Saturday, October 21, 2017

Magazines of my time Part 5: The 1990s and beyond ... M8, Select, and Mojo

This is the fifth and final instalment in the series of blogposts on magazines. I’ve looked at the 1970s (here), the 1980s (here and here), and tried to provide some personal context around those days. In this part I’ll take a look at the 1990s and beyond, fast-forwarding to a virtually magazine-free present day …

The early 1990s was a period of huge transition and upheaval for me. Between 1990 and the (NZ) summer of 1992/1993, when I left New Zealand to move to Scotland, I lived in a total of seven different flats or houses, some shared, and some solo – moving from Hataitai at the start of 1990, to Aro Valley, to Seatoun, back to Aro Valley, to Mt Victoria (two separate abodes - Majoribanks St and Duke St), and finally to an inner city Dixon St locale for a few months before making what would ultimately turn out to be the life-changing move overseas. During that same period, I changed job at least three times, had some um, serious “interaction” with local law enforcement, and lost quite a lot of money on a failed nightclub-related venture. It’s fair to say I was very unsettled, and the move to Scotland – on a one way ticket – couldn’t happen soon enough. I can still recall Mum’s words on the eve of my departure … “you can’t run away from yourself” …

Part of the process of getting the airfare together, plus the tiny amount of cash I had pocketed for my arrival (from memory, about $400 NZD), involved selling a lot of the personal items I’d been collecting in prior years – most of my music collection (*wipes tear*) and a relatively large collection of magazines. I got very little cash for that stuff, but I had nowhere to store it all, and every dollar mattered at that stage. I kept some of the more precious items, but most of it went to a second-hand shop on Wellington’s Cuba Street.

I had family in Scotland, in Coatbridge (“Little Ireland”), and had little choice but to allow them to “adopt” me when I first arrived, while I settled and found a job – which I did with relative ease; I was soon back working all-nighters at a large accommodation hotel in the centre of Glasgow. Within a couple of months I’d found my own bedsit accommodation right in the heart of the city – in Sauchiehall Street, which was more or less party central, and it fitted perfectly with the lifestyle I’d become accustomed to, which was essentially that of a nocturnal insomniac-come-nightclub dweller, depending on what night of the week it was. Mum was right, I hadn’t changed a thing, I’d simply relocated, and I’d spend the best part of the next two years following that dark – and rather unhealthy – path.

I think during the five years or so before the internet arrived in earnest, let’s say 1990 through to 1995, the magazine market must have hit some kind of peak, and in the UK there were publications for practically anything and everything. I can recall being super impressed that most of the music magazines on offer came with freebies – usually a cassette tape or a CD, but occasionally a book – and the sheer variety available was mind-boggling. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store, and with few friends (at that point), I had all the time in the world to read as much as I wanted.
That said, aside from the Celtic View, the compulsory must-have weekly magazine covering all things Celtic FC, there wasn’t one single publication I felt more inclined to collect over any of the others. I was a regular reader of The List, which was Scotland’s equivalent of Time Out, the NME, Q, Select, Vox, and M8 magazine. The latter specialised in covering nightlife in Scotland – dance music, reviews, club events, and an especially vibrant “rave” scene. It was one of my favourites, along with Select, which was a mainstream music glossy that frequently came with high quality cassette tapes.

M8 became an essential tool in helping me plan my weekends. It was named after the stretch of motorway that runs between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but focused on nightlife happenings right across Scotland (and beyond). Having been established in 1988 by David Faulds, who was also active as a dance music promoter, the magazine was in its prime by the early-to-mid 1990s, a period surely now regarded as something of a golden era for the dance music/rave scene in Scotland. It seemed as though every weekend there was something relatively huge happening, even outside of the main centres, at venues like the Fubar in Stirling, the Metro in Saltcoats, or the ill-fated and controversial Hanger 13 in Ayr, which was forced to close in 1995 after several drug-related deaths.

Massive dance parties in small towns frequented by multiple bus-loads of bug-eyed out-of-towners. It helped that Scotland had its very own live rave act of the era, The Time Frequency (or TTF), who often headlined such events. In these (current) times of a much more highly regulated dance music scene, it’s almost impossible to imagine now just how loose things once were.

My own ability (and willingness) to travel beyond Glasgow was often compromised however, mainly by a lack of funds, and I tended to stick to inner city clubs within staggering distance of my abode – clubs like the Tunnel, the Arches, or the retro-flavoured Fury Murrys, which was as unhip and underground as these places get, and very much a guilty secret … and yes, ‘80s retro/new wave nights were already a thing as early as 1994.

