Robots and Electronic Brains
Robots celebrated its 10th anniversary  in 2006. Here's what we said at the time:
Robots will be 10 years old next issue (#16) and to celebrate we’re giving one lucky roboteer the chance to win an endless supply of paper-based bot. That’s right, a lifetime subscription to the only zine in all of photocopydom written by a sour Brummie with a robot fixation. But there’s a catch of course. Of course. To get your hands on this wondrous prize you’ve got to tell us something. Something that we want to hear, of course. Which is? Something about us, of course. Of course.
To win the gear you’ll need to put pen to paper, or finger to key, and verbalise just what Robots means to you. Perhaps you read the website at its birth in 1996 when it was called Jimmy’s Riddle and then changed to Robots, perhaps you were one of the pluggers who got a copy of those first paper Riddles, mailouts from the scruffy long-hair head of music at the university radio station, perhaps you read the paper Robots #1, perhaps you paid 50p for that first bundle of roboreviews back in 1997, but maybe you only bought it because you felt sorry for the scruffy long-hair in the army jacket stumbling from rejection to rejection around the Boat Race. Perhaps you’re a johnny-come-lately, just pinged over to our web site from somewhere else on the electroplanet and you’ve never even seen a copy of the paper thing. Perhaps you’re a band we reviewed and went on to better things on the back of it. Perhaps you’re a band we reviewed and never went anywhere. Perhaps you’re a band we declined to review and you feel bitter about it. Maybe you’re one of the labels we’ve featured on our CDs or maybe you’re one of the people who asked to be on the CDs only to be told that it doesn’t work that way. Or maybe you’re one of our loyal customers, one of the Robot Army. Perhaps you’ve got all the back issues, both the robocards, all the CDs and the 7” single. You’ve been with us a long time and we love you for it. And we hope you love us.
Could be you like the dry humour, the attention to detail, the fact that we’re all about the music and not about stroking our own cocks, the verbiage, the lack of verbiage, the hype, the lack of hype, the slow plod of the dedicated amateur, the lack of bullshit, the obvious pleasure when a great record comes up, the lack of negative reviews, the high standards, the low filler ratio, the quality and consistency and, above all, the modesty. It could be you think we’re wankers. Please, take a few minutes and let us know. We’ll use the best robonotes in the next issue of the zine and the very best will win the lifetime of robo stuff. Send your musings to the postal or email addresses. We might edit you, but we will be gentle.
To get you started, here’s something of what Robots means to me.
I am not Lester Bangs. Much as I love reading him there’s no way I can live like him or even write like him. Or even aspire to write like him. I just live like me and write like me. And aspire to write like me. Which, I suppose, means that in the most fundamental way, I’m doing my best to be like him. Bangs was rock’n’roll. True. When I try to write like Bangs, write rock’n’roll, I look like your boss being The Boss at forced-bonhomie staff karaoke outings. Beyooorrnn in tha Yu Esss Ayyyyy. Too True.
So I’ve got to be me. It didn’t take long to find out I can’t be Lester Bangs. Just a few attempts 10 or 12 years ago now. I couldn’t write like anybody at the NME either. Or the Melody Maker, or even Sounds. I could never seem to fit visceral or vicarious into my reviews. And I almost always seemed to have written everything I wanted to say long before anything by any of them would have finished. I found that I liked what I’d written much better than what I was reading. I found that what I’d written told me something about what I really thought of the record, what it meant to me, what it made me feel when I was listening to it. It kind of distilled the record down. The reviews I was reading in the papers seemed to hide the record under a pile of pretentious post-ironic priapic personality.
I started trying to write after I started reading zines. Organ is the daddy. Most of the rest were shit. Both were inspirational. Organ because the reviews in Organ were straight from the heart and as just long as they needed to be. No obfuscation. If the record was fucking great hardcore, that was the review. If it was the sound of Osibisa down a manhole, that was the review. If it was the best pronk record since the one two pages before, which had been the best pronk record in the world up to that point, that was the review. It was enthusiam for the music direct out of Sean’s head and onto the page. The other zines were inspirational because they showed me that I could do it too.
And we were off: Be true to myself. Say what the music is. Don’t be shit. So I wrote what I felt for as long as I felt it and then stopped. That was the review. I tried hard (too hard) not to let my personality get in the way of the music. There was no editorial in the zine and the first few interviews were all done with a robot interview machine I made out of a Magic Robot game, to keep everything focussed on the bands. At the end of the interview, they’d add a question to the board for the next band. I just showed them how to use the board and worked the tape recorder.
It might not have been rock’n’roll but it was all about the music, all about the bands and it was true. I just wrote what I felt. And that’s where reality deviated from intention. I never wrote about me and the band this.. or on the guestlist that.. or trashed in the back of the van with.. or sooo many free records from.. or met Steve Lamacq and told him how much I love.. or sorry the zine’s late but my Dad couldn’t get into work to do the photocopying for me.. or was talking to so-and-so at the afterparty. I never bigged myself up or tried to mythologise or pretend I was something I wasn’t. But. Yes, but..
But I was writing about me. All the time. Every single review. It was stupid to think I was doing anything else. Appreciation of music is subjective. I wanted to write about it subjectively. I wanted to write what I felt. I wanted to write what was true for me. And I did. And that meant it was all about me. When a record reminded me of this chap I used to be in the Scouts with, I said so. When a record took me to Weston-super-Mare, I said so. When a record took me back to flipping burgers at Burger King on Corporation Street, or pushing trolleys at Makro, I said so. When records let me escape from my day job, I tell you because it’s true. When I make those gags, when I enjoy those plays on words, when I repeat myself or write in parallels or go off somewhere imaginary, that’s all me. That’s what the records do to me. That’s the true me and, little by little, intended or not, like it or no, Robots has been and is me by proxy.
It’s taken me a while to come to terms with that.