The web revolution did not go according to plan.
The roll out of high speed internet transformed the way we communicate, switching the world from analogue to digital. Hard copies, it was thought, were on the way out – slick web pages were set to replace magazines and books, with the press forced to adjust to yet another operational shift.
Except it didn’t quite happen like that. Kindle sales have plateaued, while independent bookshops soar ahead. In the music press, the collapse of advertising rates coupled with dodgy social media algorithms mean that websites are increasingly difficult to maintain on anything like a (semi) professional level.
Curiously, this has allowed the magazine to slip back in. Amid the frenzied pace of social media a new batch of voices, vagabonds, and awkward sods favour slow-reading, and the impact that only a physical artefact can provide.
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So Young has been documenting underground guitar ruptures for almost six years now, with its scratchy, cut ‘n’ paste design mirroring the DIY ethos of the artists therein.
Steeped in South London lore – co-founders Sam Ford and Josh Whettingsteel kicked off the mag after catching a show by Palma Violets – they’ve documented a fetid, groundbreaking, extremely close-knit scene at first hand, one largely eschewed by the more mainstream music press.
“The inspiration behind So Young was in part, the incredible wave of bands that we had started to go and see live,” says Sam. “We didn't have a passion to start a magazine as such, we just loved what we were in to so much that a ‘zine or magazine was an outlet for it. The only magazine we would've made was So Young.”
The magazine is part of a new wave of titles to turn its back on the web; whereas previous scenes in ‘07 or ‘12 would have been matched to MySpace or Wordpress, the current brew is being documented on paper.
“I suppose the easiest thing for us to compare it to is the consumption of music,” Josh explains. “You can listen for free and you can tailor everything you consume to your own personal interests. If you wanted to, you could quite easily only listen to the one artist for the rest of your life. Just like you could solely read the opinions on the artists you already love for the rest of your life.”
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It's the same reason we still buy vinyl, to have a connection and to show off our collections...
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“Physical music and physical magazines have an incredible level of discovery to them. Going beyond the hit single and going beyond the cover feature, you're more likely to find something new. And then there's the opportunity to hold something in your hands, take in the artwork, the faces and the band names.”
He finishes: “And if you do it right, hopefully, the art and the work that’s gone into it becomes less disposable and hopefully treasured by the reader. It's the same reason we still buy vinyl, to have a connection and to show off our collections.”
Utilising the web as a shopfront for distribution, So Young match this with a series of live events and even space on the shelves at the Tate. Putting their weight behind new music also helps – bands, artists, songwriters, and producers mirror this investment, and in turn trust the mags opinions, and its ability to shape and interpret reputations.
Stocked at points between East London and Tokyo, So Young taps into that feeling of belonging – a magazine feels like a possession so much more naturally that a URL.
It’s a point Sam agrees with: “For me, the value is the ownership. You pick up a copy of So Young, you have a mini gallery in your hands alongside some interviews with your new favourite bands. You have something you can pick up, share around with friends, stick on your wall and have something that hopefully feels a part of you.”
“You can’t spend your life listing the URLs that represent you, it doesn’t make for a good scrap book,” he argues. “It’s the things that have connected with you and compelled you to reach into your pocket and invest in something that you can look back on. It’s the same for vinyl and it's the same for those band t-shirts that you never wear but can’t bring yourself to throw away. I think there's a lot of value in that.”
So Young will release their 20th issue in March - pre-order HERE.
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Cool Brother is also based in London, and it’s grown across its three issues from a university project to become a blossoming free title with a citywide distribution of around 5000 copies.
The brainchild of Woody Cecilia and Emma Balebela, this tiny team has metamorphosised into a collective community that straddles music, film, style, and culture. It owes its genesis to that most age-old emotion: boredom.
“It was more out of desperation than inspiration. I felt a bit fed up!” Woody laughs. “A lot of music magazines are doing the same thing, so I wanted to do something different. I wanted to create new, alternative features, I wanted to bring the readers closer to the featured artists and I wanted Cool Brother to feel honest and home made.”
“So, I got the bands to help make it. Instead of doing regular gig reviews, for example, I set about creating a photo series called Tour Diaries which takes you on tour with your favourite bands as they document everything on disposable cameras.”
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It’s something you can return to, keep and stick up on bedroom walls...
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Peeling back the veneer of semi-stardom, Cool Brother became a fly on the wall, and a fly in the ointment; stubborn, obtuse, and stylish, it’s three issues are littered with passion pieces, while rejoicing in the joys of the physical artefact.
“The beauty of print, for me, is that it creates a small gap in time where you can escape from the digital world,” she says. “It’s something you can return to, keep and stick up on bedroom walls.”
“I also love the anticipation of print. Online media is super important and great for a million and one things, but it’s so instant that there’s little time to look forward to any of it. Having to wait a week, a month or maybe even longer for the release of a publication is brilliant, as it creates a feeling of mystique and excitement.”
Taking care of distribution themselves - “lots of Kettle Chips are needed for strength and morale!” - every aspect of Cool Brother is DIY. Hand made, hand designed, and hand delivered, the team are working alongside Eat Your Own Ears on live shows, while Hedi Slimane and Bella Freud are both said to have cast approving eyes over past issues.
Dedicated magazine fans – both have bedrooms stacked high with archive copies – Woody and Emma’s experiences are informed first and foremost by simply being a reader of the printed word.
