The STACK Blog
Over the years many underground/independent/small press magazines, fanzines and journals, and in more recent times blogs, have compelled or fascinated me – and continue to do so (among the current Stack crop I’d recommend Shook for one). But in terms of formative foundational encounters, these are the three publications that have had the most profound impact me.
New Musical Express circa late 70s/early 80s
This was where my consciousness was formed. It had a huge influence on me, not just in terms of what music I aligned myself with, but because it provided a portal to other experience beyond music – the cinematic, the literary, the theoretical. It connected all these things and influenced what I thought politically. I used to read certain writers as if their words were scripture and manifesto combined, Richard Cook in particular. I started reading The Wire specifically because Richard wrote for it. Later, when I started writing for The Wire, by which time Richard was its editor, he became my mentor, and had a hand in me becoming editor of the magazine in 1994. He continued to be a benign shadowy presence in my ‘professional’ life right up to his death in 2007 aged just 50.
The Face circa mid-late 80s
Not because it was the ‘hip style Bible’, but because David Toop was its music columnist and a regular feature writer. I used to devour everything he wrote and try and emulate his style, which was incredibly poetic and just flowed, as well as soak up his cultural politics. David would write about hiphop or House or World Music as well as avant garde or experimental music (which he would smuggle into the magazine under the cover of his column) with equal rigour and intensity. This is exactly the same thing The Wire tries to do today, and of course David has been a regular contributor to The Wire for many years now.
Everything comes down to The Wire. I started reading it in 1984, started writing for it in 1986, joined the staff in 1992, led a management buy out of the title in 2000. The course of my entire adult life has been indexed to the fortunes of this magazine so completely that I can not imagine an existence without it.
Two exciting bits of news for next week’s Printout! magazine night:
1. We’ve got a logo – there it is, looking lovely courtesy of Jeremy from magCulture.
2. We’ve got a confirmed list of speakers – none other than Tim Hayward from Fire & Knives, Rob Orchard from Delayed Gratification and John L Walters from Eye. If you’ve heard any of them speak before you’ll know that this is shaping up to be a top quality panel, and all of them have been hand-picked for their expertise and insight on the blog vs. print debate.
Tickets are selling fast, so if you want to hear what they have to say (and browse through our pop-up library of independent magazines from around the world) reserve your place now. It’s only £5 to get in, and the price includes a free magazine. Can’t be bad.
There will be a pop-up library of brilliant independent magazines from around the world, special guest speakers, plus music by Little White Lies DJs. It all kicks off at 7pm and tickets are just £5. Oh, and you get a free magazine thrown in too.
We’re going to be limited to about 100 people, so if you’d like to come along and say hello, book your ticket now and we’ll look forward to seeing you there. (Nice logo and more details coming soon).
“An encylopaedia for obstinate ideas”, Or Something is a new magazine that plans to march through the alphabet, a different issue for each letter. I didn’t see issue A, but issue B has been knocking around for a few weeks and it’s quite a lovely thing.
A few weeks of knocking around in my bag has taken its toll on the cover, but I like the smudginess. It makes the whole thing feel very handmade. And the contents on the cover works nicely too – you find yourself turning back to the cover as you go to see how they’ve summarised each story.
The idea seems to be that they solicit contributions and put each issue together out of the best stuff. This series of lino cuts of a barn owl by Hester Steedman Thake is nice.
And this story on the secrets of bee communication is really interesting. Not sure the honeycomb design works as well as it might, but I like the variation. The only common theme linking stories is the letter B, which encourages the reader to see each entry as separate from the rest of the magazine – each thing works either as a whole or in isolation.
Brian Blessed Wouldn’t Lie in Bed – “an inspirational pull out poster for your wall”. Cue the usual agonising over whether it would ruin the magazine to pull the poster out.
The quality of the writing varies, but there’s some good stuff in there – I really enjoyed this first-person piece by a woman who volunteers on the Port Erin lifeboat.
At 34 pages it’s short but sweet, and feels genuinely original. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with issue C.
At the end of last year Anorak quietly launched a German version of their brilliant children’s magazine, and now they’re getting ready to charm the French speaking world as well. The French version launches on 27 April with 5,000 copies in 50 shops around France, and plans are in place for expansion into Canada, Belgium and Switzerland in the autumn.
