Tuesday Ten: 241: Long Live The UK Music Scene

This week marks the end of an era in Music Journalism: the NME as we know it goes, replaced with a free music paper/magazine every Friday, ending 63 years of it’s weekly, paid-for existence – and maybe it’s place at the heart of the British Music Industry as it has evolved. Maybe the printed music press is now a dinosaur – but some of us still like it, and indeed for many my age or older, it was our route into all kinds of music pre-internet.

So, today, in a break from the norm, I’m going to celebrate the music press that helped shape my music taste – this isn’t an exhaustive list, but feel free to add your own memories and comments.

Starting, of course, with the NME. I think I started reading it when I was about thirteen or so, and I became a weekly buyer at some point a bit later. The mid-nineties was probably the last hurrah of the NME, with it’s finger jolted into the mains of the zeitgeist and the brilliance of writers like the late, much-missed Steven Wells, Steve Lamacq and many others. I mean, how many music periodicals now would dare to run the infamous picture of Richey Edwards, never mind put it on the cover and ask intelligent questions as well?

The eventual decline was kinda sad, really, as the internet took over, and it became little more than a gossip-mag for the music scene, with occasional great articles hidden among the toss. Sales dwindled to a reported circulation of less than 15,000 over the summer – it peaked well beyond 250,000 in the past – although I guess the heavily-trafficked website has long since been more important, even if the layout is bloody awful and a full revamp of that can’t come soon enough either. Here’s hoping they keep the monster Christmas crossword, eh?

Long the NME’s main competitor in the UK, it always seemed to me that MM was rather more willing to avoid toeing the line of popularity, with some amusingly brutal takedowns of bands lauded elsewhere – critique that reached it’s apogee with the gloriously foul-mouthed diatribes of Mr Agreeable (happily now returned on an occasional basis to The Quietus, and age hasn’t quelled his temper one iota). But their actual music coverage for a time was awesomely good, diverse (Simon Price among many others was always worth reading), and there is a very long list of bands who formed thanks to the classifieds. Again, though, by it’s closure in 2000 it really wasn’t up to much, again a victim of changing tastes and styles.

Probably the magazine most associated with the genesis of Britpop, Select only lasted eleven years but had a pretty seismic effect at the time. A glossy, slick magazine from the start, it followed the usual pattern of news, lengthy articles and reviews, but the articles in particular were usually the most interesting – not to mention it’s occasional covermount tapes/CDs, which rather than being just the latest stuff to promote, were often fascinating compilations of very varied music indeed with a common theme of some sort.

Later all but absorbed into NME, VOX had a similar shelf-life to Select, but never really managed to find it’s own niche, and as such, I can recall little about it, aside from it’s great selection of covermount CDs, some of which Daisy and I still have to this day, somewhere.

I probably owe a lot to KERRANG!, really. While it may be little more than a teen-punk mag nowadays, back in the nineties it was the place to go for all news on metal, of all kinds, as it covered pretty much everything, from punk and emo to Black Metal and Grindcore, even with a fair dabbling in industrial at points to – and more importantly with writers who knew what they were fucking talking about, for the most part. They also had their fair share of crazy ideas that went to press, too, like that time Morat went on tour with Lemmy for 24 hours, and did whatever he did, drink, drugs, food, the lot. It didn’t end well, but was a fucking hilarious read.

Perhaps strongest in it’s early days, in the late-nineties, when it was marvellously diverse and put all kinds of interesting acts on it’s covermounted CDs, it seemed to evolve into an identikit “alternative” magazine that eventually ended up covering little that KERRANG! didn’t. But those early days were fascinating. Just as likely to feature Manuskript or Rico as they were Jimmy Eat World or Deftones, there was a keen sense of a bunch of music fans wanting to tell the world about all these awesome bands just under the radar. I only wish there was still somewhere like that now, frankly.

Daisy asked me to include this, as despite it’s image as a tween-mag for pop-fans, the editors of Smash Hits clearly saw where the wind was blowing in the mid-90s and quickly started including all kinds of Britpop stars and not-so-stars, with their song-lyric pages suddenly including the hits of Blur rather than the latest from the Stock, Aitken and Waterman conveyor belt as it might have been a few years before. The one item that Daisy remembered more than any other, though, was “Brian Molko’s Make-up Tips”…

Probably the only magazine in this list to have not changed substantially, Terrorizer have kept up their impressive commitment to extreme metal with exhaustive coverage of the scene, with good critical writing, reviews and news that few others have the right balance of. They also have a long-running covermount that has led to me many musical discoveries that I otherwise would never have found, too. I don’t buy it every month nowadays, but it is probably the only periodical that I even semi-regularly buy any more.

Easily obtainable for a period in the late nineties over here, this is probably the only one of the US-based magazines I ever read on a regular basis. Notably far more in-depth than UK contemporaries, I discovered all kinds of bands as a result of reading this for a time (even Heavy Water Factory were featured once, in an article about The Sisters of Mercy touring the US, I think), and got a slant on the “scene” that I simply didn’t get in the UK press. Long-since unavailable over here, I was surprised to find that it still exists in print form in the US.

Alternative Magazine

Finally, allow me my moment in the sun: the only time I ended up writing for nationally-distributed print media, the short-lived Alternative Magazine was slightly-chaotic in style, but covered things barely anyone did, and for much of it’s short print run I was a regular contributor from my then-home of Sheffield, either providing gig reviews and photographs, and occasional album reviews. The magazine clearly struggled along (I didn’t get paid for my work, but then, I’ve never looked at making money from my writing, and as I’ve noted before I flatly refuse to take paid advertising on amodelofcontrol.com – I can afford to not have to), and sadly sank fairly quickly. That wasn’t for the efforts of the contributors, as the writing across the board was very good, I’d like to think.

A number of these may have ceased printing their work in physical format now, but their material continues online to varying degrees (and with varying quality, too). I have to confess that much of my music news and new release information comes from social media – either from bands, peers, friends, labels, and indeed some publications, but the new generation of such (see my sidebar for some of them). And I’ll continue to write, too, as I have done for nineteen years this coming week – with a few more articles in the works and a full review of Cold Waves IV in Chicago next week, too.

Leave a Reply