A hybrid counterculture, mixing elements of hippy, cyberpunk and raver, that appeared in the UK during the 90's. Like "yippie", the moniker was an acronym, which stood for Zen-Inspired Pagan Professionals, according to Fraser Clark, zippy godfather, promoter and editor of Encyclopedia Psychedelia, the magazine that first brought attention to the movement.

The first mainstream attention brought to the zippies was Jules Marshall's article in the May 1994 issue of Wired. The psychedelic cover featured a gleeful neo-hippy, sporting a rasta hat, goatee and big, goony glasses that looked like they had been constructed from computer parts. Over his head was printed the brazen proclamation "Here Come the Zippies!" The article gave a short history of the movement and Fraser Clark, outlined their culture, and asked the question "Will their gathering in August at the Grand Canyon be the Woodstock of the 90's?"

The zippy was someone who had both sides of their brain in balance: creative and analytical. They exhibited both the hippy's love of dancing, nature, and community and the cyberpunk's love of high technology, rationalism and memetic theory. They revered alternative thinkers such as Robert Anton Wilson, Terence McKenna and Timothy Leary. They were anti-consumerist yet entrepreneurial: two zippy mottoes are "saving the planet by making a billion by saving the planet" and "peace, love, and a fair prophet". The ideology and attitude behind the movement was intensely optimistic, exemplified by a meme which had either been engineered or appropriated: "pronoia", which Marshall defined as "the sneaking feeling one has that others are conspiring behind your back to help you". (Clark changed the group's acronym to "Zen-Inspired Pronoia Professionals" because, he said, "Americans are so paranoid about their pagan roots".)

The article was an unabashed advertisement for an entire movement, touted as the "most radical musical invasion of America since the Beatles and the Stones first kicked up the shit 30 years ago." In short, a new Summer of Love.

Clark, the owner of London club and zippy mecca Megatripolis, was the man behind the Zippy Pronoia Tour, a series of raves put on across the U.S. The festivals were organized and ran by a crew of 13 zippies from around the world. Speakers and performers included hippy icons like Terence McKenna and Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters, and cyberpunk icons like Cap'n Crunch and RU Sirius.

But all was not well with the tour. In July 1994, 11 of the 13 split with Clark over ego issues: they felt they were being used by him, and that he was taking all the credit for the tour's success, using them to elevate his status as a celebrity. (Megatripolis UK had split from him earlier for similar reasons.) The tour went on without him, and he tried to settle down in San Francisco to open a new club, Megatripolis/West.

Clark tried to cancel the "mega-rave" in the Grand Canyon, which would close out the tour. But the media juggernaut, which had begun with the Wired article, was impossible to stop. The final product was the "World Unity Music Festival", a free 8-day tribal rave (August 21-28, 1994) in conjunction with a Rainbow Gathering, making it the first appearance of electronic music at that festival.

After the tour and all its media hype, however, zippies vanished from the radar. Marshall revealed in the March 22, 2002 issue of the UP web magazine that the zippy story was essentially a hoax cooked up by him and Fraser Clark to plant a meme in the American consciousness and promote the Zippy Pronoia Tour. Wired, ever hungry for bleeding-edge social trends, hyped it even beyond Marshall's expectations.

John "Cubensis" Bagby, one of the 13 and developer of the extensive zippy website pronoia.net, insists that the zippy crew's intentions were honorable. Despite accusations of "selling out", he claims they actually didn't make very much money, and had been working very hard to spread the vision that Clark had helped forge and focus.

While the zippies and their tour seem destined to be a footnote in countercultural history, the spirit lives on in Burning Man, which has doubtlessly done a much better job at bringing together disparate cultures, while making a buck and entrenching itself in the American consciousness.


Sources and Furthur Reading:
  • Huffstutter, P.J. "We're not in Woodstock Anymore." Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1994. http://www.pronoia.net/tour/media/media_latimes.html
  • Marshall, Jules. "Zippies!". http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.05/zippies.html?person=richard_dawkins&topic_set=wiredpeople
  • Marshall, Jules. "The Great? Wired? Zippy? Hoax?" http://www.parallel-youniversity.com/emag/May22nd2002.htm
  • "What Cubensis Thinks." http://www.pronoia.net/tour/cubensis.html
  • "Zippy Pronoia Tour to US '94." http://www.pronoia.net/tour/net/well.html
  • NOTE: I release this writeup to the public domain.