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The MONDO 2000 project: An Open Source History of Cyberculture

Nina Hagen on the cover of MONDO 2000 magazine

In the late 1980s into the early 90s, for me, and for a lot of people, a new issue of the sporadically published cyberculture magazine MONDO 2000 appearing on newsstands was… a big event. There was nothing else like it and I’d pore over each issue, reading it from cover to cover. Then I’d read it again. It came out on a very irregular schedule, but I always seemed to have a sixth sense about a new issue coming out—or maybe I just really haunted bookstores more then than I do now—in any case, I doubt that an issue was ever on the stands for more than 24 hours before I held a copy in my hands.

I discovered a lot of great stuff via MONDO 2000 and was exposed to a lot of new ideas (hacking at a time when a fax machine was still a novelty), new technologies (virtual reality) and even new drugs (Piracetam, I’m looking at you, kid), but I think the strongest attraction that MONDO 2000 had on the imaginations of so many people was that it seemed to indicate that an entirely NEW counterculture was being born. It was like a William Gibson novel had sprung to life. It was the best thing since post-punk.

Some of the elders of the 60s (like Tim Leary) became fellow travelers of the MONDO 2000 crew—which was led by two cheerfully druggy, but terribly smart, hedonistic pied-pipers by the names of R.U. Sirius (AKA Ken Goffman) and Queen Mu (AKA Alison Kennedy). Clued-in younger people, too, seeking a “scene” for themselves gravitated towards San Francisco to check out in-person what they’d been reading about in the magazine. bOING bOING’s David Pescovitz, for instance, once told me that he ended up in SF as a very direct result of MONDO 2000 magazine.

If you look back at who appeared between the covers of MONDO 2000, whether as subjects, or as writers, you’re talking about the likes of William Gibson, Robert Anton Wilson, the anonymous psychedelic adventurers “Gracie and Zarkov,” Mark Frauenfelder, Grant Morrison, Douglas Rushkoff, Debbie Harry, Nine Inch Nails, John Perry Barlow, “life extension” pioneers Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, Rudy Rucker, Negativland, Bruce Sterling, Diamanda Galas, “Xandor Korzybski,” the conspiracy theorist/ranter, cultural critic Mark Dery, Nina Hagen, and Mark Pesce. That’s a heady crew, but the list goes on and on.

R.U. Sirius’ upcoming book, Use Your Hallucinations: MONDO 2000 in Late 20th Century Cyberculture, is the story of the magazine—half personal memoir, half scrapbook from the MONDO archives and oral history from the participants. An excerpt recently appeared on the Omni Reboot website:

William Gibson: MONDO was arguably the representative underground magazine of its pre-Web day. It was completely outside what commercial magazines were assumed to be about, but there it was, beside the commercial magazines. I was glad it was there. And then, winding up on the cover of Time —what does that do? How alternative is something that makes the cover of Time? Could MONDO even happen today?

Douglas Rushkoff: The idea of having a scene, a place…Oddly enough, MONDO was the last scene of the last era. It’s the last sort of Algonquin group or whatever. I mean, physical reality isn’t what it used to be. Now you create a Facebook group to do what MONDO did.

The first time I met Grant Morrison, the topic turned to MONDO 2000 and he told me that it was, to him, the single most important piece of press he’d gotten to that point. I felt the same way. When Disinformation debuted online in September of 1996 (btw, the 17th anniversary of that launch was—gulp—yesterday) and MONDO 2000 wanted to cover it, like Grant, I was thrilled. I was similarly tickled to be depicted in the pages of the magazine with three heads in a wild two-page spread illustrated by artist Omaha Perez. A young Reese Witherspoon was on the cover.

During one visit to San Francisco, I got to visit “the MONDO house” a large mansion in the Berkeley Hills rented by Alison Kennedy where she lived and where the mag was put together. She was an interesting character, a strikingly beautiful older woman, charming, literate and obviously brilliant. Kennedy is an heiress who put her inheritance into the building the magazine. She walked with me up the hill to show me a home that Timothy Leary had once occupied and pointed out a garage that Leary had built himself and then she made an absolutely fabulous meal, telling me a great story about Aldous Huxley as she cooked. I was very impressed by her, but I had been warned by more than one person that she was quite eccentric, and by the time it was starting to get dark, she was saying some incredibly paranoid, kooky things and it got a little bit awkward.

If you want to read a great piece of journalism about what it was really like around the MONDO 2000 orbit, Jack Boulware’s classic SF WEEKLY article, “MONDO 1995: Up and Down With the Next Millennium’s First Magazine” is a must-read (R.U. calls it “mostly true.”) You can find out more about R.U. Sirius’s MONDO project here.

