Welcome to Bliss/Aquamarine - an alternative, underground and independent music website.
For those that don't yet know me, I'm Kim Harten, a music fan based in the UK Midlands. On this page I will provide background information on Bliss and Aquamarine, and attempt to answer some of the questions I'm often asked.
Aquamarine was originally a paper fanzine, but has for the last few years been a webzine based on this site. The paper zine was founded 1994 and ran for 20 issues. Its original emphasis was on indiepop and related styles, and early issues included interviews with some important names from the indiepop/noisepop movement, such as Sarah Records and Boyracer. As time went on, the music featured in the zine got more diverse. Whilst I was not completely closed to reviewing well known music, the music I actually liked tended to be very obscure, and the focus of the fanzine reflected that, with most of the featured music coming from small independent labels, including self-produced projects. As well as uncommercial music being what I myself preferred, I also felt this kind of music needed
exposure as the big press give little or no coverage to it and even some fanzines ignore it. Aquamarine is not one of those "indier-than-thou" fanzines though - if I like something on a big label I'll write about that too. I don't like to limit myself to just one type of music and would rather judge music on how it sounds, not what label it's on or what scene it's from.
Musical genres covered by Aquamarine at this point included indie-rock, punk-pop, spacerock, psychedelic, progressive, folk, folk-rock, the more melodic side of experimental, and various other styles which are less easy to categorise, alongside the indiepop and noisepop Aquamarine was mostly known for.
In 2000 I started this website, with the first online issue of Aquamarine being completed in 2001. The zine has an overall positive emphasis, simply because I prefer to write about what I think is good. Aquamarine is a FANzine, and fanzines should by their very nature focus on music the writer is a fan of. Life is too short to be wasting time focusing on music I don't enjoy, when there's so much music out there that I would rather be devoting my attention to.
As word got around about the site, I became snowed under with things to review. Due to other commitments I had less and less time to focus on zine writing, and the backlog of review materials got too big to handle. In 2003, after much thought, I realised that the only way to control this backlog was to change my submission policy. Whilst I'm very much into music and didn't want to miss out on anything, the only realistic way to keep up with reviews was to only accept music from regular contacts. If you have sent me music before and you know that I like it, please feel free to continue sending your music for review in Aquamarine. If I like your music then I want to keep on promoting it!
As of August 2012, I am now accepting submissions from new contacts, initially for a limited period only. See the 'Update (August 2012)' section below for details on accepted genres and formats.
In the meantime I would appreciate not being bombarded with questions about when I'm going to review things I've already been sent. Aquamarine is a part-time project and things get done when I have the spare time. I always contact people to inform them that their review has gone up on the site.
Bliss was a DIY tape label started by myself in 1993 and continuing until circa 2002/3. For those unfamiliar with tape labels, there was a burgeoning community of such labels back in the 90s, where bands, or someone working on their behalf like a manager or small label, would send their songs to the tape labels, who would assemble home-made various-artist compilations as well as full tape albums by one band. Tapes were sold on a non-profit basis and therefore artists were not paid for their involvement, but it offered them free publicity to appreciative music fans. The tapes scene was closely associated with the fanzine scene and there was a real community spirit, in which the people involved all helped each other out with promotion by sending out each other's flyers. These home produced tapes and zines were sold by mail order around the world, being advertised primarily through flyers spread around the underground music network, fanzines, and word of mouth. The tapes and zines movement was a worldwide phenomenon and my own label, like most others, included artists from many countries.
The earliest tapes on Bliss covered indiepop and noisepop, while later tapes included a more diverse selection of music as my name got about and I was contacted by bands involved in other genres. The common theme was basically that of melodic music, genres including indie-rock, punk-pop, spacerock, psychedelic, progressive, folk, folk-rock and various other styles which are less easy to categorise. The tapes were a genuine reflection of my musical taste, not just a hotchpotch of whatever I was sent, and showcased music I felt was high quality and in many cases highly underrated.
