The Shape of Punk to Come: R.I.P AMP and Hails & Horns

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Posted Sun, May 5, 2013

Perhaps Mr. Bob Dylan said it best when he sang, “The times, they are a changin.’”

The times are changing indeed, especially for journalism. Ask any hot-shot media mogul and they’ll say traditional print newspapers and magazines are being phased out rather quickly by intangible, digital counterparts, and the Internet is becoming the preferred medium for people to gather their news.

While this “digital apocalypse” is certainly looming over all crafts of journalism, perhaps nowhere have these changes been more evident than in the cutthroat field of music journalism.

Some music magazines, such as Spin, HM: The Hard Music Magazine and Decibel have rolled with the punches and created digital formats in an effort to stay with the times, with the former two ceasing production of print magazines completely and shifting to an exclusively digital platform. Many other magazines are following suit.

However, other magazines have succumbed to the pressures of the digital age and fierce circumstances, and have decided to close their doors altogether. Two such magazines are the esteemed AMP Magazine and Hails & Horns Magazine, both of which were founded by publisher Brett Mathews in 1997.

After being in print for 10 plus years, and accumulating $30,000 in debt, AMP and Hails & Horns are no more.

“Doing a print-zine is not a viable option for AMP and Hails & Horns in this day and age,” Mathews said in a farewell statement published on the AMP and Hails & Horns websites in February, which have since been shut down. “I also feel that at this point, we wouldn’t be able to offer anything above and beyond what is already happening out there in a digital-realm.”

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Mathews first broke into music journalism in 1996 when he started a fanzine called Hit List. It was a good experience for him, but it limited the kind of coverage he sought to do.

“I think I kinda pinned myself into a corner with Hit List,” Mathews says. “It was very much a [punk rock] magazine, and a lot of the writers were much, much older and a lot them were very jaded. I kinda feel like it was a — not really an elitist, but definitely people that were like, ‘Hey man, if you didn’t see Iggy and the Stooges, you’re f—ed.”

Hit List’s life was short-lived, only about three years, but it provided Mathews with enough insight into the cogs of a working magazine to begin piecing together AMP.

“It was definitely neat to see the inner workings, and then see exactly what it was doing in putting a magazine together, but the end result wasn’t exactly what I wanted to portray in a magazine,” Mathews says.

AMP and Hails & Horns first emerged circa 2000. AMP dedicated coverage to the underground/ punk rock scene, and Hails & Horns, to the metal scene.

F***ING HOSTILE

Since the conception of AMP and Hails & Horns, the climate for music magazines to thrive has become much more hostile. While a magazine once existed called Zine Guide, which was a directory of all the different zines and independent publications that existed, many factors, economic and otherwise, have made it increasingly more difficult for publishers to continue printing.

“As prices went up, shipping went up, printing went up, the music industry pretty much collapsed into itself with MP3s, so that was part of it,” Mathews says.

Eventually, AMP started to broaden their focus of the underground music scene and cover a more diverse spectrum of bands, Mathews says. They did this to give fair amounts of coverage to other bands that were not being covered by two of AMP’s contemporaries at the time, Maximum Rock n’ Roll and Alternative Press.

“There were dual factors that led AMP to reach outside of it’s sector, one of which was the lack of other magazines, and the huge gap between Maximum Rock n’ Roll and AP, and nobody was helping those bands,” Mathews says. “We started covering more bands. It [couldn’t] just be the bands I like.”

Mathews also didn’t want to compromise the values of AMP and Hails & Horns by running mainstream advertisements and fluff pieces.
“We’re not going to dedicate six pages to, ‘here’s the makeup to buy to look just like your favorite rock star.’ That just seems like parading sheep to me,” he says. “Not going that route, we had to limit the labels we could work with and people that we would want to work with.”

In 2009, Hails & Horns Magazine began offering issues online for free in a digital format, while the print issues remained on sale.
In spite of these attempted adaptations on Mathews’ part, the state of the music industry was something he just couldn’t work around. In 2012, Fat Mike, owner of the indie record label Fat Wreck Chords, loaned AMP and Hails & Horns $10,000 to help keep the magazine going, Mathews says.

“There wasn’t a lot of ability to support us just because record sales aren’t there,” Mathews says.

AMP was always supposed to be a fanzine, Mathews says, and once record labels began to essentially dictate what was being published in AMP, Mathews knew that it’s time had come.

“AMP started getting out of it’s sector and started getting too big,” Mathews says.

THE HUMAN ELEMENT

The purpose of AMP and Hails & Horns, and other fanzines, for that matter, is to provide a snapshot of the underground music scene and expose new bands — bands who worked hard, performed hard, and poured their heart and soul into their art.

This is what fanzine readers crave.

“You start to get to know these bands and realize those are five real dudes in a real band trying to put real gas to get to the next real show,” Mathews says. “This is art that they really believe in.”

Groovey, from the Denver-based GrooveyTV, who wrote for AMP and Hails & Horns for a few years, agrees that the human element is the reason that fanzines and the like exist.

“People who are really into music want new discoveries, those bands that become ‘yours’ and then they want to learn about the actual people as people,” Groovey says. “Not only what makes them tick as artists but as humans. That’s where the inspiration gets transferred to the reader and the listener.”

THE SHAPE OF PUNK TO COME

The disappearance of AMP and Hails & Horns has left a sizable gap in the coverage of the underground, Mathews says. However, he hopes aspiring music journalists will take notice and fill it accordingly.

“I’m definitely hoping there’s some kids out there seeing that AMP’s gone, that there’s a hole, and maybe they’ll get a little bit more specific with the sectors that they cover and cover it really well,” Mathews says.

Even though AMP and Hails & Horns is gone, their commitment to exposing promising acts and dedication to the underground will carry on.

“[AMP and Hails & Horns] dug through the dirt to find the gold,” Groovey recalls. “Bands you wouldn’t heave heard of in a thousand years were covered by AMP/ Hails & Horns, and they all kicked ass. Sometimes I think the bands didn’t even know who they were.”

As for Mathews, he has no regrets.

“I worked with awesome, awesome people, I wouldn’t change anything about the last 15-20 years of my life,” he says. “Music is the world to me, and to get to interact with it on that level was a dream come true for a kid. I’m excited to see the shape of punk to come.”

About Aaron Lambert

I am a convergent journalism major in my senior year at MSU Denver. I was born and raised a native here in Colorado, and I currently live in Westminster, CO with my wife and pup. I am an avid lover of music, specifically heavy/extreme metal, and I regularly scribble words about such topics over at the underground metal blog Heavy Blog Is Heavy.

View all posts by Aaron Lambert

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