Q+Art: Rotten Magazine Translates Punk’s “Anti-Aesthetic” into the Digital Age
Fast, messy, and unpolished, punk bands have always operated under the ethos that nothing is sacred. For Joel Seawright and Lucy Jackson, the London-based creators of Rotten Magazine, the guitars and safety pins are beside the point. Their zine, a two-volume project the duo launched in 2019, translates punk’s “anti-aesthetic” into deeply personal work that recontextualizes contemporary art in the internet age.
Originally from Belfast, Seawright met Jackson, a painter, after traveling to London for an advertising class. The two joined creative forces, spinning their love of design, photography, and indie printing into a 124-page, punk-inspired zine. Vol.I, titled Look, Daddy, I Made a Magazine!, features work from photographers Joshua Gordon, Ciarán Óg Arnold, and Dani Lessnau, all artists Seawright and Jackson hand selected for the project. I’ve Always Like Slime, released in January 2021, is the ambitious follow-up, a 128-page love letter to the DIY spirit.
Featuring work from Gareth McConnell, an Irish photographer known for his morning-after teen raver images, Vol. II looks at the way art is received and perceived in the digital sphere. “Most of our text comes from the internet,” says Seawright, who nabbed the zine’s copy from pillreports.net, a global database of user reports on ecstasy-based pills. “That’s kind of our niche. We try to take text that recontextualizes the series and gives it a new meaning.”
The text, a treasure trove of first-hand accounts from party-goers around the world, highlights a discrepancy between our physical experiences and the digital ways we relive them. “There are a lot of weird people on the internet,” says Seawright with a chuckle. “It creates this weird intersection between print and the internet that you don’t get, or that you do get in unnatural places.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Joel Seawright of Rotten Magazine discusses creating a unique aesthetic for each volume, his secret love of female pop stars, and stocking his bookshelf with a robust supply of punk zines and photo books.
What books or magazines do you always keep close by?
Joel Seawright: Number one would probably be Civilization, which is actually a newspaper. It’s based in New York and it’s just loads of random stuff from random people in New York. It feels like you’re in New York when you read it, but obviously there’s some cultural similarities to London. Buffalo Zine is the crown jewel of indie zines. I met them a few years ago and was completely star struck—they're my heroes in publishing. Mushpit is another good one. Mostly photo books. I have a lot of old Irish punk zines I’ve collected.
If you could have dinner with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be?
JS: I’ll give you three: I’d say Jim Goldberg, Jamie Reed of the Sex Pistols, and Dido Moriyama. Actually Peter Sull is like, my favorite painter. I would definitely want to meet him.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
JS: Probably some of the music I listen to. I’ve really been into Caroline Polacheck at the moment. She’s really good. So female pop stars, I guess. I listen to a lot of punk music, so I think a lot of people expect me to listen to that.
What do you like to listen to while you’re working?
JS: I actually make big playlists. We put out a mixtape recently, mostly DIY punk stuff. The Rotten Vol. I playlist is Souixsie and the Banshees, Velvet Underground, Elliott Smith, King Crule. Vol. II is The Outcasts, Rudy, Cleaners from Venus, Death Grips. Basically, I will make a playlist for each volume that I think fits the aesthetic of the zine. I usually make the playlist first and that informs the work. I’ve been listening to a lot more pop lately, so Vol. II is much more colorful, much more grunge or shoegaze inspired.
What was the most memorable punk show?
JS: I haven’t been to many shows because I’m a very anxious person. I love music but I hate crowds. I was meant to see King Krule and that got cancelled. Probably the best punk show I went to was with my dad. He took me to the 100 Club, it was just some random bands. I don’t know who was playing, but that was a good night.
How did the pandemic affect the zine?
JS: In a way it was really beneficial because I had all this extra time to work on it, but there was also this pressure to get it done. And I didn't know how long the lockdown was going to be. It was also hard to stay inspired. We usually go to a lot of shows, a lot of galleries and art shows where I get ideas.