When beloved Australian music site Mess + Noise shut down in mid-2015, things looked bleak for local music journalism. With blogs beholden to hype-y publicity cycles and increasingly focused on click-driven content, local long-form music criticism – the kind that used to provoke nuanced, exciting conversations in the music community – seemed like it had hit its nadir. Swampland, an Australian music magazine launched last year, wanted to change that.
“A focus on long-form writing is something that needs to happen,” says Swampland editor Kimberly Thompson. “Print seemed like the best way to do that, even though it’s crazy to start a print magazine now. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but we felt like doing it anyway.”
Swampland’s long-form-only format allows the magazine to focus not just on publishing quality writing, but also on how to present that writing – something online outlets have struggled with, according to the magazine’s creative director, Alan Weedon.
“Longform is a threatened species, and a lot of platforms don’t really know how to deal with it presentation-wise – how [to] hold the reader’s hand and take them on a journey,” he says. To combat that, Swampland prioritises visual storytelling, combing “sumptuous photography with the sumptuous pieces”, Weedon says.
Swampland launched in late-2016, and Australia’s music community has welcomed and praised it. But the road to issue two, which is out now, was a little bumpy.
After seeing a poster for Swampland’s launch – which included an uncensored mention of Spike Fuck, one of the artists playing at the launch party – a Brunswick resident called radio station 3AW to complain that the poster, branded with the City of Melbourne logo, was inappropriate. “Rob from Brunswick” described it to the station as “confronting, gratuitous [and] provocative”. When the story was picked up by Channel 9 news, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle called for the posters to be removed.
“It’s actually worked out incredibly well for us,” says Thompson, stressing that the City of Melbourne has remained supportive despite the controversy. “[The council was] just reacting to an angry old man who wanted to yell at clouds. Rob from Brunswick has actually done us a huge favour.”
Aside from being long-form-only, Swampland is also different from other music magazines because it doesn’t feel tied to any specific genre or scene. In issue two you can read about the history of the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre and Melbourne’s early experimental scene, as well as a candid conversation between Marcus Whale and Rainbow Chan about Asian-Australian identity. And there’s a feature by Alex Griffin on Tasmania’s Emlyn Johnson.
“Growing up, when I was reading music magazines, the boundaries of genre were policed to some extent,” says Weedon. “I feel like those boundaries don’t exist anymore.”
Thompson agrees: “People don’t really care so much about aligning themselves with one particular genre.”
Issue two’s cover story is on Melbourne firebrands HABITS, interviewed by Triana Hernandez and photographed by Elliott Lauren. Thompson says the shoot took “a solid five hours”, resulting in shots of the duo that perfectly capture the beauty and irreverence of their music.
“As long as people want to read long-form,” Weedon says, “Swampland will exist.”