The label was started in the days when many tape labels were extremely lo-fi and included a lot of messy, unprofessional music/noise, and because of this tape labels had a bad name. I wanted to change their reputation and instead release tuneful, well-recorded music. A lot of people have commented on how they found the sound quality, and quality of the music itself, superior to other tape labels. There had since been a few more lo-fi (but melodic!) artists featured on the tapes, on occasions when I felt that the song itself is so good that it shines through the lo-tech recording, but there isn't that much extremely lo-fi stuff on Bliss. This isn't to say I'm against homemade songs and out to alienate those that record at home - I have released a lot of material by home recording artists. It is possible to make a more than acceptable quality recording at home. The sort of thing I have a problem with is lo-fi in its extremest form; music recorded on a 2nd hand cassette, where the tapehiss drowns out the song, and the sort of messy, random experimentation that even a five year old could make.
In the early 2000s I decided to call it a day with new releases from Bliss. I was still getting lots of interest from artists who wanted to be on the tapes, but with the increasing popularity of CDs and subsequently the advent of online music, there was less interest from people wanting to buy the tapes. There was little point keeping the label going as its purpose was to promote music, and it was no longer serving its purpose if the tapes weren't selling enough.
Some may be wondering why I didn't turn Bliss into a CDR label. There were a number of reasons why this just wasn't possible, one being the sheer inconvenience. I have over eighty tapes out and it would be a complete nightmare to remaster every single one! My hi-fi equipment is nowhere near the computer I use, and it would be impractical to move it, so using a computer-based CDR writer is out of the question, and I can't afford to buy one of those CDR writers that's a hi-fi separate. I had been running Bliss as a tape label for years and had grown to love the whole 'tapes' ethos. As mentioned above, one of the ideas behind starting Bliss was to prove that tape labels can release good quality music, and for this to continue, it had to continue being a TAPE label.
The majority of the back catalogue is still available to anyone still interested in hearing the tapes. I am considering deleting the tapes once I run out of my remaining lot of blank tapes, but if interest does suddenly pick up, I may consider ordering some more. As mentioned above, the sound quality of Bliss tapes was usually considered very good at the time, but I must stress that these are homemade tapes, with some being copied from masters that go back as far as 1993, so you are not to expect CD or MP3 quality.
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that there are some missing catalogue numbers on the Tapes pages. These were for paper issues of Aquamarine and also Ultramarine, a poetry and fiction zine that ran for 3 issues.
ON THE REWORKED VERSION OF THIS SITE:
In January 2010 I decided this site needed an overhaul as there was too much stuff on the original site that was no longer relevant. The archive page and back issues of the online zine contained a lot of reviews and articles that were very old and out of date, going back over a decade and relating to things that were no longer available. There seemed little point in keeping reviews of such things up on the site, especially the more ephemeral things like fanzines and demos.
I also found much of the old writing was no longer an accurate representation of where I'm at now. The oldest material was written when I was a teenager and still finding my 'voice' in terms of writing style, and sometimes articles would contain opinions I no longer held. At the time of carrying out the changes to the site, I felt the emphasis on indiepop seen in the older articles was no longer representative of my current musical taste. I didn't regret my involvement in indiepop at all; it was a life-changing experience that was very important to me at the time, but I had lost touch with what was going on in the current indie scene and didn't often listen to that kind of music in my spare time any more, favouring instead folk, folk-rock, modern takes on medieval music, and bands who are basically inventing their own genre, and wished to focus primarily on these styles where possible. I didn't want to completely abandon the styles I'd covered in the past, but wanted the site to be a truer reflection of my current musical interests.
In an effort to give the site more focus, I removed most of the older articles from the Archive section, removed the back issues from the Aquamarine page, and relocated some of the highlights from the back issues to the Archive page, as well as removing and updating various other sections that still featured out of date information. I may however consider reinstating some of the archival material if I get enough interest from readers to do so. At the time of carrying out the changes to the site, I felt that the large quantity of archival indiepop material almost two decades old presented a confusing picture of what Aquamarine was currently about, but with the renewed interest in indiepop that's been taking place in recent times, I realise that some of these old articles may still be of interest to readers. My own interest in indiepop has also been renewed; listening to current indiepop bands and revisiting some of my old favourite songs from this genre has reminded me exactly why I loved this music at the time, so I no longer feel that indiepop content on the site would present a misleading picture of my current musical tastes.
