Meet The Zine: ‘Verve’ Is Pioneering Next-Gen Creativity And Togetherness

“There’s a supportive fam out there waiting for you.”

Verve is the green zine publishing homegrown talent from across Australia and beyond. Over the last year and a bit, the creative (and youthful) brains behind the mag: Athina Wilson and Clementine Girard-Foley, have published up-and-coming artists and writers from poetry, film, music, fashion, art, short story, opinion and reviews. There’s lil bit of something for everyone! With their innovative – and necessary – ‘safer spaces’ principles, Verve is pioneering for more accessible music and arts events (shoutout to their events coordinator Stella Schiftan) – big vibe. I chat to co-creators, Athina in Narrm (Melbourne) and Clementine in the most boring capital, Canberra, via the interwebs – to examine what it takes to be a millennial in media and start your own mag.

How did ‘Verve’ start?
Clementine: We had a very animated chat over a coffee back in year twelve when we realised there wasn’t really a platform accessible to young people who aren’t already esteemed by the media and creative arts community. 

Athina:  Soon after, our close friend organised a night called ‘The Campfire Collective’ – a space where our friends could all share their latest creations. This night reignited our coffee talk and encouraged us to, in our own way, create an open space for youth to showcase themselves. 

Is there a story behind the name?
A: We were going to call it OOMF (!) 

C: What were we THINKING (!) – 

A: And then our friend suggested Verve because it has similar connotations. 

How do you source your contributors?
C: Initially we asked people we knew. 

A: But that was grassroots. Our ethos has always been to create an open platform where anyone can share their voice, not just people from our social and environmental context. As the magazine has slowly reached further online this has started to happen organically. 

C: Recently, we’ve had more people get in contact wanting to submit their work from various parts of Australia and the world. We also have awesome content editors who help find contributors. They tend to find new voices at gigs, through Instagram or friends of friends.  

What have been some of the most rewarding features, stories, or experiences to date?
A: Fetle’s opinion piece about her personal experience growing up in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray and its undergoing gentrification – it’s a great example of a strong young voice. Same goes for writer and filmmaker Ivana Brehas’ work on the site. I also love the paintings by Eben Ejdne and some of the DJ mixes for Verve. Recent faves include Hei Zhi Ma, Local Knowledge Radio, and Darcy Justice

I was moved by Pat Casten’s photography and reading about the hike she did after her mum’s stroke… I also loved the Local Knowledge mix forVerve’. Your Soundcloud is sick. 
C: Thank you! Yeah, Local Knowledge is a collective and radio show run by Roy Mills, DJ Mum, Issa and Ben Green. Its sound pushes for dub, bass, jazz and ambient music curated by emerging DJs and producers. They just released a cassette actually, so definitely check that out… We also owe a lot to our music editors, Margarita Bassova and Josh Martin.  

What challenges have you faced establishing and maintaining a magazine?
C: Definitely balancing the project with our busy schedules and working to make it grow, but also working on ourselves as team leaders and curators. There’s a responsibility when claiming to represent young people because ultimately it’s difficult and reductive. Also, living in different cities makes it hard for us to coordinate.

A: Yeah, growing as humans and maintaining our belief in being open, honest, listening, trusting, learning etc. Sometimes it’s a real confidence test too.

How do you ensure ‘Verve’ has an inclusive and representative voice?
C: We’ll never be able to transcend our standpoint as inner-city young women who’ve mostly had a supportive and stable upbringing. I think it’s about recognising the limits of our own perspective, as well as trying to work with, to listen to, and respect the opinions and experiences that might be critical of Verve. This process never ends and we’re learning every day about how to make a more inclusive space. We have to think carefully about who we work with and who/what we publish.

