WTF was, or is, SQUALL?
To set the scene. It's 1992 and a new Criminal Justice And Public Order Bill has just been drafted by the Conservative UK government. The 'CJA' as it came to be known, included widespread sanctions against squatters, travellers, activists, festivals and public assembly. It was an emphatic attempt to bring a burgeoning youth culture in the UK to heel on a short leash. This youth culture wanted to dance. But it was also politically charged with big things to say about the the affects of unfettered capitalism on our environment and culture.
The law was a draconian catch-all and included the first legislation to define and target a specific kind of music since Hitler's National Socialist government of Nazi Germany. A "series of repetitive beats" issued from "electrical equipment" was the way it lined up "rave music" in its crosshairs.
The law was preceded by ludicrously inflated statements of political outrage from establishment media and politicians. Vilifying squatters, travellers, ravers and political activists as wastrels and troublemakers. Initially these vilifications went unchallenged by the mainstream media.
Seven years earlier, and already blooded by their assault on striking miners, riot police were ordered by prime-minister Margaret Thatcher to kibosh the largest of the UK's burgeoning free festivals at Stonehenge. In overtly paramilitary style, police ushered a convoy of live-in vehicles on into a Wiltshire field and "went berserk"; attacking cornered families in a bloody show of force subsequently called the 'Battle Of The Beanfield'. Although in reality it was more a one sided rampage than anything resembling a "battle". ITN footage of the incident went missing. It looked like Thatcher and the paramilitary riot police had gotten away with it.
The two people who would later co-found SQUALL, Jez Tucker and Jim Carey, were both squatters living in north London since the 80's and had become significantly involved in putting on free arts events in disused buildings around the capital with a group called 'Lowlife?!'. The projects, which attracted audiences/participants of thousands, were very much influenced by the free festival scene in the UK. Neither they nor the committed team of squatters who worked with them earned any money from these exploits. Cash raised by a donation bucket and a café was ploughed back into bigger events called 'Arts Feasts', and a Lowlife?! print magazine was born.
The Lowlife?! Collective was by no means the only team of squatters putting on cultural events in the UK at the time. 'Home-made' festivals and raves grew to become some of the defining youth culture events of the 80's & 90's. It was estimated that two million young people from all social backgrounds went out to 'self-organised' events at the weekend at the height of its culture. Following the 'Battle of The Beanfield' however, evictions from squatted properties and festival/rave locations by heavier-handed bailiffs were becoming more frequent as the 90s progressed. With both the Conservative government and media moguls swinging their weight behind demonising squatters, new travellers and festivals. It was getting harder to carry on. Then, as the CJA revved on the grid, one Tory minister publically described squatters as "creators of municipal rubbish dumps". Once again these words went unchallenged in either parliament or media and Jez Tucker and Jim Carey decided enough was enough.
Carey went on a night class course in journalism and Tucker threw himself into learning magazine design on his Apple Classic computer. And SQUALL was born. Very quickly the project attracted a small but highly dedicated team of writers, photographers, sub-editors, illustrators and designers. And, as Jim Carey explained, the magazine's small roots as a 'magazine for squatters' soon branched out.:
"Although sometimes it's important to concentrate on a single issue in order to make any progress with it, it was clear from the start that squatting itself was a manifestation of many factors. Of homelessness, unaffordable housing, the use of shelter as investment commodity, land-ownership, corporatisation of public space, gentrification etc etc …..and, of course, of who owns the media and how interested they are in fair representation."
Very soon the evident need for an alternative voice to the mutually-referential mainstream, propelled SQUALL into becoming a magazine covering a spread of different perspectives. With subjects ranging from self-build housing to the political influence of freemasonry…..from the clandestine targeting of children in product marketing to genetic engineering of crops. And there was extensive coverage given to numerous direct action campaigns which shone a light on important socio-political issues. From it's rooky A5 beginnings, SQUALL burgeoned into a tabloid-size widescreen epic placing concerted emphasis on both good quality photography and factually accurate journalism.
And so it ran as a print publication and then online, for some 14 years. Why did it end?
In an online world where the viability of print publications is critically challenged, SQUALL suffered from massive logistical distribution problems.
WH Smith's wouldn't put it on their shelves.
Hundreds of copies would literally go out across the UK on promises of financial return after they were sold but many of these promises went unfulfilled. SQUALL had also made a precarious decision to protect its editorial independence by not taking advertising, which meant finances were a relentlessly hungry problem. Very often the same team who were putting the magazine together were also running events to raise finance.
The magazine very nearly secured a large donation from a wealthy philanthropist which would have given it at least another few years of life but the promise evaporated for reasons never given. Inevitably SQUALL's patient landlord couldn't tolerate rent arrears forever and the magazine was eventually asked to leave its office space. Professionally homeless now, the team had run themselves into the ground and the magazine drew to a close. Naïve perhaps to think its (lack of) business model would ever be in anyway sustainable, it's nevertheless no small triumph SQUALL lasted as long as it did.
Some sense of SQUALL’s perspective on socio-politics continues to feed into public discourse to this day as a Facebook page www.facebook.com/squallmagazine and a twitter feed www.twitter.com/squallmagazine and on instagram www.instagram.com/squallmagazine "A signpost on the hectic highway. Principled politics, social psychology & creative activism".
FORTHCOMING: Extended Q&A Discussion On SQUALL - interview with SQUALL co-founder Jim Carey.
INTRODUCING SQUALL: FRESH FLAVOUR IN THE MEDIA SOUP - written as a chapter for George McKay's book 'DiY Culture', 1998, Verso.