By Tony Rettman January 19, 2022
When it was launched in 1986, audion magazine has filled an unclassifiable void in the musical underground, one where fans of distant sounds like Faust, King Crimson, minimal composer Steve Reich and the abstruse recordings of Nurse With Wound have all found common ground. Edited by brothers Steve and Alan Freeman, the magazine gave them the impetus to launch their label, Ultima Thule, as well as a record store of the same name. Although they had many problems keeping audion Afloat in the age of online publishing and music streaming, the Freemans remain steadfast in their undying mission to rock the world with outlandish sound.
As teenagers in the British city of Leicester in the 1970s, Alan and Steve were competitive like most siblings at that age. But instead of disagreeing about sports or grades, it was about records. “It became a competition between us to see who could find the weirdest records,” says Alan. “So we both scoured all the local thrift stores, flea markets, bargains and sales for anything that looked interesting.” When audion began, there was no longer any need for the two to fight over mind-blowing music, as everything was shipped directly to them, free of charge. “Word spread and people were sending us review articles,” says Alan. “That’s how we discovered Robert Rich, The Land Of Yrx, Rancid Poultry, Tangle Edge and other obscure bands. Additionally, we were writing to obscure artists we discovered on LP, like Peter Frohmader, Ole Højer Hansen and Günter Schickert. Soon after, Alan and Steve began releasing music by these artists on their fledgling cassette label Auricle, which eventually morphed into the Ultima Thule imprint and record store in 1989.
In the 90s, with the international rediscovery of Can and other adventurous bands from Germany’s rock past, the two were ready to nurture interest in a genre they had sought all their lives. Many young people flocked to the Ultima Thule store to buy and learn about these obscure bands from the past, while audion gained international circulation. Along with the magazine, they also published A crack in the cosmic egga 300-page encyclopedia on Krautrock, as well as The Audion guide to Nurse with injurya comprehensive breakdown of the infamous list of rare albums that founder Steven Stapleton drew inspiration from and which was included in their debut album, Chance encounter on a dissection table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.
Towards the end of the decade, Alan began to sense a change in the music industry. “A lot of independent stores and stockists started to disappear,” he says. “As bulk orders for the magazine all but stopped and we had a photocopier in the store, we started publishing it entirely ourselves.” Although issues came out sporadically, the duo continued to publish the magazine until they were forced to close the Ultima Thule store in 2010. “Without a store and no way to print it ourselves, audion ended as such with issue #58 in November 2013,” says Steve.
After closing the store, Alan created a Facebook group for Ultima Thule to let people know that they were still operating as a mail-order business. Band members pestered him to start printing audion again, but when Alan saw how the printing costs had skyrocketed, he decided against it. During the COVID-10 lockdown in Spring 2020, Alan scanned an issue of the magazine from the 90s in PDF format and uploaded it as a blank audio file to Bandcamp. “After I announced it on Facebook, a few bands and artists featured in this issue, like Ian Boddy, Mushroom and Volcano The Bear, said, ‘Why don’t you include audio samples?’ to which I replied “If I can have permission to do so”. audion was born again, this time as a .pdf file accompanied by a soundtrack. The magazine’s 59th issue was released on Bandcamp in the fall of 2020, featuring a tracklist featuring current music from progressive rockers Corima and psychedelic improvisers Dire Wolves, as well as krautrock legends Guru Guru. Eight impressive numbers have followed since then.
Despite the pitfalls they’ve encountered in the 35 years they’ve published audion, Alan seems unfazed, determined to keep the magazine’s monster train rolling. “I still have the same passion for discovering new music as in 1975.” he says. “I’m a very passionate web searcher and use just about every method possible to discover music.” When asked what was the motivation behind the lawsuit audion, in addition to maintaining the Ultima Thule mail order business, his answer is short and simple: “One: the love of music! Two: we wouldn’t want to do anything else!