What follows is an abridged excavation of the history of Corridor8, under which hides a dense archive of art and literary material reaching back to the 1960s.
The history of Corridor8 begins with Michael Butterworth, the Manchester-based writer, editor, and artist who originally conceived of a publication called Corridor in the early 1970s. This first issue of Corridor can be understood as one discrete point amid a trail of interrelated literary projects fomenting at the time. Before Corridor there was a broadsheet called Concentrate, and before (and during) Concentrate there was a thriving publication called New Worlds. These iterations were surrounded by a succession of other broadsheets and half-imagined projects consigned to the wastebaskets of avant-garde history. The resultant archive relays a history of experimental writing in the North of England, and leads us by way of papery trail to our present Corridor8 platform.
Born and raised in Manchester at the tail end of World War II, Butterworth witnessed 1960s psychedelic libertarianism from afar – from the crumbly vestibules of Manchester and from under the puritanical New Age thumb of his father, who sent him to a vegetarian co-educational progressive boarding school founded by theosophists. Perhaps this distance accounts for the ways in which he was somewhat of an outlier in cultural sensibility. Not tapped into hip ‘60s London, his entrance into UK counterculture was through the backdoor – by reading science fiction. Butterworth’s consumption of 1950s pulp led him into an adolescent obsession with the weird and the gothic, taking cues from Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, H.P Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson. This in turn led him to him toward more outre science fiction writing: Bradbury’s short stories, Michael Moorcock’s ‘tales of the albino swordsman “Elric’; Brian W. Aldiss’ stopped‐world novel Hot House; and J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World.
Science fiction was a catalyst for Butterworth, prompting him to write and later publish speculative fiction. In the late 1960s, he began contributing to New Worlds, an experimental sci-fi publication that had fallen under Moorcock’s editorship in 1964. It printed writing, text art and poetry mired in tech paranoia and suspicion of contemporary political currents. It became increasingly cyberpunk as the ‘60s turned into the ‘70s, marrying speculative sci-fi with a paranoid, adversarial ethos.
New Worlds writers were united by a shared commitment to a project of estranging and critiquing reality, and a style swerving between theory, gonzo journalism and fiction in a way that disrupted authorised versions of ‘the real’. Within New Worlds, Moorcock published numerous early Ballard stories and text art pieces, as well as early writing by John Sladek, Pamela Zoline, Langdon Jones, John Harrison and a varied assortment of other young writers, illustrators and poets. It was a cycle of writing that was heavily influenced by William Burroughs, particularly his ‘cut up’ writing strategy that used experimental literary collage to break free of traditional linear narrative (in this context equated with social control). Several of Butterworth’s early contributions to New Worlds were certainly ‘cut ups’ in this sense. His ‘Concentrate 2’ was one of the outcomes of an epistolary exchange between himself and Ballard, whereby the latter cut down longer prose written by the former. The results were three pared down literary collages. Butterworth titled these Concentrate 1, Concentrate 2, and Concentrate 3 – they marked the beginning of his interest in condensed writing, which would inform some of the ethos of Corridor when he founded it in 1971.
A great deal of New Worlds content can be understood not as fiction or criticism, but as conceptual text art (Moorcock also published a fair amount of pulp hardboiled storytelling, which made for a maelstrom of ‘high’ and ‘low’ weaving through each New Worlds issue). These diagrammatic texts produced a confrontation with a reader intended to go something like this: the reader encounters some meticulously-arranged, diagrammatically-formatted text; the reader assumes that some quantitative or technical knowledge is being relayed; the reader is unable to locate the meaning or sense of the diagram; the reader concludes that the diagram is activating a logic from a reality different from our own; the possibility of an alternative universe produces an uncanny meta-textual reading experience. Said another way, New Worlds was successful at pranking and weirding a reader’s grasp on boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. These sorts of text experiments point to the magazine’s overarching interest in pseudo-science, in ‘unreal’ knowledge and alternative forms of knowing that seemed to issue from another, speculative universe.
In their longer and more ‘straight’ fiction contributions, New Worlds writers tended to explore encounters between built form and landscape, between man and machine. Their narratives glittered with youthful mid-century paranoia. It was a moment in which the UK was inching towards globalised telecommunication, computing and nuclear warfare, and many of the post-disaster landscapes (especially in Ballard’s texts) conveyed Cold War anxiety: a looming sense of imminent annihilation. This was compounded by a feeling, expressed by Northern writers like Butterworth, that the gutted, post-industrial Northern landscapes were already post-apocalyptic. Under it all, there lurked a pervasive anxiety about the human body itself: its future and function in the oncoming age of robotics, and the increasingly soluble boundaries between natural and synthetic.
