I sometimes worry too much about how tenuous existence things have on the internet. Whenever I try to research punk from the 2000s, I am forced with the same problem. There is absolutely nothing left from two decades ago on the internet besides a few websites on punk. Maybe I will find a review from Sputnik or All Music that is not helpful at all. Punknews is never consistent, especially concerning their interviews. And that’s about it. Every other source is nowhere to be found. I cannot properly judge what the conversations around this time were. I have to rely on scattered Wikipedia entries that refer to some controversy I have never heard about.
What does this fact mean? We need to take a bigger picture for a second. When you read a music book about punk from the 80s, they have a source text to draw on. Right now, I am currently making my way through Going Underground. In it, there are constant references to fanzines and other interviews. It provides a solid basis for writers. Without it, you must rely on interviews that look back, which isn’t always the most reliable. Don’t get me wrong; I love oral history. But they are ultimately flawed in certain respects. People’s memories can prove to be faulty.
So when you think of subculture on the internet, those primary sources are consistently erased. It relies on people to keep paying for domains they don’t actively use anymore. Occasionally, I’ll find a very dated-looking website that is still active. But most of the time, when doing research, I’m reminded of how nothing lasts on the internet. Think of how many dead Mediafire links there are on blogspots right now. Even sites like AV Club are pretty unreadable, and I wonder when that site will end sometimes. You can only get vestiges of these sites through the Wayback Machine. That requires someone dedicated enough to capture a webpage and upload it consistently. It is once again proof that so much archiving relies on the back of obsessives, and that is not a sustainable practice.
And we also have to mention that the existence of The Internet Archive as a resource feels tenuous most of the time. In the past year, two big lawsuits have been levied against it. The courts, in one, ruled in favor of book publishers. It fits in with a broader trend of people attacking libraries, whether through book bans or the presence of e-books in The Internet Archive. While it may sound fatalist, much punk history is housed on The Internet Archive. Just this week, I found someone who uploaded demos of Chicago hardcore bands I had never heard of, including one from Mark Mccoy of Youth Attack Records. It helped fill in gaps I wasn’t aware of. There are countless old zines that I have yet to uncover. And it’s all readily available. Any of these old zines in physical form would cost upwards of 40 dollars, as I have experienced looking online.
Any threat to online archiving will eventually, in turn, affect the future of what music books look like. We will get incomplete pictures that will lead to flawed narratives. I want a fuller picture than what the internet currently provides. I was just discovering music twenty years ago. I only have my limited perspective to lean on. I want more context than what a sparse review on one of the few live websites can provide. I want to see what the message boards said about Defiance, Ohio, when they signed to No Idea, and people called them sellouts. I want to see the detritus of sub-culture that only nerds care about.
It may sound fatalist, but I wonder if anything central to punk or the general DIY scene I find myself a part of will one day be gone. While I know it may be possible, I haven’t archived my work on Medium in a while. But I implore anyone to because nothing lasts forever. Especially when you write for platforms like Ghost, Substack, WordPress, or whatever, it can all disappear. Some people may be fine with that or embarrassed of their work, but it tells a story that still carries some weight. I’ve read plenty of zine collections where the quality of the writing is secondary to me. It is obvious that a sixteen-year-old was making it. But the information is invaluable and gives me an insight into the main concerns of hardcore or whatever subculture it is interested in.