By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Photo by James BunoanPhotos By James Bunoan
A two-headed, naked, uncircumcised Jesus nailing himself to a cross. A little boy who looks about six, shooting that creepy Stanley Kubrick stare and flipping you the bird. Pregnant chicks showing off their ample bellies in full color. A naked guy buggering an inflatable sheep. A not-naked guy pressing a gun to his temple. Hot nearly naked chicks doing one another doggy-style. Britney Spears, ironically. A fanged, sadistic-looking Ronald McDonald clutching a meat cleaver. George W. Bush as an Uzi-wielding, black-uniformed storm trooper. A chubby naked man frolicking on a beach. A cop on a random shooting spree, having just removed his human face mask, revealing his true self, that of a fiery-eyed swine. A naked guy being fellated by a doll. Huge, bulbous tits. Pointy tits. Painted tits.
One thing about Skratch: it sure grabs your attention.
All those images have appeared on the Orange-based punk-infested magazine's cover since its 1996 inception, a run that hits a landmark this month with the publication of its 100th issue. That's a history that shouldn't have happened, if you ever saw Skratch's first copy: an ugly, amateurish, black-and-white Xeroxed blob, with a blurry cover photo snapped at a Voodoo Glow Skulls show. Inside: a predictable zine mix of not-exactly probing band interviews (one with Blink-182 before they were famous), concert and album reviews, a restaurant review, art, poetry, fiction, and a column about the gastronomic joy of . . . breakfast cereal.
Like most free music-oriented indie zines, the stories in many of Skratch's early issues—and late issues, too, come to think of it—were poorly written, full of grammatical flubs, spelling errors, junior-high-book-report prose (when they weren't reading like the incoherent ramblings of a homeless meth addict, that is) and migraine-inducing, eye-straining typefaces. It was run out of founding publisher (or "publishitter," as he calls himself on the masthead; snarky self-deprecation is a Skratch trademark) Scott Presant's Placentia house, with huge semis rolling up quiet residential streets, coming to pick up the magazine for distribution. "It was probably illegal," Presant says.
Unlike most free music-oriented indie zines, though, Skratch had a decent hunk of advertising peppered throughout its first 24 pages—enough to convince potential clients that Presant was serious—and after about six issues, a revenue stream started flowing in from this base. Skratchwasn't going to be just another tawdry here-today-gone-today zine. It was actually going to stick around for a while, and with the support of a seemingly endless number of indie record labels both obscure and not-so-obscure—let's just say that if Fat Wreck, Epitaph, Kung Fu and Nitro disappeared tomorrow, Skratch would almost have to become a quarterly—it has.
Fastforward to last month's Skratch No. 99. The magazine is now a hefty 128 pages wrapped up in a full-color glossy cover and so choked with ads (a one-time-only, full-page spot will cost you $643), band interviews and reviews that it's basically an OC-spawned variation on the Flipside/Maximum Rock and Roll theme. Presant says he prints 37,000 copies per monthly issue, which get read by some 130,000 people in 12 states. It's headquartered in a quiet, pristine business park, with framed Skratch covers on the office walls and tricked-out with a spiffy intercom system so people don't have to yell to one another. There are Skratch CDs and DVDs, which bands pay to be featured on, and alliances with the people who run the Warped Tour. To help get word out about the 100th Skratch, Presant even went and hired a public-relations firm. At least 40 people write for Skratch, but at least one thing hasn't changed in 100 issues. The writers still don't get paid. Squat. Union organizers, lookee here!
But because of its relatively rapid growth and Presant's desire for more readers, Skratch has, not unlike your average Clear Channel radio station, become something of a predictable bore. Seemingly gone forever are the days when Skratch could piss people off without too much effort—when most of those cover images described at the start of this story ran.
Presant readily admits this. "We haven't been as controversial on account of our circulation," he says. "We once had a naked girl on the cover, though she was covered over with black boxes. Still, we had some OC record stores—small ones, not big chains—who were worried about kids picking it up and parents complaining. We've had girls on our cover and had to deal with people calling us sexist. Sometimes we have to think twice about what we put on the cover—not too much nudity, not too risqué. We don't want a lot of stores to not be able to distribute the magazine."
Thing is the kind of stunts Presant and Skratchused to pull were exactly why it used to be worth picking up each month. In a 1997 concert review, a Skratch writer took potshots at the people working security at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana. Presant then got a call from a peeved Galaxy manager, who said he was going to take all the Galaxy's Skratch copies and chuck them in a dumpster. Presant responded by printing up T-shirts that read, "I LOVE THE GALAXY" and snapping a photo of a buddy humping an inflatable sheep, upon which the same phrase was scrawled in black marking pen. The picture ran on Skratch's next cover.
"The Galaxy is really cool now," Presant says, "so we hold no more grudges. I think it's even still distributed there."
When Presant was pissed off at a Fry's Electronics for not taking back a faulty printer, he wrote a long, comical tirade against the store and printed it—you could almost feel his spittle hitting you. When some advertisers weren't paying him, Presant ran a list of their names on the cover under a DO NOT SUPPORT THESE COMPANIES banner, the text draping over a shot of a guy getting blown by a puppet. When a reader penned a letter calling Skratch "an evil, dirty magazine" and basically reamed them for not being Christian enough, Presant ran her letter on the cover surrounded by "Love Jesus/Repent Your Sins/God Will Save Us" messages.
Juvenile? Sophomoric? Irreverent? Yeah, but funny as hell. Unlike a duller, more mainstream music rag like Whittier-based Mean Street, you at least felt then that the people putting out Skratch had a sense of humor. There was the issue where all the stories were handwritten, and the April Fool's issue where half the magazine was in Spanish, and the time they almost did a country-and-western issue just to mess with people. There was the issue that was an almost exact replica —right down to the typeface logo—of rival LA music zine Destroy All Monthly, which infuriated that zine's publisher.
"I told him we wanted to do it," Presant says, "and he said it was cool. But when it came out, he was just pissed. He didn't think we were going to take it as far as we went. But it was a fun issue." Destroy All Monthly ceased publication a year later, maybe or maybe not out of sheer humiliation.SkratchPore over any of Skratch's 100 issues, though, and it's not too hard to come away with a feeling of unmet expectations. Musician interviews are all presented in a rigid question-and-answer format, which often winds up making both the writer and the band sound borderline retarded—not the most scintillating of reads. Like this excerpt from a piece on OC hardcore band Atreyu that ran in the April issue:SkratchAlex:SkratchAlex:SkratchAlex: