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Subbacultcha is the IRL music magazine we need right now

Posted by Grace Wang on Wednesday, June 20 2018

With an emphasis on live music and human curation, the Amsterdam-based title sets itself apart from the rest

Where do you go to look for new music? With infinite scrolling on SoundCloud, auto-playing on Youtube, and related artists on Spotify, discovering your new favourite artist can be an overwhelming activity that often feels controlled by undiscerning, perfunctory algorithms. But for the musically curious in Amsterdam, Subbacultcha is a subscription package that lets you enjoy access to weekly live shows, plus a quarterly print magazine packed with carefully selected recommendations on emerging artists. At €8 a month, it’s cheaper than most door prices, and is a perfect IRL antidote to the stressful digital search.

The magazine itself is minimally designed and beautifully unassuming, with just the right amount of text to engage you right through to the end. Amidst pages of astoundingly good photography (all analogue), musician interviews, and cheeky internet finds, there are reoccurring columns like ‘About Last Night’, which picks the hungover brains of a Subbacultcha member the morning after a show. From their base in De School, the revered Amsterdam nightclub, editor-in-chief Roxy Merrell chats to me about her day-to-day at the office, her concerns as an editor of a music magazine, and what she’s listening to right now.

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I really enjoy the range of Subbacultcha, covering from rap to indie bands to dance music. What do you have to say to music purists who only listen to certain genres?
At Subbacultcha we believe the most exciting contemporary music goes beyond particular genre limitations. Just as we proactively support the blurring of boundaries in society, and with regard to identity, musicians are stripping themselves of categorical restrictions. Personally, I think this is very indicative of where we are at today — an age of revivalism, post-subcultures, re-appropriation of musical tropes, of dismissing all rules. We’re seeing waves of musical influences and ideas come back and blend in with more contemporary thinking and styles. Up next: punk attitudes, abstract and evocative electronic meanderings and the very-much-visible 00s R&B sound and style.

Where do you discover new music?
As a platform for new music, we book and organise weekly concerts, which we promote through our magazine. We have a small and wildly committed team that is constantly on the lookout for exciting music and projects. A lot of our discoveries come through following labels and artists, getting lost on SoundCloud, going to shows, staying in touch with interesting people, staying in tune with our community, and through word of mouth.

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I feel like there’s a dominance of women musicians in the print magazine that is very valuable in the current music media. Is this intentional?
We definitely do have female-heavy coverage, which as you say, is extremely valuable in today’s music landscape. We do like to keep an eye on the diversity of our programming and the magazine, to see if we ever need to challenge ourselves in any particular direction, but it doesn’t determine who we cover. It just turns out that the majority of the most exciting music out there today, in our opinion, is being made by women. We like to highlight who we think is exciting and progressive, to get our readers excited.

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What’s your day-to-day like at Subbacultcha?
My day-to-day varies! It boils down to lots of research, the exchange of ideas and recent finds with my colleagues, getting in touch with labels, artist management, press agents and being in close contact with our contributors. Besides scouting for music, we scout for great writers, photographers and illustrators worldwide on a daily basis.

I spend most of my days working on the magazine alongside our art director Tjade Bouma. When it comes to selecting and briefing our contributors, we really work to find the right match of artist-photographer and artist-writer to allow them to create the best content, guided by the same ideas. A recent example in which we felt this worked stunningly was our recent Issue 12’s cover story on Shygirl. Our writer Deva Rao and photographer Kamila K Stanley collaborated with Shygirl to create a gorgeous and coherent story that should get you hooked on Shygirl.

When day turns to night, you can find us at one of the many alternative venues we host shows at, checking out the bands we featured and endlessly talking about music. We can have up to three shows a week, which makes for a stirring and busy schedule!

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The clean design of the magazine, punctuated by the strong typefaces and fun columns (above), make for a really well-paced, entertaining reading experience. Tell us your intentions behind the design.
Thank you! We’re thrilled to hear that. The magazine we present today is the outcome of our 10-year evolution. Subbacultcha magazine started (in 2008) as a monthly pocket-sized zine, with playful content highlighting that month’s shows. As we became increasingly known for hosting exciting, emerging acts — from Mykki Blanco to Laurel Halo — and as the quality of the content got so strong, we felt the need to adjust the design to accommodate that.

In our transformation to a quarterly magazine, we tried to take our underground zine to the next level. We made a number of conscious decisions: the A5 format, the matte paper, the staple binding, the use of analogue photography, the design and the columns — these are all elements we use to try hold onto that DIY zine feel while upgrading the design. Our next publication will showcase all the artists, content and design featured over the course of ten years: a true celebration of our process from pocket-sized to a quarterly magazine.

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What are the biggest challenges you face as an editor of a music magazine?
I would say the biggest challenge relates to who we feature and in what way. When it comes to the music features in the magazine, it’s a reflection of Subbacultcha’s music taste. What is that made up of? My personal taste, our booker’s taste, our other team members, what we think people are into, what we see as on-brand and when we choose to ignore that very definition — it’s an interesting challenge to be eclectic, open-minded, experimental, yet always ensure a particular quality-control or level of curation. We feel the need to always push the envelope, while remaining a platform with a clear point of view. That’s a real ongoing challenge, but it keeps things interesting and the result of that effort is always exciting. We, as a team, are continually really proud of the outcome.

Lastly, what are you listening to right now?
Shygirl — Asher Wolfe

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