Monday, 18 July 2011


As an addendum of sorts to the above post and comments, here's the first NME I ever bought (actually my dad bought it for me - he was a reader back in the '60s/'70s, which I guess is a revealing context in itself):

Telling eh? This is from summer 1996 and you can see that there's an epochal tug of war going on here: "Noel on the new Oasis album" and "Lager! Lager! Lager!" vs. Public Enemy, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Radiohead, the actual leftfield music of Underworld etc (though what Simply Red is doing there is anyone's guess).

The contrast with the 2009 cover speaks for itself, but around that time I actually counted the number of words and it was literally half the amount of a mid-nineties edition.

Have finally got around to reading Owen's Pulp book and he highlights another interesting stage in this narrative:
... in the early 2000s, the NME made a swerve into coverage of electronic music, R&B and hip-hop, but covers for Aphex Twin, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Destiny's Child and Missy Elliott did not go down well with readers; as is well known, the NME's circulation has always plummeted when a black artist is on the cover.
Wayne, I can remember we were talking about this "turn-of-the-century moment" a while back weren't we? I really need to get back to writing for the decade blogs innit so maybe this would be a good place to start ...


W. Kasper said...

Yeah there was a 'swerve' - pop (and indie) music was actually having a brief Anglo-American resurgence for at the turn of the century IMHO. From Timbaland's various experiments to the 'politicised' Radiohead, or So Solid becoming a chart sensation. Moreover, a lot of it was bloody good too. There was some 'enclosure' shortly after though. Which may be related to the hegemony of corporate sponsors and the emergence of Simon Cowell. And not so apparent things like a sudden, severe 'class' division between megastar hiphop and just-out-of-mainstream stuff like Def Jux etc. Similarly with teen-friendly indie boybands and the leftfield. Then of course there's MP3. This was when the music press really dropped the baton and blogs took over.

Going back to the Smiths, I'm old enough to remember heated debates in NME letters pages over Morrissey's crass statements about dance/black music. The Smiths 'won' in a way (and later the Mondays were the 'compromise'). It's weird how very conservative its readers were really. I suspect even very 'indie' acts like AR Kane were greeted with reader indifference for racial reasons (their reviews were very enthusiastic). Big, big stars - who were actually damn good too - ended up getting marginalised by editors to please their shrinking audience, along with all the other leftfield genres (I even remember complaints about Underworld being on the cover). It all created space for the genre-specific mags like Kerrang or Mixmag, which sold a lot more after a while. It's like this notion of John Peel being the don of guitar indie, when he played anything and everything.

Personally, I reckon the days of Stuart Cosgrove or Ian Penman was when it was at its peak (like Melody Maker in the late 80s/early 90s, or the Wire in the early/mid 90s). That was when you actually found out about something you never heard of before, and the best writers had very omnivorous tastes. Not just excitement because some indie band made it onto telly - the 'Britpop wars' being the nadir of that approach.

Edge said...

I think 96 cover looks par for the course. Public Enemy in '96? Dog Eat fucking dog? Simply Red? The Who? The Levellers? Looks like a magazine out of touch already & pushing shite. 'Lager, lager, lager' looks pretty desperate too.

W. Kasper said...

Probably on the cover cos of the Trainspotting film too. The underrated New Kingdom buried at the bottom. They likely would have made the cover ten years earlier.

You should take this opportunity to ask Simon Reynolds why Steve Sutherland was so bloody rubbish.

W. Kasper said...

May be of interest:

Alex Niven said...

Interesting. The economics of it all genuinely makes me feel nauseous ...

Steve Sutherland was a total cock wasn't he? The guy who suggested to Damon Albarn during a game of football that Blur change the release date of Country House to coincide with Roll With It. '90s Chipping Norton set stuff.

I agree that NME was already on the slide by the mid-90s, but I also remember stuff like "Vibes", the dance music section, long, literate album reviews, and consistently challenging album of the year choices throughout the 90s (Bjork, Tricky, Spiritualized, Beck, Flaming Lips) when you might have expected them to go for Britpop shite.

And Wayne, I'm not quite old enough to remember the Morrissey stuff, but I can remember a good few heated political debates in the letters section (on Kula Shaker being nazis in '97, and when Symposium said abortion was wrong in the same year I think). Kind of small-sounding stuff but I think being exposed to that sort of principled discussion does make quite a bit of difference on an impressionable youth. Hence, years later, wanting to shoot shit with cunts on the blogosphere eh?

W. Kasper said...

'90s Chipping Norton set stuff."

- LOL. That was the general impression after a while. Although it seemed shoegazers from the earlier part of the decade may have been a bit too chummy with the music press too. I felt like I was gatecrashing a party when i read their interviews sometimes.

I know what you mean about these discussions affecting impressionable youths, but I wonder if it was all that healthy in the long run. I know men in their 50s who get still more angry about Coldplay than they do about Cameron making them redundant and homeless.