BY Jan Kedves in Features | 22 APR 14
Featured in
Issue 14


Founded in 1997, the Berlin-based print magazine De:Bug focused on ‘life’s electronic aspects’, covering techno, programming and net criticism. April 2014 saw the last print issue of the influential magazine. Writer and DJ Sascha Kösch, aka Bleed, co-founder and editor-in-chief from May 2012, talks to Jan Kedves about why De:Bug folded, tech-euphoria and why he’s bored of Post-Internet art

BY Jan Kedves in Features | 22 APR 14

Issues of De:Bug from its 17 year history, 2013 (photograph: Lars Hammerschmidt)

JAN KEDVES The range of topics covered by De:Bug – electronic music, digital culture and net criticism – was quite unique in the print market. Was it a specifically Berlin mix?

SASCHA KÖSCH The range resulted from the people involved and the interests of the founders. Riley Reinhold, Benjamin Weiss and I had previously worked on the techno magazine Frontpage, which folded in 1997. Together with friends, we wanted to make a newspaper that would be about not only techno and rave but all aspects of the relatively new situation of people – like us – spending much of their time in front of the computer: technology, music, clubbing, software, graphic design, the Internet and so on. Which is why the interface was always a central concept for De:Bug.

JK Wasn’t the format of a print magazine a contradiction, even at that time?

SK We didn’t want to do a webzine. There were already good models of how a magazine format could be realized online – mailing lists like Nettime, for example. But that also meant excluding people. In 1997, not everyone had Internet access. So De:Bug had to be a print magazine.

JK According to the strapline, it was a magazine for ‘life’s electronic aspects’ and for ‘self-control’. The latter term was always slightly disconcerting.

SK A paper needs a catchphrase. We came up with ‘music, media and culture’ – but the boredom knocked us out. There was something missing. ‘Self-control’ fit not just because it has the DIY aspect of ‘we’re going to do this ourselves’, but also because the concept is so appealingly ambivalent. ‘Self-control’ recalls Foucault and biopolitics, but it could also mean: ‘whatever you do, don’t laugh’, which also somehow relates to biopolitics, just differently.

JK Was self-control required among the staff – who consistently reported on the wackiest new software and gadgets – in the sense of not forgetting to be critical in spite of all the tech euphoria?

SK As we understood it, this aspect was always implied by our name, the act of debugging: ‘there’s this new programme, it’s great, but it has errors.’ Not just in the sense of ‘where are the coding mistakes?’ But ‘what can and cannot be done with this programme; what does and doesn’t it allow?’ In 1997, when we were starting out, people were already stirred up about the way Microsoft was forcing users into a straightjacket – all the crazy digital rights stuff and phantasms of surveillance. It wasn’t so far removed from what’s happening with the NSA scandal – except now it’s state sanctioned. So yes, De:Bug was always a critical project. At the time we were already aware that the Internet is both awesome and nasty, two sides of the same coin.

JK In your article in March announcing the end of the print version of De:Bug, you write: ‘we’re glad to have pitched a great many topics into the discussion as soon as we possibly could, even if we would have benefited more by taking our time.’ Self-criticism?

SK If we’d been able to do otherwise, it would be self-criticism, yes. But it wasn’t like that. Our ambition was always to be front-runners. In 2005, for example, we were the first German-language magazine to use the term ‘Web 2.0’ on our cover – before the concept had even been introduced. If we’d done it a few months later, once everyone had heard of Web 2.0, it would have been more profitable for sure.

JK After the NSA revelations – for which De:Bug ran the headline ‘Computer State’ – shouldn’t a magazine for net criticism be on a roll?

SK The closure of the magazine was due to the lack of advertising. De:Bug depended on advertising for 70 percent of its funds. At the end, we were roughly two full-page ads short per issue. For advertising agencies with big clients, small print publications with niche circulations are becoming less and less relevant. Today, budgets are spent online, where such niche readerships are easier to find, using targeted tracking etc …

JK Would that be a reason to continue De:Bug online?

SK We would like to try, with a smaller team. But I’m not especially optimistic. I see the state of people’s attention levels from my own Facebook feed: even when there are big stories, such as Snowden and the NSA, almost all anyone shares is emo fluff from websites like Upworthy: ‘17 sad guinea pigs that will make your heart bleed’.

JK The end of De:Bug in print comes at a time when there’s much talk of ‘Post-Internet’, also in art. What do you think of this concept?

SK To be honest, I think it’s stupid. ‘After the Internet’ isn’t something any of us are going to experience. The Net won’t go away. I got on fine with Net art, with Jodi or Alexei Shulgin for example. Their art was not only technically advanced in odd ways, but it also had a great deal of humour. So far, the Post-Internet art I’ve seen has bored me.

JK One aspect of ‘Post-Internet’ seems to be an affirmation of the Net as something natural and self-evident – something that wasn’t yet the case when De:Bug was founded.

SK Being self-evident doesn’t automatically make it right. Just because one is constantly surrounded by something doesn’t mean one shouldn’t think about it or reserve a scrap of criticism for it. I realize that this purely affirmative and uncritical quality is supposed to make Post-Internet art interesting. But brightly coloured mishmash of funny logos – would someone tell these people how great Daniel Pflumm was at dealing with logos in the ’90s?!
Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Jan Kedves is a writer, editor and author of Talking Fashion. From Nick Knight to Raf Simons in Their Own Words (Prestel, 2013). He is based in Berlin.