“Don’t be something for everyone – be everything for someone. Look at what other people are doing and work out what’s missing. Create something you would love to find, hold, treasure and be a part of. Build a whole new world.”
Check out issue three of Cool Brother online HERE.
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Gold Flake Paint started in 2010 as a blog, a portal for new music that was all too often shunted out to the sidelines. Kicked off in Bristol before spending time in Edinburgh, the site made a home for itself in Glasgow, gaining international respect through its excellent design and commitment to a highly personal, often intimate, form of writing, one that thrived on expressing voices born from an Atlantic-straddling nexus of DIY communities.
Sometime last year, though, founder Tom Johnson took the decision to halt Gold Flake Paint as a blog, and instead launch as a printed magazine. Designed by Tom Rogers and edited by Hannah Boyle, the first run of Issue One sold out within days – a second run was ordered, and swiftly sold out as well.
Beautifully crafted, the cover interview with Mitski helped pin down a mercurial, vital, and inspirational talent, while the words elsewhere bravely tackled gender, mental health, creative passions, and so much more.
“It’s always been a dream to create something physical, something to hold in our hands, pass between friends and strangers,” says Tom Johnson. “We had to put the leg-work in first, though, to try and build a community around us, and a following that might trust us when we started to ask people to pay for something that had always been free. And also we needed to get better at what we do.”
“I think there’s never enough discussion about how our skills improve the more we do it,” Tom continues. “A few people, after the success of Issue One, joked I should have done this years ago but we couldn’t have executed it. We worked really, really hard for a very long time to get to a position where we could release something that was good enough to be shared and accepted.”
“Secondly, it was the timing of things. Gold Flake Paint turned eight years old last May and I wanted to take a step-back from the never-ending cycle of daily blogging and it just felt like the right time to switch things up; to take a leap of faith and transition into a ‘real’ magazine. I’m not sure we could have done it at any other time.”
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It just felt like the right time to switch things up...
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Following the success of Gold Flake Paint’s inaugural edition the magazine will now roll out as a quarterly; it’s a conscious shift from the daily flow of blog posts, a movement from vertical motion, say, to horizontal.
“I think it is pretty different, at least by design if nothing else,” he explains. “Most of what I published on the site was written by myself in one sitting and never proof-read or edited by anyone. I’m not sure how I got away with it for so long. With the magazine we have a wonderful editor who painstakingly checks every line of every article, works with the writers to get the best out of their essays”.
“It’s been quite difficult adapting,” adds Tom. “I sometimes miss the rush of finding something new, writing about it in the moment, and posting it up that same day. But also, we can still do that if we want to. I like having a month or so to sit with a feature, having the time and space to make it into the very best thing it can be.”
“By it’s very nature the blog side of things can’t really work in that same way. And I spend much less time on social media, which is beneficial to my overall mental health. It’s important to take a step back sometimes.”
Issue One of Gold Flake Paint’s print publication very definitely feels like a step back; it’s an inward breath, a contemplative pause, with each feature holding its own place on the page. There’s also another benefit to print – it’s sensual quality.
“It smells much nicer,” Tom laughs. “I think there’s just always a deeper connection with something you can touch and feel, that you can pass on or place on a shelf, it becomes a part of your life in real lasting terms rather than a webpage that is so quickly forgotten. I constantly stumble upon reviews that I’ve written over the past couple of years and immediately forgot about once published.”
“Digital media has a similar way of meaning everything for a minuscule moment of time and then immediately disappearing into the ether,” he argues. “I get that there’s a place for that too but there’s just something special about investing in something. It’s why I’ve never stopped buying records, even though the entire history of recorded music can be found with a couple of clicks on a mousepad.”
“It’s why I physically celebrate every single sale we make because it widens the circle, it makes the time spent more worthwhile, it allows us to do this for longer and put more into it.”
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There’s just something special about investing in something. It’s why I’ve never stopped buying records...
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Given the reaction to its launch issue, the future looks extremely positive for Gold Flake Paint’s hard copy endeavours. Four issues have been plotted out for 2019 - “one for each season” - with the remarkable Sharon Van Etten occupying their second cover.
“There’s been a wonderful, overwhelming reaction to the journal but the only way we get to keep going is if people actually buy it. Which is a whole new dynamic to learn. We still don’t know how well it’s all going to go. Issue One was a bit of a free hit, in retrospect, so the hard work very much starts now: in terms of spreading the word, reaching new people, keeping people excited. It’s a whole new world and we very much feel like the new kid on the block that doesn’t know anyone or how to behave.”
“But it’s very exciting. We’ve recently launched a 2019 subscription deal, so we know there are at least a few people out there who are ready and waiting for what we come up with. Which is both terrifying and supremely gratifying in equal measure.”
Order Gold Flake Paint Issue Two - with cover star Sharon Van Etten - HERE.
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One thing that each title has in common is refusing to separate itself completely from the web. Both Cool Brother and So Young are available as a free downloads via their site, while Gold Flake Paint still shares interviews and blog pieces, albeit on a much reduced daily rate.
Able to utilise the best aspects of the web – its connectivity, its immediacy – and harness it to the physical product, each title is, in its own way, charting new ground, burning out fresh avenues.
The mistake wasn’t insisting that the internet offered boundless potential, because it does; rather, the mistake was insisting that the potential of print had been used up, when it clearly hadn’t. These titles – and countless more, operating in communities across the country – are busy upending these expectations, and proving that the printed press has a vibrant, creative future.
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