Art director Rob Lowe will be overseeing the project (though the bulk of the design work has been done by new recruit Lewis Smith). Could this be the start of a slew of British independents launching in foreign languages? It’d be interesting to see what the French made of Lowe’s other magazine project, food magazine Fire & Knives…
All the magazines we send out on the main version of Stack are in English. That obviously leaves a pretty big hole in our coverage of the global magazine market, so in theory I should be happy when a publisher announces that they’re bringing out an English version of their magazine.
In reality, the announcement of an English version is normally the cue for a creeping sense of dread. Are they going to try fitting English copy on the pages alongside the original language? Are they going to cram all the English into a ghetto of plain text at the back of the magazine? And worst of all, are they going to let a translator mash their copy up into a bland, lifeless English mush?
It was with trepidation that I opened the first issue of DoR, the English version of Romanian magazine Decat o Revista, but it was clear from the first page that I needn’t have worried.
Its introduction letter is a barnstorming statement of intent, a nuanced, clever, brilliantly ambitious declaration: the status quo isn’t good enough, and they’re going to do something about it. I’d like to reproduce the whole thing here, but I’ll limit myself to one passage in particular:
“[DoR] is an experiment in a publishing world where experiments have become scarce. Romanians have given up on old fashioned print media, and the internet is hardly the only culprit. Reporting is sloppy, writing is flat, and design is careless. There is little to indicate that an independent magazine can change that, but there’s even less to indicate that it’s bound to fail.”
The good news is that they carry through on the promise. The magazine is funny, engaging and full of personality, mixing long form stories with creative ideas like this infographic – “A visual guide to one of the most insidious and nerve-racking songs to ever come out of Romania: Inna’s Hot.” I’ve never heard it, but I know exactly what they mean.
The greatest success of DoR is its ability to convey a sense of time and place. This isn’t the view of Romania you’d get from the tourist office or a travel programme – it’s a real local’s eye view (if that local was a particularly cool, informed, eloquent friend). I’m still only half way through reading it and I can’t wait to finish it off – I never knew I was so interested in life in Bucharest.
Here’s an interesting idea for a magazine. Boat Studio is a small creative studio based in London, but twice a year they up sticks and relocate to a different city. But not any old city: “We don’t just go anywhere, we go to places that have been overlooked or overshadowed by incidents in the past, and we work with local and international writers, photographers, illustrators and artists to update our readers’ ideas about a particular place.”
I’m not sure whether they’ve done this relocating thing in the past, but I do know that they’ve just been to Sarajevo, and they’re preparing the first issue of Boat magazine right now. It’s due out on 1 May, with a pretty outstanding list of contributors to boot.
There’s going to be a story by Dave Eggers, an interview with Bosnian film director Danis Tanovic and a piece by author Sophie Cooke. Oh, and to coincide with the launch of Boat, they’re guest editing the back section of surf/skate/snow magazine Huck. Sounds like they’re going to be busy!
It’s been far too quiet on the Stack blog recently, so I’m starting a new series of quick flicks. They’ll be heavy on pictures, light on words, and quick. Hopefully.
First up is the latest issue of VNA, which features Sickboy on the cover, complete with balaclava, Molotov cocktail and snazzy jumper. Inside, VNA’s fascination with the melting pot of street art, gallery shows and commercial commissions continues, and the front of the magazine is devoted to profiles of a range of artists.
There’s Evan Hecox, who makes beautiful, simple paintings of city life.
Russian art collective Voina, which recently turned a bridge into a huge erect glowing penis.
And of course Sickboy himself, talking about making the move from Bristol to London.
For me, though, the best bit is still the photographic glimpses of different cities, as usual without captions to say who the artists are or where the pieces are located. This issue there’s London – I’d love to know where that little white man is sitting.
Miami, complete with what seems to be William Hague re-imagined as the Incredible Hulk.
And Athens, which seems to have some kind of pirate motif going on.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a particular fan of street art, but I always love VNA – it’s the perfect example of a magazine that I shouldn’t really be interested in, but which consistently entertains. I’d be interested to see them doing something more than artist Q&As in the future, but regardless of that I’ll be looking forward to seeing the next issue.