The year was 1989. Michael Stipe, REM’s frontman, was stood on a speaker, shirt torn, lean torso on display. He was singing the finale to the Green Tour, a rendition of “If you close the door” by the Velvet Underground. REM were well on the way to becoming the biggest band in the world, and just a few years later would sign an £80m album deal — the richest, to that date, in recording history.
Twelve years earlier, Artic Frost played their second and final gig in a small Sussex town called East Grinstead. Punk was in full flow, the boys could play some cords but refused to do cover versions, and so for a few glorious weeks they unleashed tracks like “Tight Strings”, “Dogs Life” and “Emu in Gossesita” onto an unsuspecting, and largely unimpressed, world.
So what, you ask, does REM have to do with Artic Frost? Two bands who couldn’t be further from one another in terms of scale and success? Well, without bands like Artic Frost there’d be no REM. Punk was a movement based on a huge melting pot of very small bands creating new sounds, many of which lived for only a short time, but collectively they shaped the next twenty years of popular music. Michael Stipe wouldn’t have been stood on a speaker in a ripped shirt. See?
Mainstream music has traded its chaotic creativity for manufactured homogeneity, but there is another creative industry which is looking back to the punk ethos: magazine publishing. There are literally hundreds of new magazines being launched every year — many will only last a couple of wonderful, imaginative issues. Their circulations can be measured in the hundreds rather than the hundreds of thousands, but they are the melting pot from which a new generation of magazines will emerge. This new wave of punk publsihing is being celebrated by companies like Stack and MagCulture in London and the wearebip.co.uk in Bristol. Many are written by angry young women, dismayed with the state of women’s magazines. Knowledge and experience take second place to passion for the cause, whether that’s feminism (@LadyBeardmag), football (@TheFootballPink) or cats(@catpeoplemag).
Most of the people creating these magazines will go on to become doctors, lawyers or english teachers. They’ll swap making ideas for making ends meet. There will be a few though who move beyond their initial cause, who find new ways to make magazines sing. They are the start of something new, a beginnning. Thats why we should cheer every time we hear about a new magazine launch. It doesn’t matter what it’s about or how many copies it sells. What matters is its contribution to the melting pot from which the future is born. Neither should we be too sad when one closes, its death is just the beginning of something new.
Lets make our own invocation for beginnings. Go and find the smallest magazine you can and buy a copy. Savour the moment it captures. A moment in time and in its creators lives. It might not come again, but that isn’t the point, is it?
In the meantime, God Save the Queen.