – whereas on a message board the energy can easily diffuse and with a long-form piece it remains potential. Weblog thoughts can be as frivolous or weighty, polished or unformed as you like, and in a team weblog the ideas can jump around between writers, or between blogs. A group of people, not always agreeing, working together for some vague common aim. I’m back where I started, and it feels great – bring the squabble!

(If you would like to write for any of Freaky Trigger’s weblogs, or contribute a longer article, please write to