Features

The Demise of the Music Magazine.

Alex Worsnip 21/02/2004

I've just finished watching the NME Awards 2004, and I'm now officially amazed that anyone could ever read a magazine so far up its own backside. In fact, the whole scene and music press stinks of arrogance now. It may be a favourite topic of small-time writers like ourselves, but it really is applicable at the moment. The NME Awards ceremony is just the embodiment of this. Amongst the "Fuck Me Award For Innovation" (ooh! they said fuck!!) and the "I wonder who on earth this might be" award (otherwise known as Best Album, which goes to Radiohead invariably whether they made a great album, a lousy album, or possibly no album at all), the indie elite sit together to applaud Har Mar Superstar, swoon at Chas and Dave, sorry, The Libertines, and desperately hope that The White Stripes will bother turning up someday.

Here's a serious brainteaser: think of a single guitar band (with the exception of nu-metal) to emerge with some degree of success in the last 5 years that the NME hasn't loved. Whether bands become fashionable because NME likes them, or whether NME likes bands because their fashionable, is of no importance - its working the wrong way. NME play it too safe to give any album by an up-and-coming band anything less than 9/10, or, if they're really seriously appalling, possibly 8, and then dump them out on their arse once they've found another 5-minute gimmicky poseur idiot to focus on. Andrew WK!!! Peaches!!! Har Mar Superstar!!! What legends! It seems all you need to get onto the cover of NME is some long hair, some frayed jeans and a few swear words.

Q soon follows behind (isn't it just late on everything!), that is, if it can squeeze it in amongst all the pictures of semi-naked pop singers. Sorry, but did I miss something here? Is the new editor not aware that there is no G in front of his magazine's name? Two years ago Q might have been boring (let's face it, they liked Nickleback and the Stereophonics), but at least it was a fairly self-respecting music mag with a decent reviews section and the odd free CD. Suddenly its metamorphosised into a frightful blend of FHM, Smash Hits, and the official Train fanclub magazine. Q is like NME's dad, going through a mid-life crisis, desperately to keep up with its trendy son and rediscovering its love for sexy and brainless women who can't sing.

The sad thing about these music magazines is they can't even justify their arrogance. If NME was actually increasing its readership and succeeded as a general cultural force, then maybe it could justify its endless features on "The Coolest People In Rock" and so forth. But its not! NME's readership is at an all-time low. This might be because, if you buy an NME, you're through it in 20 minutes - there just isn't anything to read in it. Twattish as NME might have been a couple of years ago, at least it had some sort of content. And I won't even start on Kerrang.

When I spoke to Mark Ellen, the founding editor of Q and co-editor of the new magazine Word, about a year ago, he told me that many of these magazines simply do review things based on what they think their readership want and not on quality of the album. Come on - let's get serious. Who actually enjoys listening to Peaches, for example, except for the thrill of "ooh, I'm listening to a woman of indeterminate gender and sexuality who swears a lot and thinks she's really cool?" But reviews play it safe. Never mind what it sounds like. Are NME really going to take the risk of saying "nah, actually the new Radiohead album's pretty shit"?

X-Ray is one of the few decent magazines out there now. Now, don't get me wrong, there's very little to read in it. Predictable reviews, uninteresting and regurgitated features, and so forth. But their free CDs are magic. One each issue, and 15 tracks, many of which can turn into future favourites - worth the 2 per issue subscription alone. However, its just had its funding withdrawn from the bastards and Capital Radio, owners of XFM and the subsidiary magazine. Capital Radio hasn't been all trouble for XFM, though, to be fair. When it took over XFM was playing fairly stagnant late-period Britpop most of the day. What Capital have done is to broaden out its musical taste (good) and to try to shape it into an alternative version of Capital (bad).

Now, in a time where your average Joe's definition of 'Indie' lies somewhere around Toploader, expanding the focus might not seem a bad idea. And indeed, things have looked up with the introduction of more electronica, dance and even reggae. There are some fine shows, notably The Remix, which plays dance remixes of rock records, and the gem of UK radio, John Kennedy's XPosure, the best source of new music ever, and bang-on for taste. John Kennedy actually is a god. Incidentally, he's the only surviving DJ from XFM's inception. Unfortunately his show has been relegated to 11pm-1am on Mondays-Thursdays.

But turn on XFM during the day and you get an alternative carbon copy of Capital, with irritating mainstream presenters like Richard Bacon, Zoe Ball and Dermot O'Leary chattering, seeminly misinformed that XFM is meant to play music. They've just changed the playlist, but all the ingredients are there: the unfunny humour, the time-consuming, useless features, and of course repeating the same songs over and over. Even their websites have the exact same layout. Needless to say, XFM is still the best station out there, but of course you can't get it on regular radio outside London. Still, you can get it on Sky Digital, through digital radio, or online at xfm.co.uk.

Of course, these trends are present on all radio stations. Particularly irritating is the "I'm mad, me!" kind of presenter: boundlessly enthusiastic, deeply unfunny, and usually without the most measly scrap of music knowledge. No, I do not want any more "cheeky lads" or "bubbly girls" polluting my airwaves with useless babble. Nor do I want them in the bands I see. Even in indie music, band members, particularly frontmen, seem to now be required to appear criminally insane to get anywhere. Now I've nothing against antics and crowd interactions, but some frontmen are so obviously lacking in even a shred of charisma, that they have to invent it in the most contrived way possible. In 20 years time, we'll look lack on footage of Jet, The Datsuns or whatever other recycling men of rock the NME were sucking the cocks of that week, and gape in stupification at their ridiculousness. At least then the joke will be on them.