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Swimmers Club

The pioneers of aviation were never lonely

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Who: Aquamarine
Where: ,

How did the name of the zine come about?

Aquamarine was originally a paper fanzine which I set up to accompany my tape label Bliss.  Most of the compilation tapes I released were named after colours and gemstones, so Aquamarine followed the same pattern.

Can you tell us a bit about how the zine got started? Is it a physical photocopied affair or online or a bit of both?

I set up the Bliss tape label back in 1993, which ran until some time in the early 2000s.  After about a year of putting out tapes, I decided to start a fanzine too.  There were 20 paper issues of Aquamarine, then I moved the zine onto the web in 2000.  The webzine is still very much an ongoing concern today and I am currently working on issue 30.

Are there any particular subjects that you write about?

Aquamarine is an underground/independent music fanzine.  I first found out that there was a whole world of music outside of the charts via Sarah Records and the wider indiepop scene, so naturally my zine originally focused on indiepop.  As time went on, word spread around the broader underground music community about Aquamarine and I started to receive promos from bands and artists playing a wide variety of non-mainstream music.  However, I got so snowed under with promos that it was impossible to keep up with reviewing everything I was sent.  In order to keep my review backlog under control, I had to make the zine a bit more genre-specific.  I don’t believe in genre purism, so making it a single-genre-only affair was out of the question.  I also wanted Aquamarine to be an honest reflection of my musical tastes, so limiting it to just one style of music would end up giving a skewed picture. I find however that the music I generally enjoy the most tends to be either indiepop, folk, or psychedelic, so those are the genres I cover nowadays.

Can you tell us about the city in which you are based and what influence, if any, it might have on the zine?

I have lived in three different places since setting up Aquamarine; two small towns and a city.  The towns had no influence at all on Aquamarine as there is no underground music scene to speak of in those areas, at least not from the genres I cover.  When I lived in Birmingham I did get more opportunity to go to gigs and would include live reviews of local bands as well as reviews of local bands’ CDs/tapes/records in Aquamarine, but local music has never been the main focus of the zine.  Over the years I have included bands from many countries in Aquamarine.

These days publications can get connected to their own social-media, etc. How do you think this has changed the role of the self-contained zine coming out edition by edition?

Since Aquamarine became a webzine, I still kept the format of ‘issues’ rather than something more like a blog format.  However, the issues take shape review by review, rather than waiting until the whole issue is completed before I upload it to the website.  This way I can get the word out quicker about the music I write about, and bands don’t have to wait until the whole issue is finished before they get to see their reviews.  I joined Facebook in 2014 and this has helped with promoting Aquamarine, as well as being helpful for me to keep up to date with new releases from the bands and labels I’m in contact with.  I announce each review as it appears on the site via my Facebook page.

Do you involve yourselves in any live events – gig showcases or DJ/clubnights attached to your zine?

No.  There doesn’t seem to be much call for underground music where I live, so such an event wouldn’t really work locally.

Swimmers Club has a focus on the state of independent culture at the moment (independent coffee shops, presses, record labels, etc). How healthy do you think independent culture is right now? How could the state of it be improved?

Independent culture, in the shape of musicians, labels, music review websites and so on, is thriving.  It’s actually easier for people to find underground culture nowadays thanks to the internet, whereas when I first started out back in the early 90s, you had to be already involved in the scene to get to know what was going on, as underground music was largely promoted via fanzines and photocopied flyers spread around the underground music network by post.

In your opinion, do you think a zine should remain an amateur affair or is it ok for it to become a little more professional?

It depends how you are defining ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’.  In the original sense of the words, ‘amateur’ means doing something for the love of it, as opposed to ‘professional’ where the thing is being done to make money.  If taken this way, zines should always be amateur.  Fanzines are supposed to be written by and for fans, and therefore driven by a love of the music, or any other topic they are writing about.  Setting a zine up solely to make money, while having no passion for the topic the zine focuses on, misses the point of what fanzines are supposed to be about.   Of course, it is also possible to run a business that is motivated by a genuine passion, but I don’t think this would work for anything underground music related.  This music appeals to a tiny niche market, and unless you are unusually lucky, it’s not something you can get rich from.  If I was to try turning Aquamarine into a business, I would need to compromise on the kind of music I cover in order to reach a wider audience.  This would feel disingenuous, and would also take the fun out of running a zine.

However, in popular parlance, ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ have another meaning; if something is amateur it’s sloppily and hastily produced by someone who doesn’t really care about what they’re doing, and if something is professional, it’s produced by someone who puts care and effort into their work and makes sure it looks good.  The meanings have become partially reversed in this sense.  In terms of this second meaning of amateur and professional, I believe in getting a balance.  If a zine is too messy-looking, this can give the impression that the zine writer doesn’t care about what they do, but if it’s too slick, there’s nothing to distinguish the zine from business-based magazines, as it has lost the homemade feel that characterises fanzine publishing.

Further Information

As well as writing Aquamarine, I sing with folk band Fly Away Sorrow, and also provided backing vocals on the latest recording by Mary Queen of Scots, the 1990s indie band who reformed earlier this year. Find out more at and


Push your shoulders and hands under the surface of the water. Subcultures, independent cultures, others.