My hero the editor

OUT THERE 'We're ridiculing a drug culture that already exists, not promoting it. But you just get this hysterical reaction: "Drugs? You can't mention drugs!"'
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Early in 1990, David Gill quit his advertising job in Leeds and set out on a journey that led him to Venice Beach, California, home of muscle-bound misfits and acidhead surfers. He thought it was mental. But what he found on his return 18 months later made Venice seem sane.

"When I left, house music and Ecstasy were still underground, a cult thing. By the time I got back it was an epidemic, attracting every deviant and idiot in the world, all these horrible people who rubbed Vick into their chests and sucked dummies. It was hideous. So I started this fanzine, taking the piss out of this monster called rave culture and all these gurning ravers. Of course, we lost money hand over fist. But I got into all the clubs for nowt and wrote about all me mates."

Gill's bi-monthly fanzine, Herb Garden, is a satirical tipsheet for the narcotically challenged, full of sly digs at the sad yoof market: "For Boozers, Loosers [sic] and Substance Abusers" reads the front-cover strapline. Two-faced in the finest sense, and much better dressed than the average dance rag, Herb Garden is a miracle of foul-mouthed equanimity, its editorial stance uniquely poised between celebration and condemnation of our drug saturated sub-culture.

HG doesn't moralise, patronise or pretend to advice its readers, but instead mirrors their world with tasteless send ups of overpaid DJs, overpriced clubs, overrated artists and the kind of PR-based dross found in most style magazines. "Tag Whore watches! How to get into the new Ford Cosworth in under two mins!" announces a spoof contents page, along with "Kylie: quick excuse for a couple of tit shots".

Gill is equally scathing about titles which run politically correct anti- drug features: "Most of them are like Herb Garden parodies, but without the jokes. You can see what drug pamphlets they've read before they wrote the piece: 'Don't do this, don't do that...' And it is hard to fault a publication which points out that while 180,000 people die every year from heart disease linked to diet, only 500 buy the farm through misuse of Class As.

A recent article entitled "Prisoners of Ecstasy" declared: "I like my drugs strong. I want to be rushing as if I'm tied to the front of the space shuttle at lift-off with a firecracker up my arse. I want every orifice in my body to explode with effluents all at once. I want my brain to shoot out of the top of my skull the moment I drop the frigging thing." If you want to hear the authentically slurred voice of a generation, it doesn't get much louder or clearer than this.

Notable promo devices have included a pull-out poster series of HG heroes such as Brookside's coke-addicted character Jimmy Corkhill and the ill- starred Jamie Blandford, as well as a contentious 1995 calendar featuring several "real" girls (all clubland friends who posed for free) complete with physical "flaws" and undeniably more sexy for them. "I've had some really sad bastard remarks over that," says Gill, shaking his head. "Some lad said, 'But you can see t'stretch marks and cellulite and that!'"

Though he has spent the last three-and-a-half years editing, writing, producing and distributing HG, Gill dismisses the first two as a joke. "But then," he says, "people like Levis' started phoning up to book ads. And it's like, 'Hey, we better take this seriously.'" As a result, HG now has a print-run of 10,000 and is sold at 170 outlets around the country, mostly dance music shops, fashion boutiques and increasingly through the indie market. But he still can't get on to the shelves of London's Virgin Megastore, even though (he claims) HG outsells mainstream titles like Select in some northern branches.

"It pisses me off," he says, "because basically it's a form of censorship. We're ridiculing a drug culture that already exists, not promoting it. But you just get this hysterical reaction: 'Drugs? You can't mention drugs!'"

This grievance takes a certain weight when he points out that Viz "which can be blatantly sexist and racist at times" is sold openly at stores which won't touch HG. "Who gives these people the right to decide what you or I can read? They all stock the Irivine Welsh novel, which talks about sticking smack up yer arse. But that's OK, because it's through a 'reputable' publisher."

Undaunted, Gill is hoping to up his print run by another 2,000 and considering going monthly. "Trouble is," he says, "the more we sell, the less we'll be able to get away with." But success seems unlikely to spoil Herb Garden and its editor, who claims to have found a way to subvert the creeping professionalism that usually strangles enthusiasm and creativity. "We have this Apple Mac programme called 'Fanzine Check'. When you finish an article you put it through and it adds 30 spelling mistakes and 20 swear words."

The gratuitous drug references, of course, take care of themselves.