Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I write about the songs

Have you noticed that the NME, in their latest set of infinite wisdom-driven cosmetic changes, have given Mark Beaumont a weekly column? Well, no, as nobody buys the thing any more, but the column contains about as much prose and pith as you'd expect. And there hangs an issue.

It's widely agreed that the last great era of weekly music writing came in the late 80s and early 90s - the NME period under Danny Kelly's idiosyncratic stewardship is often celebrated, when the magazine took what TV Cream once called the "smoking jacket era" approach and spawned assorted future media nabobs - Stuart Maconie, Andrew Collins, James Brown, Steve Lamacq, David Quantick and the lingering ghost of Steven Wells well before he became the only man in Britain who genuinely believes that liking Girls Aloud is a revolutionary counter-cultural statement (and you can read his latest reordering of the same words in the Guardian and on The Quietus this and every bloody week) - before Steve Sutherland crossed the floor from MM and most of the staff left in protest. But then the Melody Maker itself has plenty of supporters from that same era for its no-nonsense stylings - Simon Reynolds, Chris Roberts and David Stubbs, and slightly later Everett True, Simon Price, Taylor Parkes, Neil Kulkarni and the Stud Brothers. Who, in the fifteen years since those little groups folded back into itself, has become notable for the quality of their printed writing? People have made a case for Alexis Petridis, but aside from him there's nobody coming to mind.

Of course this new technology here has enabled such work to be democratised and blogs like (we hope) this one to offer a similar single voice, but if you've read this or anyone's blog before you already know the singular approach you're going to get, which isn't the same as having a group of trustworthy writers in the same place. It's been attempted online - Freaky Trigger approaches it on a more general scale, The Quietus actually employs some ex-MM people, but even with the big online names you don't get the same writer loyalty or even knowledge of their characters on Pitchfork (breaks bands, uses expressive language, all much of a muchness on the reviews side) or Drowned In Sound (however much Sean Adams tries all its fresh writing is seen as an adjunct to the forums). For our money the online music magazine that did the best job of fostering this idea of a group of writers unafraid of longform journalism with their own approaches was the now defunct Stylus, which successfully grew into its own smart, outspoken community, from Nick Southall to Ian Mathers to William Swygart to Dom Passantino to Todd Hutlock and the rest of them. We suspect that a large part of the reason why the NME gets kicked from pillar to post is it can't, unlike Stylus was at online liberty to, bring itself to stand aside from the critical and commercial morass and build its own internal logic driven world again. What's it going to do, affect sales?


iainf said...

I think Pitchfork's lack of comments/forums is quite an important part of their voice of authority which is a large part of what's got them to where they are. Individual writers not getting much of a unique voice is part of the same thing. I recognise Nitsuh Abebe and Tom Ewing, but mostly thanks to knowing their style from elsewhere.

PS thanks a lot for turning me on to three of my four favourite albums of the year (Los Campesinos!, Indelicates, Johnny F). Probably only one of them I would have heard anyway and love them all, even if er I haven't been writing about them.

Ian said...

Cheers, Simon!

Richard said...

I briefly wrote for Stylus (my contributions were terrible, btw) and I found the comment feature that led to such an 'outspoken community' a mixed blessing. On one hand, it led to a few intelligent debates. On the other, SO MANY TWATS.

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