These currents, both formal and thematic, prompted Butterworth to launch his own editorial project in 1968. It was a broadsheet, eponymously titled Concentrate after his three early text-collage pieces. It described itself as ‘a magazine of short precise writings’, and Butterworth circulated it tucked into a dog-eared run of New Worlds 185 (1968).
Concentrate drew on the condensed writing experiments Butterworth had encountered in New Worlds and developed under the instruction of Ballard. In the tradition of any great art/literary publication, it incurred heavy financial loss over the course of its printing and dissemination. It was distributed for free, tucked in the cover of New Worlds and also in the cover of poetry and art publication Ambit. Ballard was Ambit’s prose editor and Butterworth was the Manchester and Salford distributor, as well as a contributor (he had a prose poem published in Ambit in issue 36, 1968). As a little magazine editor, Butterworth sculpted his readership in a specific way when he circulated Concentrate within both of these publications. The move forged links to both a science-fiction readership (New Worlds), but also a more literary and art-focused readership (Ambit). Concentrate fell somewhere in between.
The Concentrate broadsheet contained flash fiction and poetry, some of which had been heavily edited or ‘concentrated’ down by Butterworth. In this sense it was a collaboration between Butterworth and his contributing writers – authorship was somewhat fluid. The resultant pieces fell into a literary avant-garde interested in using non-linear literary collage to make connections between disparate signs, and to displace authorial authority. Among the included texts were poems by the novelist and poet Alexis Lykiard, notable for having translated a number of eminent French literary scholars into English, including Alfred Jarry, Antonin Artaud and Isadore Ducasse. Butterworth included a compact poem of Lykiard’s titled Instead of a Postcard:
Thinking of you on the train back.
Rain tracks over glass.
No need to see your face:
trees sewn with silver thread
and when blackened houses slip by,
these too are beautiful.
Concentrate also included several poems written by John H. Clark, a psychologist at Manchester University who in 1983 wrote A Map of Mental States. The book was a geometrical model of human mental life, which linked mental illness to fields not ordinarily discussed in psychology, such as mysticism, drug states, capitalism, art, architecture and literature. Clark’s book prefigured contemporary politicised-lefty-psychology (Mark Fisher) and chimed with another overarching notion that defined New Worlds writing: a sense that interior mental landscapes might constitute a cosmos worth describing with speculative or non-literal language. Said another way, the poetry and prose within this first Concentrate broadsheet all seemed to hinge on a sort of inward looking ‘outer space’, or rather a science fiction that dealt with everyday experience and interiority (as opposed to space aliens and alternate universes). The weirding did not come so much through content but through the language itself.
Due to various financial and logistical pressures, Butterworth didn’t continue to produce the Concentrate broadsheet after that first 1968 run. But by 1971, he was ready to renew his editorial efforts. This new project, Corridor, retained certain genre links to the speculative science fiction tradition carved out by New Worlds, but also veered more heavily in the direction of poetry and art criticism. It was hard to pin down, genre-wise, but a few things were clear: it was utterly non-commercially viable, it was interdisciplinary, and it was leftist in sensibility. In the Directory of Little Magazines, it described itself in the following terms:
Corridor is a predominantly fiction magazine at present, which aims to entertain and stimulate thought using writing often (though not necessarily) conventional in style, content, etc. One of its aims is to encourage new writers, but a fair percentage of its material is drawn from established writers such as Michael Moorcock, Charles Platt, John Sladek, & many others. At present Corridor has strong science/speculative fiction roots, though it will shortly broaden its appeal without losing its SF base altogether. Material up to 5,000 words, or 4 A4 size pages. 60p/yr.
The first issue of Corridor displayed a cover with a heady psychedelic graphic – ‘hippie’ bubble lettering done by youngster Rick Barman. Barman was likely influenced by graphic artists from San Francisco in the 1960s (particularly Wes Wilson, the designer behind the iconic psychedelic bubble letters that graced Grateful Dead posters). The issue was filled with visual nods to early 70s counterculture. Its crown jewel was a speculative history of Jerry Cornelius, a fictional character who regularly appeared in Moorcock’s narratives. The text was a collage comprised of contemporary news clippings (sourced by Moorcock) that happened to contain the name Cornelius. Linking back to New Worlds strategies of disruption, it was a piece of text art that knitted a fictional character into the fabric of the real world. Butterworth paired this ‘fiction’ with illio graphics done by Arthur Moyse, a left-wing anarchist illustrator and cartoonist who was affiliated with Freedom Press (the oldest anarchist publishing house in London). This combination of science fictional narrative and adversarial politics was the beginning of an editorial practice through which Butterworth brought more ‘arty’ types into proximity with lefty political rabble rousers.
