Review: Bad Apples

Bad Apples
Audiovisual, Kara Khan & Matt Williams, 20 pgs,, $5

In early 2021, Philadelphia’s East Falls Zine Reading Room sponsored its first “digital residency,” a patron-supported program that sought pitches from writers and artists looking to make an innovative, full-color zine. The EFZRR would then pay for it to be printed and distributed in an edition of 250. Donors (like me) also received a copy of the result once completed. And what a result it is.

Bad Apples describes itself as an audiovisual zine, but it feels more like a street-level, sensory experience of Philly in crisis, as witnessed by Kara Khan and Matt Williams in the wake of George Floyd and the 2020 BLM protests. As reported by the New Yorker, Philadelphia Inquirer, and WHYY at the time, Khan and Williams — who are both activists and artists — were tear-gassed and later assaulted by white men “protecting” their neighbourhood in Fishtown as police stood by.

Combining a range of cityscape photographs — out-of-focus officers, angry men, storefronts, sneakers, water bottles — juxtaposed with quotations from troopers, captains, journalists, vigilantes and presidents, the zine is tense enough; however, add a sonic layer to the mix, and it screams.

Presented in cassette-like form complete with flip-able A/B sides, the zine also uses QR codes to link readers to a Bandcamp soundtrack performed by Khan and Williams. The A-side features additional sounds from the street and the policy, backed by ethereal drum, bass and synth; the B-side offers sample-, scratch-laden beats. In this sense Bad Apples is profound for what it documents, but also how it quite materially speaks back to a pernicious loop of police brutality and white supremacy that is too often framed as anomaly. This is one for the archives.