Drainor

After the exhausting print run of Infiltration, the next zine to visit is the UK’s Drainor Magazine, printed in 2008. This project is a spinoff of the ‘zine Section 61; it was intended to be the third issue of that zine, but instead took off as a solo project by Jondoe of that group.

Drainor is a glossy zine and very well-made. The internal layout is visually interesting and creatively formatted. I do not have my hands on either of the preceding issues of Section 61, but I suspect that practice on these issues would account for this zine’s professional layout and construction.

Published only a few years after Infiltration’s print run ended, Drainor shows how the UE community had evolved in that time. Explicitly identifying with the urban exploration subculture, the zine listed the websites of all contributors on the inside cover. And most of them do have websites, although many are now defunct. The main exception to this is Jondoe’s website, Sub-Urban, still going strong on the subject of draining in London and beyond. Jondoe’s collaborator on Section 61 was Sam, who ran nobodythere.co.uk. As difficult to track down as Drainor may be, it is still a cultural artifact that appears to have outlived some of the more modern websites that were related to it.

Drainor has nine articles, all of them brief. The first is “Drain Geekery” by Elseed, an explorer based in Honolulu, admittedly not a location I would have singled out for urban exploration. This covers the differences between “gear geekery,” “book geekery,” and “drain geekery proper.” The draining community represented in this ‘zine is deeply immersed, and is not simply out to go in the easiest drains it can find. Next is “Exploring Brussels’ Sewers” by Slyv, on the difference between that draining, which focuses on storm drains, and the much more dangerous sewering, the exploration of sanitary sewers.

In the next article, “A Dark Reality: The Birth of UK Drain Exploration,” Drainrat tells of the formation of the UK draining scene. Most of the personalities discussed are those who appear in this ‘zine, leading one to wonder if the history here is perhaps a bit too insular, and if there are other UK draining organizations that are not discussed. Drainrat’s old website, Urban Underworld, is memorialized in a page on the Sub-Urban website.

Likewise, Dskant’s site sleepycity.net has now become sewerfresh.com, but covers the same topic. His work in Drainor is a creative nonfiction-style of some youths discovering the joy of draining. Steve Duncan, a NYC explorer and photographer whose site undercity.org is only recently decommissioned (though he did put up a blogspot), covering “Knickerbocker Avenue Extension Sewer, Brooklyn, NY.” This is on the creation and exploration of a sewer in Brooklyn, then an independent city, that is a rare tunnel-bored sewer and not a cut-and-cover.

Tchorski brings “Exploring Belgium’s Underground Rivers” to the issue, discussing animals and another benefit that urban explorers provide to society: uncovering malfeasance. He has found illegal chemical dumps in these underground sewers, and reported these to active authorities. Next, D_D_T ruminates on “Finding Calm in a Storm Drain,” talking about how drains come to life as their own organisms, secluded from the bustling world above. Drainers are able to envision a three-dimensional cityscape, and often come to claim drains as parts of their own identity (also discussed in Drainrat’s article, where he lists all the discovered drains that the UK draining world has given grandiose names to). I am somewhat surprised that the Cave Clan has not come up in this issue, though Drainrat’s article did mention the contributions of Siologen, an Australian. D_D_T’s article is next to an opportunity to enter a contest to “Win the Ultimate Drainor Bag.”

These articles are all illustrated by pictures of drains, “drain pr0n.” The next feature is an interview with drainer “Little Mike,” formatted as a questionnaire he has “filled out.” He discusses his entry into draining (partially through Infiltration), and his rapid introduction into the world of photography, as well as the diminutive size of the draining community within the larger world of urban exploration. Again, I find myself wondering if this ‘zine is simply not accounting for a larger draining sphere in the country that its members simply are not in contact with.

The final article is by a familiar face, on a familiar topic. Freak, who contributed to the final issue of Infiltration (on the single-building town in Alaska), adds a brief piece about the draining mecca of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

This zine shows the urban exploration world, as it approaches the end of the last decade, suffering from what could be considered an information overload. Every explorer has their own site documenting their images and ruminations on sites they have explored. This explosion of content was palpable during the latter part of Infiltration’s print run as well. This is by no means a negative development, but it does mean that there are a lot of words available to sift through on the subject of decade-old urban exploration. Some sites clearly were not created with an eye to consistency or longevity, but fortunately, good old-fashioned zine publishing is able to ensure that these sites and explorers have a lasting legacy.