An alternative media case-study:
By Isabella Qvist
University of Sheffield, 22/01/2008
JNL217 Alternative Media
Module leader: Tony Harcup
Swedish punk zine SKITLIV! has us all fooled
I pick up the 2 latest copies of Swedish punk-zine “SKITLIV!” in an independent record shop in Stockholm’s tourist/alternative area, The Old Town. As I pay the 10 kronor (80 pence) that they cost each, the guy in the shop tells me that the people behind this are extremely secretive and always use made up names when they come in to drop their latest issues off.
When I get hold of the two very friendly yet mysterious undercover minds behind this publication a couple of weeks later, they go under the codenames of “Challe” and “Fisen” (meaning “the fart”) and still refuse to give me their real names. What they do do, however, is tell me the story of their pure example of D.I.Y. alternative media, their controversial fanzine SKITLIV!.
Coming from the deep, dark forests in the north of Sweden and having been involved in the punk scene for almost two decades they know every person there is to know and their contacts have given them some rather juicy information which makes good storytelling. But the mysterious couple are still down to earth: Fisen works at an adult educational association while Challe works at the social insurance office; they have normal jobs in other words.
SKITLIV is Swedish and means “shit-life”. It is a common expression within the Swedish punk-scene and used a lot throughout the texts in the homemade punk-magazine. Challe and Fisen call it a fanzine but in English the word zine might provide a better definition.
The A5-sized zine is fairly thick with just over 70 pages, all in black and white apart from the cover which has been printed onto a different colour paper. The texts themselves are computer-typed and look to have been cut or ripped out and pasted onto backgrounds made of either pictures or drawings.
The zine is made up of interviews with underground punk and hardcore bands, reviews of CDs, DVDs along with jokes, wine recipes, short features of bands and random bits of cartoons, advertisements and collages. There is also a great amount of pictures throughout, a lot of swearing, and many spelling errors and on the whole a distinctive alcohol-glorifying attitude.
Challe and Fisen are two made up characters, two dirty punks who live off (the in Sweden quite generous) benefits the state gives them, spending their miserable days partying and taking drugs. The zine is full of their stupid remarks and failing tasteless jokes and their stories take the swinish lifestyle to a whole new level.
The two punk say that there is not a theme as such but that alcohol and drug-glorification does characterise SKITLIV!.
The interviews are generally formulated so that the person answering is being harassed in one way or another while the band “Warvictims” is glorified. When asked if SKITLIV! only exists to promote this (their) band they laugh and say that they can see why I think so but that the band actually was born from the zine. The real Challe and Fisen initially wanted to provoke the interviewed bands and when people started asking about this amazing band which they constantly referred to, they started it to prove that they were “real”. Warvictims has their first gig in June 2006 and have to this date released ten CDs and 7”s.
SKITLIV! is from start one big joke, Challe and Fisen tell me. They wanted to take the piss out of all the narrow-minded punks in Sweden:
“It is seen as legitimate to act like a swine if you look like a punk who only drinks and doesn’t care about anything.”
But they also wanted to see how far they could push something, they wanted to provoke and create reactions, to see what irony and humour was and how far it could be taken.
The fanzine itself was born in 2005 when the dream of a secret project together had been alive for several years already.
So far eight issues have been made and even though threats were made in issue number six that they were going to quit, the guys reveal that their unofficial plan from start has been to make ten copies and then stop. In their last issue everything will be explained and apologies will be made. If anything will be done after that, then it will not be for at least another couple of years and if so then with international bands.
Their inspiration comes most and foremost from Swedish raw punk-magazine “Sika Äpärä” which had its golden years throughout the 1990s. But, as the guys are quick to say, there are great differences between the two punk zines too. SKITLIV! does its amount of research and preparing of questions before meeting a band for an interview while it’s forgongers had a mentality of doing things just then and there.
“The attitude is the same though”, Challe and Fisen point out.
They continue to say what a shame it is that the punk zines of the Swedish 90s have all disappeared while Internet zines have taken over:
“You want to hold a paper while you are sitting on the loo, not a bloody laptop!”
SKITLIV! is produced in true alternative “Do It Yourself”- style with interviews being computer-written, printed out, torn apart and glued onto various backgrounds. This is then taken to a printer, but as Fisen and Challe say, you can’t take this kind of stuff anywhere and after having emptied the printer at Fisen’s job of ink for the first issue, they have now found a printer company who are actually big fans of SKITLIV!.
“We get very mixed reactions; the “older” audience love it while most of the younger kids think we are drug-glorifying, homophobic, racist and degrading towards women. We are in real life obviously opposed to all of these forms of oppression.”
The guy in the earlier mentioned record shop, another fan of the fanzine, also said that these guys have done well for themselves and I think they have in many ways, in many ways but money wise. They produce ca 150 copies of each issue and for each issue they lose around 2750 kronor (220 pounds); it is quite clear that they are not in it for the money, which other mainstream music-publications often are.
But there are other ways of telling that SKITLIV! is not a so called “mainstream” but a so called “alternative” zine.