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Fabled Mondo 2000 editor R.U. Sirius returns with Acceler8or

R.U. Sirius, also known as Ken Goffman, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Mondo 2000 magazine, has a new blog called Acceler8or. The blog will curate links from around the Internet relating to technological acceleration and transhumanist/Singularitarian culture.

The round of content included an interview with Genesis Breyer P. Orridge, and an interesting essay about the new Adam Curtis documentary All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace.

In other R.U. Sirius news, Vice Magazine interviewed him over I.M. recently about the history of Mondo 2000 and he gives DM a nice compliment:

Where are all the cyberpunks that read Mondo 2000 back in the day? Was someone like Mark Zuckerberg a reader?
Mark was too young. Maybe Sean Parker. I hear from people in the computer industry all the time that they were inspired by Mondo 2000. Also, people working in biotechnology, nanotechnology… I think the Mondoids are all over the map, most of them still have many of the same enthusiasms, tempered with experience and a healthy skepticism.

You’ve used the term “gonzo anthropology,” the means of studying the more esoteric and under-researched aspects of human culture—what does that mean, exactly?
Alison Kennedy aka Queen Mu, the Mondo 2000 publisher, practices gonzo anthropology. She was the one who uncovered toad venom containing 5-meo DMT in the West. She also explores very odd and arcane anthropological theories about the uses of plants and animals as aphrodisiacs, the use of Calumas as a sort of natural MDMA-like substance. Her magnum opus appeared in Mondo 2000. It was an article about how Jim Morrison used tarantula venom and got penis cancer, based on an entire gonzo anthropological exploration of implications of tarantula venom use (as an inspirational but self-destructive intoxicant) throughout human experience. The Doors producer, whose name I can’t remember, took it very seriously and got very upset about it. Ray Manzarek, I think, was not happy either. It was a wildly brilliant and hilarious and beautifully written piece.

Do you feel that in some ways you guys were too left field for some people?
I think we were too anarchic, playful, and incomprehensible for a mainstream magazine about the uprising of the digital technoculture. One of the first things that I noticed about Wired was that they had letters to the editor from people expressing ordinary Republican or Democratic political views, whereas we would get letters about the green aliens on acid who wrote the letter writer’s new software program and how many different drugs Hitler used. I mean, off the wall stuff. But I think Republicans are on a wall that I can’t relate to. So yeah, there was a limited relationship between us and a mainstream audience. The mainstream media people liked us because we seemed colorful and novel. And as a result of the attention, the people who would read the magazine found out about it. Wired does some great stuff online now, though. It’s an OK institution. I have to say though, they send me the magazine and it usually winds up in recycling, unread.

What do you see as your legacy? Who is continuing what you guys started?
Well, Boing Boing have been their own thing from the start. They were the small magazine when we were the big one, but they’re a relative. Maybe Dangerous Minds, Richard Metzger’s new site, in spirit. But I think Mondo was unique. It was an art project really using journalism and technoculture as a context. It was just a few unusual individuals following instincts. The mistakes were obvious but the energy of it was so much fun that as Richard Kadrey once said, “You have to have a mighty big stick up your ass not to love it.”

Mondo 2000 and gonzo anthropology (Viceland Today)

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21.C: The Future is Here

Australia’s 21.C, edited by Ashley Crawford, was probably the best magazine of the ‘90s—it was my favorite at least—and to be profiled in its pages and later to contribute to it, was an lot of fun for me.

21.C was the most unabashedly intellectual and forward-thinking journal that I have ever seen, anywhere. And it was a striking and beautifully designed product to hold in your hands. Each issue was finely crafted, I must say. To have my own writing published alongside the likes of Erik Davis, Mark Dery, Greil Marcus, Hakim Bey, Rudy Rucker, Bruce Sterling, R.U. Sirius and Kathy Acker was an honor. I also met Alex Burns via Ashley and Alex, of course, went on to edit the Disinformation website for many years.(I wrote about art for 21.C’s sister publication—also edited by Ashley Crawford—the quarterly glossy World Art. I know that I wrote an article about the product design of the Japanese pop combo Pizzicato 5, but I can’t remember what else.)

Now 21.C is back as an online magazine. There’s also a lot of still interesting archival pieces on subjects such as William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson that readers of this blog will find very interesting, I’m sure. There’s an interview with me from 1996 conducted by R.U. Sirius where I tell the nutty story of how Disinformation was started. Welcome back 21.C!

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