From the editor: Welcome to Swampland
Words by Kimberley Thomson | Images by Alan Weedon | July 2016
Not so long ago I was standing in front of a magazine rack in a state of despair. It must have been the best-of list that did it: ‘The Forty Greatest Punk Albums Of All Time’. Well, now. All the usual suspects—mostly long-dead, baby boomer fetish objects. I also had the option of reading a retrospective on The Who or an in-depth interview with Bob Dylan. Across the aisle, there were food magazines aplenty—new, independent titles telling interesting and relevant stories—but as for the music magazines: slim pickings.
A similar memory came back to me recently. It was 2006 and I was in the UK—returning to the city in which I was born for a family Christmas visit. My dad had whisked me off to Sainsburys to do some last minute grocery shopping and I was absentmindedly scanning the magazine stand. I picked up a copy of the NME, something I’d never heard of before. (I was a 15-year-old girl from the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne, so my reading habits consisted mainly of assigned school books and Dolly Doctor sealed sections.)
The cover featured Brandon Flowers from The Killers sporting a come hither expression that was appealing to my pubescent inclinations. It was the bumper Christmas edition and included all kinds of bands that I had vaguely heard of and understood as cool. I asked my dad to fork out the £2.50.
For the rest of the holiday I thumbed through the publication like it was a holy text. I pored over the reviews, took careful note of the snarky tone, tried to prove my worth by filling in the ridiculously esoteric crossword. It was a revelation. (Not to mention the double-sided wall calendar of My Chemical Romance and The Libertines—what a treat.)
When I returned home to Australia I trotted off to my local newsagent and discovered happily that they stocked the NME. For the next few years, the magazine helped shepherd my obsession with mediocre Brit-rock revival bands and informed my ongoing list of things to download on Limewire.
Around the same time, I used to diligently pick up Melbourne street press Beat Magazine from the local JB Hi-Fi; I also remember picking up the last print edition of Mess+Noise, but I didn’t really understand its significance.
As magazine people tend to do, I kept the 2006 Christmas edition of the NME. Last week I went and dug it up from a cupboard in my mum’s house. Mid-2000s Brandon Flowers stared out—bright-eyed and fleshy-faced, trapped in suspended animation for the rest of time.
Thumbing through now, the tone that I remembered as hilarious is really just derivative tabloid snark. There are lots of pale men with guitars and floppy hair. As far as I can tell, its predominant reason for existence seems to be as an ongoing paean to Oasis and a platform for B-grade British music celebrities to sling shit at each other.
The NME changed its business model last year. After years of declining circulation numbers (to as low as 15,000 per issue), the publication decided to become free of charge and instigate a higher print run. This seems to have ushered in a spate of questionable native advertising deals and a broader shift towards ‘entertainment’ coverage, but readership was recently recorded as its highest ever, and ad rates are plump.
It’s clear that magazines can’t exist like they used to—the throne of mass communication has been heeded to a stronger power. But, magazines can still exist. As larger titles alter their publishing models, small, independent titles are thriving—relying on their offerings of quality, considered work.
Swampland has begun because I think there is a place for a magazine that tells specifically Australian music stories—something that asks intelligent questions about the music that is being made here, or has been made previously, and wonders what that says about the larger context of who we are.
Sadly, we exist in a media context where trying to find sources of consistently good Australian music journalism outside of the PR cycle is exhausting, if not basically impossible. Swampland is not particularly interested in snark or taste-making; we’re definitely not interested in listicles or irrelevant best-of lists. We want to create a space for good writers to make good work, to have a reason to pursue pieces that take quite a long time and quite a lot of thought. We are interested in work that can retain its worth over more than a few weeks, but over months, years—even decades. Work that says something about the time and place in which it was written.
And, a magazine is nothing without its readers. We are not trying to take the world, although we are confident that there is a small but dedicated readership out there—those that have stood in front of the magazine rack despondently—that understands exactly what we’re trying to do.