First of all the very look of it gives a clearly homemade impression and second of all it can only be found in a very limited amount of places. Production and distribution methods also prove how alternative this project is; no mainstream media would cut and glue their original copies together in this way and definitely not finish the whole thing off with lots of black marker pen before handing it to the printers.
Decision-making is also done mutually; there is trace of the traditional mainstream newsroom hierarchy:
“Fisen is probably the more active and driving force behind SKITIV!, but we develop ideas and make decisions together along with most of the interviews. No one “decides” more”, Challe explains.
They continue explaining why they aren’t a mainstream production:
“Of course it’s alternative! That’s what’s so great about making a fanzine; it’s all about the D.I.Y- mentality. Do it yourself and don’t let anyone else decide over you what it should look like. You can write whatever you like and no one can come and point things out or censor your words. Only you set the limit for what you want to produce. A fanzine isn’t full of commercial crap advertisement but with homemade flyers about album releases, gigs etc. Another fact is that Close-Up (mainstream Swedish rock magazine) is shit while SKITLIV! always delivers.”
“Closeup” is the big Swedish rock magazine but there are many more music magazines in Sweden, such as “Nöjesguiden”, “Groove”, “Denimize”, “På Stan”, “OKEJ” and “Sonic”.
There are other independent punk zines too but, just as these guys point out to me, they take a long time for each issue they produce. Having released 8 issues in just over two years is in other words a bit of an achievement for SKITLIV!.
“But,” they laugh, “that might just have to do with the fact that we don’t have any lives…”
Challe and Fisen are very prompt with pointing out that they never ever censor anything and that what is said in the paper is exactly what the bands have said themselves. Yet they are not as open and truthful when it comes to describing themselves to the readers:
“It is great fun stepping into the characters of Challe and Fisen, because they are so extremely exaggerated and almost the exact opposites of whom we really are. There is sometimes some truth in what we write and a lot of stories are based on true stories but they are then very, very much sexed up.”
“We mix truth with lies so that people don’t know what is made up and what is not. Some of the records we review we haven’t even listened to, the whole thing is just one big lie”, the say and laugh.
Pictures are taken from the Internet and copied and pasted into collages, forming the backgrounds of the zine along with its front page and picture material throughout. They even admit to having stolen one or two features straight off from other magazines. There are no second thoughts about copyright or image rights and on the whole they don’t take themselves very serious:
“In the broad masses’ media we probably don’t make a difference, but there is obviously some kind of demand among the Swedish punks. It’s not like you can go and buy SKITLIV! in any newsagent,” they explain modestly.
SKITLIV! is sold via Warvictim’s myspace-page, in small independent punk-shops and in that independent record-shop in Stockholm’s Old town. But myspace is the main distributor, something which is realised with mixed feelings:
“It is all very practical with e-mail, homepages, myspace and all what it is called but it is so impersonal and modernized. We want go back to landlines, fax-machines and normal letters! Revolution now!”
And it is not only here that these guys indicate their longing for the past good old days; they have even kept the “old traditional 1990s price”, 10 kronor, even though production price actually comes to 16 kronor. “Feel free to call us nostalgic”, they say and laugh once more.
What I love about SKITLIV! is the determination to do things the way you want them to be done and the lack of fear of being deemed old and boring for still putting it into print rather than putting it onto the Internet for everyone and no one.
It is the fact that there is so much irony, controversy and provoking going on that does not even hit the eye at first that makes it such an ultimate example of pure journalism. It plays that exact role that journalism is supposed to in a democracy, it questions and points out and even ridicules what is normally taken for granted. That it is not big scale politics which it is done to makes no difference; it is still a foot up the arses of the many people who live a certain lifestyle only to get away with real life.
It is a case of you holding this little homemade photocopied zine, with a picture of Santa Claus smoking and holding a gun on the front page, in your hand and feeling more than slightly suspicious about it. You open it and it is full of bad spelling, pictures of puking punks and porn reviews and you are just about to put it away in disgust when it hits you: this is a joke, it is raw sarcasm and it is pure genius.
Sources and References
- SKITLIV! Issue nr 6
- SKITLIV! Issue nr 7
- “Punc, C.” (email@example.com) (20 January 2008) Re: Intervju. Personal email to I. Qvist (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Atton, D. (2002) Alternative Media. Sage Productions, London
- Warvictims myspace-page (2008) Wawictims. Available from: http://www.myspace.com/warvictims [Accessed on 7th January 2008]
- Warvictims homepage (2008) Warvictims. Available from: http://www.antabus.be/punkasfuck/warvictims.htm [Accessed on 7th January 2008]
- Punks is Hippies (2008) “Punks is hippies – the online fanzine archive” Available from: http://punksishippies.blogspot.com/2007/10/drunk-with-power-sika-pr-2.html [Accessed on 10th January 2008]
- Sörling M. (2008) Södra Promenaden. Available from: http://sirling.blogg.se/m_042007.html [Accessed on 10th January 2008]
- Interview conducted with sales assistant in Sound Pollution, Stockholm, 02/01/2008
All translations from Swedish to English have been made by Isabella Qvist.
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