Back issue: Marmalade, 2001-2009

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For our second look back at a favourite Back Issue, we pick up on Marmalade, the noughties London indie highlighted in our recent sixth podcast.

If any magazine exemplifies the way a piece of print can reflect the time of its publication, Marmalade is it.

Launched by writer Kirsty Robinson and photographer Sacha Spencer Trace (they met at style mag PIL) and published between 2001 and 2009, Marmalade existed alongside the arrival of the internet as a work tool. The latter stage of its existence coincided with the launch of magCulture as a blog and we featured it several times (search in vain — these early posts are among those deleted during a site hack).

At the time the immediate appeal was the look of the magazine. Adobe’s InDesign had replaced QuarkXPress as the default layout tool in most magazine studios and the tight, technically orientated control of screen layout was by now the norm. Although hugely beneficial to editorial design in the broadest sense, the digitisation of layout design inevitably led to over-familiar styles and repetitive design effects. ‘You’d look at a page and almost hear it squeak it was so tight,’ as Spencer Trace put it to me back in 2004.

Meanwhile, a very different aesthetic existed in the new online world. A later issue of Marmalade was a collaboration with the first blockbuster social media platform MySpace, and that relationship was one of aesthetically matched perfection for both parties.

Marmalade’s pages were deliberately rough and ready in direct opposition to the slickness of InDesign layouts; yet they were also bright and exhuberant, punkish without the coarse xeroxed look of punk. Although eventually processed through InDesign, the magazine’s pages started life as hand-made assemblages of objects, printed texts and images. Without directly attempting to mimic the digital rawness of MySpace et al, the stacking and layering had similar sources, even as the basic elements used matched the familiar visual grammer (headline, standfirst, text) of the print magazine.

These elements were all combined a spread at a time and photographed, the resulting images then printed as the magazine’s pages. It was a process they stumbled upon, ‘We needed to put together a Powerpoint presentation to advertisers, and that’s such an awful medium, I collaged the stuff from our moodboards and scanned it all and did the presentation as a series of jpegs of the collages,’ co-founder Spencer Trace told me, ‘And that captured the tone of what we were saying. So I did a contents spread using the collaged wall and it just seemed to fit. And at that point I just decided to design it myself.’

It was an absurdly inefficient workflow but gave the magazine its unique look, and one that would develop issue by issue. Today, over 15 years later, this visual approach still stands up as a unique and exciting visual experiment.

Issue one featured text and image pinned to graph paper with headlines carved from foam-board.

The content for issue two was machine-stitched onto paper and fabric.

The mistakes-themed third issue (where the magazine’s name was deliberately mis-spelt ‘Mistakes’, above) had texts cut out of or printed onto balsa wood and nailed to a background.

Every element of each page existed as an object, the pieces fitted together under lights to be shot, the occasional hand or finger remaining in shot (below).

That third issue also included the notable time-stamp of a then new first-gen Apple iPod (above) alongside a list of songs his iPod recommended him, by Mark Hooper, late of The Face and future editor of Hole & Corner.

Setting aside the visual thrill of the pages, flicking through Marmalade’s coverage of noughties creative talent gives an amazing sense of that decade. Credits include work by writers such as Francesca Gavin (Dazed, Twin), Johanna Agerman (Disegno) and Eva Wiseman (The Observer), while others in the mix included fashion designer Henry Holland and It’s Nice That co-founder Alex Bec.

Also fascinating are the people Marmalade covered in its talent-spotting trawl through London’s creative world. This was the start of the new era of multiple freelance gigs and the magazine specialised in promoting musicians, stylists, illustrators, scriptwriters, advertising art directors and countless other ‘Good looking smart people’. This extended to early sightings of future stars like Adele (above), Gareth Pugh and Paloma Faith as well a host of names who would become familiar to anyone engaged with London’s creative scene.

At one stage the magaizne claimed sales of 40,000; quite what caused Marmalade to cease publication is unrecorded.

Like so many of those associated with the magazine, Marmalade’s founders remain busy creatively: Robinson recently published a novel and Spencer Trace (now Tuelon)’s first film is due for release this year.

myspace.com/marmalademag


Listen to episode 6 of the magCulture Podcast.

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