Regular visitors will know I used to have a section on this site dedicated to The Sea Urchins and Delta. These were my favourite bands when they existed, and there does need to be a source of information on them on the internet. However, much of this archival material was quite out of date, so I have relocated the more recent reviews, along with the discography sections, to the Archive page.
UPDATE ON CURRENT REVIEW POLICY (AUGUST 2012, UPDATED MAY 2014):
Over the last few years, I had acquired a number of new commitments that meant I had to put zine writing on the back burner. In the meantime I had amassed a huge backlog of CDs to review that was impossible to keep up with, and by the time I got some more spare time to start updating the zine on a semi-regular basis again, much of the material I was sent for review was hopelessly out of date. I offer my sincere apologies to those to whom I had promised reviews but unable to keep my promise (through no real fault of my own, but due to various circumstances beyond my control). I am an honest person and feel bad about having to go back on my word. If I haven't reviewed something, it doesn't mean I don't like it - more likely that I haven't (even now!) had a chance to listen to it yet. I realised quite quickly that I had bitten off way more than I could chew by indiscriminately accepting submissions from anyone that contacted me. I had initially done this as I was (still am!) a huge music fan and didn't want to miss out on anything, but the sheer amount of music I was sent meant I had created something of a monster, and I soon realised that I had to limit who could send music for review to just my regular contacts. This kept the backlog of new material to a more manageable level, but in the meantime I had amassed a backlog of older CDs that there now seems little point in reviewing as most are probably not even still available. I apologise once again to anyone that I have not been able to include in the zine. Whilst I would generally prefer to focus on current music now, I may consider adding a 'catching up section' with reviews of older stuff that bands/labels have confirmed is still OK to review (please do get in touch if you sent me something a long time ago that is still available and you would still like me to review it).
Now that the backlog of recent releases is at a more manageable level, I have now decided to loosen the restrictions on who can send music for review, but in order to keep the level of submissions manageable, I will be making the focus of Aquamarine slightly more genre-specific than in the past. One of the styles of music I have the most enthusiasm for is folk music. This is not a new development but rather a return to a style of music I was aware of well before discovering indiepop and other underground genres. My first exposure to folk-rock was at the age of three or four; one of my relatives was a fan of Steeleye Span and listened to their LPs quite a lot, and I'd enjoyed this kind of music even as a child. I would feature folk artists in the old paper version of Aquamarine and Bliss tape label when I had the opportunity, but wasn't sent all that much folk music back then. At that time, folk was generally considered uncool amongst the indie crowd, and there were only a few underground folk artists that I was aware of. I started to explore folk music in more depth and seriousness around the late 90s/early 00s onwards and have in more recent years been successfully able to steer Aquamarine down a more folk-based direction.
As people have been known to define 'folk' in different ways, I will state that I am not talking so much about singer-songwriter music or anything that just happens to have an acoustic guitar in it, but traditional or traditional-inspired folk, as well as more recent genres that draw upon traditional themes, such as folk-rock, folk-pop, psych-folk, experimental folk, or even folk-metal, providing it is melodic and doesn't rely exclusively on growling vocals. (Whilst I have in recent years surprised myself by liking the more melodic kind of folk-metal, metal per se is way off topic for Aquamarine). I consider Early Music to have much in common with folk and in some ways to be a subset of it. I am therefore also interested in promoting artists who make modern interpretations of Medieval and Renaissance music.
There is some contemporary music that I consider broadly categorisable as folk, as it has a certain hard to define 'folk spirit' about it, but I will tend to use a qualifier such as 'contemporary folk' or 'folk-pop' when reviewing this sort of material. I have heard some music that other reviewers consider folk, which I would personally categorise as singer-songwriter, or even indiepop, due to its lack of obvious continuity from the folk tradition. As a general rule, I tend to reserve 'folk' per se for music in the traditional idiom, but am not enough of a folk snob to think folk-rock and so on do not count as folk.