This was followed in short succession by a second issue of Corridor that Butterworth printed with a small press in Manchester called ‘White Light Press’ (the printer who ran ‘White Light,’ John Muir, became an important link between Butterworth and his future publishing partner, David Britton). However, it was soon stopped in its tracks due to censorship. A combination of the cover image – a low-fi print of a topless woman sitting on a peculiarly two-dimensional cut-out of a man, and a story printed within titled A cunt not fit for a Queen – soured reception of the issue, even within the little magazine circuit. The offending author of ‘Queen, Paul Buck, was the editor of the seminal ‘70s magazine Curtains, which gave early exposure to several cult French theorists (Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida) — his obscenity might have been better received by the French underground.
This scuppered issue demonstrates how Corridor was linked to some of the most important literary work happening in the 70s, and how the ambiguous and sometimes muscular, male use of transgression deployed by counter-cultural publishing operations during this period was met with resistance, regardless of satirical aims. This is worth considering for the contemporary archive comber, in a moment in which ‘lewd anarchic hijinks’ are being taken to their very worst possible conclusions in various underground spaces.
Butterworth released the third issue of Corridor in 1972, this time joined by a new ‘marketing and distribution’ partner, Kevin Dixon Jackson. The text collage on the front cover was assembled by Jackson, as were several invented ‘letters from readers’ within the pages of this issue. Corridor continued to function as a sort of holistic text experiment, with experimental editorial interventions. These editorial hijinks can be understood as a radical re-framing of the role of editor and publisher: a proposition for editing itself to be understood as an artistic practice. Alongside this third issue, Butterworth released what he called a ‘News Sheet,’ in which he provided a more didactic description of what Corridor was trying to do:
Business methods of increasing circulation are not sufficient on their own to further our aims. While we believe business techniques to be invaluable, we are equally concerned with fulfilling Corridor’s function of helping to create a new literary consciousness. To this end we are inviting readers to submit their own writings for publication and also to keep us in touch with their criticisms, encouragements, and new ideas, by writing to us (see letters page in this issue). Ideally, we would like to replace the old strictly defined boundary system (separating readers from writers) with a self-regulating ‘feedback’ system.
With these aims (of creating slippages between reader, writer, and editor), Butterworth published the fourth issue Corridor later in 1972, with renewed commitment to destabilising and hybridising form. The teaser language on the cover of the issue shows the extent to which Corridor had evolved into a magazine dedicated to dissolving edges between text-art, criticism, and fiction. This new issue contained a new Jerry Cornelius story by Moorcock, a ‘word movie’ by John Riley, a long poem by Kevin Dixon-Jackson, ‘acid head fantasy’ by Chris Naylor, a review of William Burroughs written by Jay Jeff Jones, experimental work by Trevor Hoyle’s ‘the constant copywriter’ as well as a healthy smattering of letters to the editor. It was an issue that particularly reflected the post-industrial landscape of Manchester: Kevin Dixon-Jackson’s long poem evoked the strange, derelict geometry of Manchester’s city centre, alongside a photo series, also by Jackson, ringing with a palpable hauntology for lost Northern futures.
This issue has a slightly expanded editorial team, and the content reflected this diversity. Jay Jeff Jones joined as the associate editor and reviews editor, bringing to the publication an erudite take on Burroughs, as well as a connection to the anti-royalist playwright Heathecote Williams (who became a regular contributor to Corridor in ensuing issues). It was also the first issue in which Butterworth collaborated with David Britton, another small press editor, writer and illustrator who ran an independent bookshop in Manchester called House on the Borderland (which stocked comics, pornography, underground records, occult oddities, UFO paraphernalia and books of a generally bizarre nature).
