In 1986, emerging out of the creative ferment of LA’s punk rock and noise music community, a collective called Amok was formed dedicated to investigating and disseminating “the extremes of information.” Lacking the funds to actually stock a bookstore, they decided to issue a 30-page combination dada-inspired collage and book catalog dubbed the Amok First Dispatch. The Amok First Dispatch was organized like no other book catalog or bookstore – eschewing traditional genres it set up its own categories: Control, Mayhem, Orgone, Sleaze and others. The Amok First Dispatch became an immediate underground sensation and counted psychedelic visionary Timothy Leary among its first enthusiastic mail order customers.
A year later, having built up a small inventory of heretical and subversive titles, Amok then opened its first 300-square-foot bookstore just off of Sunset Blvd. in the pre-gentrified, mostly gay and Latino Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Amok Bookstore’s first public event featured in-person appearances by Leary and his Discordian cohort and author Robert Anton Wilson. Later events sponsored by the Amok Bookstore included an in-store show of Clown and Seven Dwarves paintings by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, the “Nailed!” performance by poet and soon-to-be-performance artist Bob Flanagan in which he nailed his scrotal sac to a wooden board at a nearby club. Amok began to publish its own original book titles ranging from the works of the esteemed noir author John Gilmore to dissident surrealist philosopher Georges Bataille to a monograph of the controversial Slovenian arts collective NSK to the ground-breaking compilation Amok Journal: Senssurround Edition. The Amok Bookstore was also at Ground Zero of the burgeoning zine movement and was one of the first retail outlets for independently published zines like Boing-Boing, Ben Is Dead, and Murder Can Be Fun.
The Amok Second Dispatch was devoted exclusively to “the steamy under-growths of the well-manicured fiction garden” from hard-boiled pulp writers to dandified decadent aesthetes. The Third Dispatch was a far more comprehensive return to anomalous information and heretical thought described by J.G. Ballard as “a wonderful conspectus of that other literature that exists light-years away from mainstream publishing and the respectable academic consensus.”
With the release of its Fourth Dispatch, now a bound volume with its deranged and menacing “Teeth Lady” cover, Amok had become internationally recognized as a vitally important guide to bizarre and provocative information in the pre-World Wide Web era. Vanity Fair magazine proclaimed it to be “the benchmark sourcebook on deviant literature” while the San Francisco Chronicle asserted that "a side effect of reading the Amok Dispatch is that it could make you reconsider the very nature of imagination, freedom and possibility."
Even more encyclopedic in scope, the Amok Fifth Dispatch opened up its ranks to a wide-ranging group of “oddball bibliophiles” (as director John Waters termed them) to contribute reviews and became a true sourcebook rather than a mail order book catalog. From a pioneering industrial music provocateur to a Fortean carnie sideshow performer, from an esteemed Science Fiction writer to a bondage porn director among many others, each of the Amok Fifth Dispatch contributors brought his or her own distinctive perspective and voice to the job of reviewing these intriguing and often obscure works. In recognition of this in 2000, the Amok Fifth Dispatch was nominated for Best Non-Fiction Title in the Firecracker Alternative Book Awards.
In the over two decades that have past since the inception of the World Wide Web, the information landscape has changed dramatically. It has become increasingly clear that the concentrations of power and the potential for manipulation by setting the parameters of acceptable discourse has only intensified in the span of time since release of the Amok First Dispatch. The scarcity of alternative world-views and anomalous data-points that was the catalyst for Amok has been replaced by an overabundance of rapidly digestible digital memes and click-bait sites disseminated at warp-speed via social media networks. The pleasantly comforting illusion that all of the of our species’ collective experience can be accessed on the first page of a keyword search has made billionaires of those who can make obtaining information as friction-less as possible. Extremely graphic imagery and violently unpopular intellectual stances have become easily accessible and just as easily dismissible clichés of the web. Why burn books when it’s so much more effective to hide them in a continuous fog of shiny pixels and 140-character tweets?
In the ensuing onslaught of distraction and fragmentation of thought since the origins of Amok, the importance of books as a vehicle for imparting knowledge context and insight and even fomenting change has become vital to establishing our autonomy as freethinking individuals. Utilizing the available tools of digital construction, AmokDispatch.org has taken the thousands of book reviews, excerpts and photos from the Amok Fifth Dispatch and transformed it into an ever-expanding online portal to challenging and subversive books and information.