I really appreciate your ‘safer spaces principles’ and think many organisations and events could do with them. How do we create safer spaces?
C: Having a well-defined policy communicates to our followers the tone and vibe of what we do. To an extent, you can’t really hold people responsible for shit behaviour without educating them and articulating clear boundaries. Collectives like Cool Room definitely served as an inspiration for our safer spaces principles and we also look to various other community groups. But yeah, a bottom-up approach to safer spaces is probably advisable, so by listening to people’s experiences and trying to conceive practical solutions in light of that feedback. No amount of listening can be enough if we lack the necessary knowledge to take effective action – should someone violate our safer spaces policy at our events. 

The internet, social media – Instagram – has changed the way we interact and engage with platforms such as yours or ours. Why pay for a magazine when you can get it online for free. What are your thoughts on these controversial platforms and the ‘dying’ media industry?
A: The media is constantly evolving and we live in a rapidly shifting technological age. The way we consume, report and react is changing. Although it might seem like our generation is losing its ability to focus, or the internet is becoming saturated, I think there are still some positives with video, streaming, podcasting, and other forms of online media. With change, hopefully comes an expansion of representation, different stories and voices to be heard and shared on open platforms. It’s important to pay attention to is who’s producing these narratives, what biases lie beneath their platform, how much they have manipulated the narrative, and how much social media platforms filter your feed. 

What advice would you give someone wanting to create their own zine / digital community?
C: Definitely to come up with a proper strategy for how the magazine/zine is organised and how the administrative side of the project is run. Keeping the logistics under control helps you to find more time for creative vision.

A: Many of the contributors who’ve told us they’re not ‘good’ writers have created some of the most popular work on our site (them addictive Squarespace stats reveal this)! Clem and I definitely have times where we don’t feel adequate, but the internet has a lot of resources to learn and there’s a supportive fam out there (or here) waiting for you. 

Who or what are the best things coming out of Melbourne’s creative scene rn?
A: Tough Q! Love Sister Sessions dance crew and vogue groups such as Kiki House of Dévine, Coco Sims (one of our visual arts editors), labels such as Foreign Brothers and J.Peg Artifacts, Mandarin Dreams crew. There is just. So. Much. BCE (big creative energy).

Huge BCE! And how do you think we can nurture creative communities?
C: By increasing collaboration and support across different mediums and collectives. But also by holding each other accountable for working in favour of the ‘community’ aspect of creative industries. This means prioritising safety, tolerance, collaboration over competition, mentorship but also the sustainability of the industry (e.g. paying artists fairly, being transparent and fair about finances, not expecting people to do stuff for free especially because monetising creativity is an ambiguous thing to do). For these reasons, we really would like to be able to pay our contributors. Young creatives shouldn’t have to endlessly rely on ‘exposure’ only. 

100% – oh the feels. What are your favourite magazines and platforms?
A: Some include Top Safe London (showcases young filmmakers work and their advice on how to make films on a tight budget), Procreative, BE Collective Culture, Hearteys mag, Decolonising Screens, and Ladies of Leisure…

I love how LOL does workshops and classes too. Finally, ending on a potentially grim note, do you think there’s hope for millennials in media or are we fucked? 
C: Right now, there’s a clear hierarchy of opinion in the Western media, with public figures/experts/men/middle-aged people placed towards the top while the voices of young people (especially those of minorities) are discarded as naive and baselessly whingy. And on top of that sits the narrative – largely controlled by the older gen – that portrays young people as lazy, entitled and selfish. This makes it incredibly difficult for young people to be taken seriously by the media and public opinion. It’ll be interesting to see if younger generations, growing up amidst the climate crisis – deeply frustrated with the actions of older generations – will change the culture of mass communication because evidently our older peers aren’t so wise.

I think there’s hope that young people’s opinions will be increasingly valued, especially if we rely on platforms run by other young people. But ultimately, even amongst young people, it tends to be those who come from privileged backgrounds who are given a voice. Working to revert that inequality is the bigger challenge, and trying to make sure the next-gen is not as fucked over as the last. 

A:This GIF:

Images: Verve Magazine / Mia Davidson / Pat Casten