At the time of their introduction, Britton was publishing amateur magazines under a variety of titles— Weird Fantasy and Crucified Toad, primarily—publications with a Lovecraftian style, bizarre and gruesome illustrations, and a propensity for collaged picaresque and Victorian imagery; a distorted vision of art nouveau cut with horror fandom. Andrew Darlington has described Britton’s early little magazine work as having ‘elements of Beardsley’s euphoric pornographic art colliding with Magritte-complex mind-game landscapes of ludicrous and bizarre juxtaposition, all enacted across in-the-head Victorian drawing rooms’. When the printer at White Light press introduced them, he brought together Butterworth’s avant-garde science fiction proclivities with Britton’s punk and horror-core weirdness.
The Butterworth-Britton collaboration ushered in a new aesthetic turn for Corridor, apparent in Corridor 5, published in 1974. Britton designed the cover, which featured a ghoulish, red-eyed, long-fingered figure, giving the issue a monstrous, sinister charge. Britton’s illustrations, which became central to the visual culture of Corridor from this point onward, often featured anthropomorphic assemblages in excessive and tortured stances, frequently with woven-in esoteric pop culture references, as well as a certain sensitivity to fashion; ‘50s rockabilly cut with a sort of dystopian BDSM aesthetic.
Britton’s art direction and artistic contributions pushed Corridor towards a darker, more horrifying, transgressive presentation. The publication began to read as more anarchical and certainly more punk, also taking on a tone, in certain sections, that gestured towards the many punk fanzines percolating at the time. Jones introduced ‘Space Radio’ in this issue, conceived as an experimental ‘audience participation’ column in which he rambled on about music and literature, using audience responses as raw material in subsequent columns. The ethos was participatory and grassroots, and can be understood as a marked move towards ‘bottom-up’, fan-centered publishing, and away from avant-garde literary elitism.
Notwithstanding, this grassroots ‘zine’ tone was matched by a retained commitment to experimental speculative fiction that had a rigorous theoretical substratum. This issue featured a long interview with Ballard, which in many ways reads as a handbook on the ‘New Wave’ cycle of writing. It is an incredibly fruitful interview, full of Ballard’s incisive commentary about the state of contemporary fiction, as well as insights into the post-apocalyptic disaster landscape backdropping so many of his stories.
Through his editorial choices, Butterworth joined this strain of Ballardian fiction with Britton’s adversarial aesthetics. As a Lovecraft fan, Britton’s drawings had a certain family resemblance to Lovecraft’s drawings of Cthulhu (the horrific tentacled entity that dwarfs human agency and transcends human primacy in many of Lovecraft’s stories). The Britton-Lovecraft link finds further context in Ballard’s work, which is largely concerned with the psychological limits of the human mind when faced with happenings on an immense scale, like natural disasters, and the forces of late capitalism. Britton and Ballard and their respective legacies are two sides of the same coin, using different stylistic methods to address the possibility of human annihilation (with greater and lesser degrees of misanthropy, and limited, certainly, by their nihilistic, white, male worldviews).
All this works in the service of a broader point, which is that on many registers – content, imagery, genre – Corridor can be thought of as a publication that pioneered a synthesis of speculative fiction, contemporary art, horror, and anti-capitalist, post-humanist politics. In developing this editorial perspective, Butterworth became a key figure in laying the groundwork for a new genre that would later be coined ‘new-weird’ writing. There are a number of understandings of the ‘new-weird’ genre currently circulating, but the early move towards it – evident within the Corridor publishing legacy – fundamentally came from the literary and visual union of speculative, post-anthropocentric fiction, science-fictional art and monstrous, uncanny visual culture. Butterworth extended and entrenched this synthesis in the ensuing issues of Corridor, which changed its name to WordWorks in its next publishing run (but remained the same in all but name).
Wordworks persisted until 1976, at which point Butterworth turned his editorial attentions to the fledgling underground publishing operation Savoy, with David Britton as his partner. Butterworth remained active in underground Northern publishing and art writing through the 1990s (and indeed continues to be so today), and relaunched Corridor8 in the mid-2000s with a renewed emphasis on art writing and a continued emphasis on Northern subcultural happenings (see back catalogue of publications here, and residency programme here).
This foray into the Corridor8 archive is in many ways a beginning, intended to open up questions about the history of Northern countercultures. The Corridor8 archive is rich, varied and complex — and is still being mined, as a material artefact and as a starting point for conversations about art publishing practices that adopt an ethos of left wing populism (or a popular avant-garde). Further interventions might open up possibilities for Corridor8 going forward, for example: how might the publication revive the fictional experiments and genre intersections that constitute its history?
Hannah is an American writer and researcher who recently completed her MA degree at the Royal College of Art.