I am also open to including various forms of psychedelic music, as well as old-school indiepop. Indiepop was my first introduction to underground music back in 1991, and I followed the scene for many years. As my musical interests shifted towards folk and whatnot, I unfortunately started to lose touch with much of what was going on in the current indiepop scene for a while, but have started to get back into this genre in a big way. A couple of years ago I revisited a number of songs on the Sarah label, including stuff I hadn't listened to for about 18 years, and reminded myself exactly why I loved this music at the time. I had also recently been sent music by current indiepop bands which I enjoyed a great deal. I am therefore interested in continuing to feature this sort of music in Aquamarine. Please note that I am using 'indiepop' here to refer to the non-mainstream genre that was at its peak between circa 1986-1993 (but which has never really gone away, despite efforts by journalists and suchlike to paint indiepop as a solely 80s phenomenon that was dead and buried before that decade was out). I'm not really interested in covering the more mainstream, or semi-mainstream, sort of music that has been dubbed 'indie', or for that matter am I interested in covering mainstream pop. Reissues of classic indiepop, and current music in the spirit of the original indiepop style, are welcome to be sent for review.
I would prefer to feature artists/labels who actually read Aquamarine on a regular basis and know what it is about, rather than people who contact me at random along with loads of other music review sites, looking for publicity. Aquamarine is about underground, independent, and genuinely alternative music, which means artists who are involved due to a true passion for music, not merely looking to be famous. I have a general bias towards music that is melodic and song-based whilst existing outside of the confines of what is considered fashionable in the mainstream music scene. Any emails received that clearly show that the sender doesn't have a clue what Aquamarine is about (e.g. assumptions that it's a label, or that I still run a label, and emails from artists specialising in music styles that are off topic for Aquamarine) will not be responded to.
Whilst I'm limiting the genres to folk (and offshoots of folk), psych, and indiepop to new contacts, I will still accept other genres from existing contacts. Existing contacts of any style - if I have reviewed your music positively in the past, I don't want to miss out on any future releases.
It may take me a while to respond to emails or review music if I am currently snowed under with other commitments (that being said, my review backlog has been under control for some time now, and at the time of writing, people will generally only have to wait a few weeks (or less) for reviews to appear on the site). I cannot guarantee that all emails will be answered, as I still need to keep my review backlog to a manageable level, so can only accept a small quantity of submissions. Please do not be offended if I do not respond to your request to review your music.
I regret that I cannot review online music (streams, downloads, or mp3s sent in an email); I don't spend much time on the internet, and it is far more convenient and preferable for me to listen to and review music in my own time rather than in front of a computer - that way I can devote more attention to it. I can take a listen to brief clips of music on Soundcloud, Bandcamp or similar sites, to get an idea of whether it is right for Aquamarine, but it isn't practical for me to actually review internet-based music. Formats I accept are CD, CDR, vinyl, and for those still releasing such a thing, cassette.
Another reason for my 'no downloads' review policy is due to the fact that downloads appear to be the most popular method of promoting music these days, so if I was to start accepting downloads I would inevitably become snowed under with things to review again. By only accepting physical formats, this keeps my review backlog at a manageable level.
When contacting me, please include some background information on your music (e.g. genre), and a link to your website if you have one. Please do not send attachments by email - any emails with unsolicited attachments will be deleted. Opening up Aquamarine to new contacts is on a trial basis only. If I find the backlog of review materials again becomes unmanageable, I will again have to limit who can send music for review to just my regular contacts. I am also not accepting unsolicited submissions; please contact me first before sending any music for review.
A REMINDER (DECEMBER 2013):
When emailing me, please ensure that you type the address exactly as it appears on the homepage, with the dot in the username. Blissaquamarine without the dot is not (and never has been) my email username. Many thanks :-)
In answer to some of the questions I'm sometimes asked -
I am not looking for staff; Aquamarine is written solely by me as a hobby.
Bliss is not taking on new music as it no longer exists as a currently operating label.
I do not publicise my address on this site - if you need to send me anything through the post please email me and I'll let you know where to send it.
I am no longer using the firstname.lastname@example.org email address as it was attracting way too much spam. Other email addresses previously used on this site are also defunct - please only use my current email address, found at the foot of the homepage.
I do not accept email attachments - any unsolicited emails with attachments will be deleted.
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