Skratch Magazine at 100

How a snotty zine lasted this long

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:

And this exchange is relatively enlightening, compared to the omnipresent who-are-you-and-what-do-you-play questions that make reading an entire band interview in Skratch a real chore. Many Skratch writers are high school kids untrained in the art of interviewing—and, like we said, unpaid. Ask stupid questions, get stupid answers."I think our readership wants to hear the voice of the band, rather than the writer putting their words into quotes and perhaps modifying or changing things," Presant says. "It's also easier to edit, though some of my writers would prefer doing it the other way. If we did change over to a news-reporting style, we'd have to be more selective in the writers we use because you do have to be a better writer to write like that. I don't lie to myself for a minute—we could have better writing, better photography, better print production, lots of things. It's a pretty tight ship as far as with the money coming in."SkratchPerhaps not as ornery as it once was, there are signs Skratchis maturing further, even jumping into politics—what some would argue any self-respecting punk rock-tinged zine should always be about anyway. Particularly the growing anti-Bush movement stirring among under- and over-the-radar punk bands. Skratch's January issue—the Bush-as-storm trooper one—featured a five-page spread of assorted band members, writers and record-label types offering their presidential POV, almost every one screamingly anti."We hadn't done a lot of political issues, but the whole Bush thing really inspired us to get something out there about it," Presant says. "A lot of people thought it was just a cool cover, and I thought we'd get a lot of negative feedback from that, but we really didn't, surprisingly enough. "We're not afraid of being political at all. Sometimes I think Skratch readers are more into fun, easy types of articles on bands and things, but with bands like NOFX, who are being so outwardly anti-Bush now, we're starting to go off in more of that direction. We'd like to cover both sides, though. The slant of our magazine doesn't have to agree with what I think just because I'm the one who runs it."

Little evolutions like this just may wind up carrying Skratch to their 200th issue. "Skratch tends to stick to a music-magazine format rather than being really provocative or dangerous as many zines can be," says David Turbow, a member of the OC band Supernovice and the writer of several Skratcharticles over the years. "But it's been a viable outlet for unsigned local bands, primarily punk and ska. Other local music magazines like Mean Street have tended to focus primarily on signed artists and national acts, so in that sense, Skratch helped to bring down the old 'Orange Curtain' way of thinking by profiling local artists. There are so many talented bands here.""I think one of the most popular places our magazine gets read is on the toilet," Presant says. "But that's good, though. A lot of people spend time there."
is profitable, Presant says, though he won't divulge any figures. "I make enough to live day to day, enough to live comfortably. But I'm not living the life of a rock star."
[Laughter] No, I'm kidding.
:
Ah! Okay.
Just pretty much drinking.
:
What are you most excited about?
Yeah, we're really, really stoked about it.
:
So, you guys are playing Ozzfest. That's pretty exciting.
's best prank, though, may have been April 2000's Big $ellout Issue, where Presant sold off Skratch's entire editorial spread, a pay-to-plug celebration in which bands not only bought ad space on the issue's cover, but also penned their own stories and record reviews. John Wilkes Kissing Booth wrote about John Wilkes Kissing Booth. The Debonaires interviewed the Debonaires. Each article was cheekily marked with a PAID date stamp. Bands were slammed for being sellouts, even though Skratchwas obviously being the biggest perpetrator. It was all designed to stir shit up, and it worked. Too well—Presant lost one advertiser who was angered at a pointed barb made against concert promoter Goldenvoice.
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