In its infancy, M8 magazine had a fanzine-like quality, but it eventually became a journalistic stepping stone, with the likes of early-period editor Mickey McGonagle becoming established at the Daily Record (is that a step forward?), and late-90s editor Lesley Wright going on to land the top gig at the renowned DJ magazine. In later years it became far more global in scope and reach, very active in event promotions, and these days operates online as Tillate.
Select was a far less niche publication, and it had a widescreen, if a little UK-centric, approach to pop culture. For me it was the most viable alternative to the likes of Rolling Stone or Q, each of which lacked any real appeal for reasons many, varied, and too long-winded to go into here. Select had all I really needed beyond the realm of dance music coverage – the occasional compelling feature, gig and album reviews, and most importantly for someone seeking to rebuild a music collection on a limited budget – sampler cassette tapes (and later, CDs) ... at least nine tapes between 1990 and 1996, and at least six CD releases thereafter, through to the magazine’s demise in early 2001.

Select became most famous, perhaps, for its detailed and almost obsessive coverage of the rise and fall of Britpop. It seems no coincidence that the magazine’s own popularity mirrored the career trajectories enjoyed by the likes of Oasis and Blur (among others), and it’s notable that one of its mid-period editors, John Harris, went on to become a leading Britpop authority, and author of ‘The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock’ (2003). Other leading or high-profile contributors to the magazine during its decade-long existence include award-winning Guardian writer Alexis Petridis (the mag’s final editor), and Blur biographer, Stuart Maconie.  

I still have several of those Select tapes, and maybe even a CD or two, but I stopped buying Select with any regularity around 1996-ish, not long after returning to New Zealand, because its content fell away rather badly, quite quickly. Perhaps it was just me, perhaps I just grew out of it, because one day I decided the (then) latest issue was all a bit too tabloid-esque and it no longer offered enough serious commentary. I’d more or less moved on.

In fact, the whole world was moving on. Within a year of moving back to New Zealand – newly married with a whole new set of adult responsibilities (see the “life-changing” reference above), which is a long story in itself, and one for another time/post – this crazy phenomenon called the Worldwide Web – aka the internet – was starting to take hold, and the slow steady demise of the print medium was already well underway.

It certainly changed my own reading habits, and magazines held significantly less appeal once I became suitably equipped with my own ever-faster connection with the outside world. I still covet the format, the physical “thing”, the feel, shape, form, and smell, of a printed magazine. Not to mention the excitement of a “free CD” … however obsolete that format itself has become. Because sometimes convenience can feel a little overrated, and logging into a website is not quite the same thing as picking up a magazine and flicking through its pages at leisure. Long live GP waiting rooms and hairdressing salons … 1985 issues of The Face? … I will hunt you down and find you.

Which brings me to what is more or less my current – and only remaining – poison of choice when it comes to printed matter of the periodical variety; the distinctly retro Mojo magazine, which has been in circulation since 1993.
I’m not a regular consumer of Mojo by any stretch but it’s something my children often buy for me on those pesky occasions when I’m forced to celebrate a birthday and it’s the only remotely affordable thing on my wish-list. I do enjoy the magazine for the historical angle it adopts, the quality of the writing, and the seemingly endless vast back catalogue of quality photos. And um, the themed CD – again, usually retro – it offers.

The fact that it has survived as long as it has – coming up for a quarter of a century – in a rapidly changing market, against all odds, says all there is to say about Mojo. 

I’ll leave it here. I’ve rambled on long enough, and I’ve dealt all of the publications that meant something to me over the course of my lifetime. Except perhaps a couple of fly-by-night gems. Which is what I set out to do, five long-winded blogposts ago.

I was a little taken aback a few weeks ago when a daughter told me she’d learned a lot about me just by reading this series of posts. Up until that point, I hadn’t realised she was even reading the blog. But it’s also fair to say I was touched by the fact that she was checking in, and that these blogposts were of some interest to her. It led to a conversation about these specific posts (on magazines) and why I felt compelled to share my thoughts on what might otherwise be considered a rather niche or frivolous thing. I explained that as much as they are a personal indulgence, they also sought to highlight, or at least document, how different life used to be.

I wanted her to fully grasp that for her generation, facts, information, and everything-you-ever-need-to-know-about-everything-and-more, is only ever a few keywords, clicks, or swipes away. Yet for my own generation, there was much less in the way of options when it came to sourcing information – we had television, radio, books, newspapers, and magazines.

That was more or less it, beyond the stuff that got handed down by default via our parents and teachers, naturally. And of course, the generation of my parents had even less choice. I think my point was that because we had to work hard at becoming informed, it somehow made that information all the more valuable. I coveted magazines because of what they offered and the amount of effort it took to collect them. I hope that makes some sense.

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