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If punk’s dead, and Fugazi’s irrelevant, no one’s memoed John Davis. The third and fairly substantial issue of his local punk fanzine Held Like Sound now says “Free” in the upper right corner, where it once read “$2.” Advertising now covers the printing and postage costs of the ‘zine, which has a print run of 6,000 copies and is distributed nationally.

HLS covers smart, slammin’ rock—music that’s honest in ways today’s commercial pop and punk are not. While the heyday of D.C. punk has passed—Davis still mourns the passing of Jawbox—HLS is taking off. Apparently, Davis is not alone in longing for the days when muscular, progressive punk was the cutting edge.

At 21, Davis already has one publishing credit to his name, Slanted. He started that ‘zine in high school and put out six issues over two years before retiring it in 1995. Now he’s at it again, offing his record label Shute to focus on HLS. “I think I just wanted a fresh start,” he says. “I felt ‘the scene’ was pretty dead, and what was still around was good but wasn’t getting any attention.”

Staple-bound and printed on newsprint, HLS covers scrappy upcoming acts. It features interviews with locally and nationally known punk, indie, and emo groups (“emo,” D.C. punk’s illegitimate nephew, is shorthand for “emotional”) such as Frodus, the Most Secret Method, Braid, and Rachel’s, as well as loads of record reviews and, in the latest issue, the requisite obit for the Simple Machines label. Davis has built an elite cadre of musician-columnists, with mixed results: Bob from Braid, Elisabeth Elmore of Urbana’s Sarge, and Bill Barbot of Burning Airlines. The latest issue reviews The Fuck-Up, a book by Arthur Nersesian, published by Akashic Books, which is run by ex-D.C. punks Mark Sullivan and Johnny Temple.

HLS, Davis says, is less “wide-eyed” than Slanted toward the music scene. Fugazi turned out his favorite disc of the year thus far, and Braid’s record impressed him as well, but he’s definitely not “easily wowed” anymore.

“I don’t give music here the benefit of the doubt like I used to,” he says. “I’d rather be honest. One of the points is to not just accept mediocrity because it’s in ‘the scene.’”—John Dugan