Thursday, 8 June 2017

400 Beats That

I shouldn’t let June slip by without saying something about The Wire magazine which celebrates its 400th issue this month. Putting out a magazine of any kind is a Herculean task, but for a publication, which has for most of its tenure dealt with experimental and marginal music to reach 400 issues is something significant. I picked up my first copy of The Wire back in 1996 when the October issue devoted an article to Throbbing Gristle, and I’ve been buying it ever since. If that unwieldy stack in the pic below looks impressive, my collection is still short about 100 issues from the magazine’s early years when it was primarily a Jazz journal, bearing the immortal strapline: Jazz, Improvised Music and.....


I picked up a few issues here and there from the early years, (and worth noting that this era featured some exquisite photography) but it was the arrival of the millennium that saw The Wire really hit its stride (at least for this reader), as every new issue would see my album collection expand in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions. It was through the good offices of The Wire that I discovered the music of Sun Ra, AMM, Evan Parker, Fela Kuti, John Fahey, Tod Dockstader, Phill Niblock to name but a few. The magazine's championing of The Grateful Dead, King Crimson, John Martyn, even James Brown, artists that I previously had only a casual interest in, inspired me to delve deeper into their output. I heard Coil for the first time through The Wire, when in 2000, an early draft of A Cold Cell appeared on the 6th installment of the magazine's cover mounted CD series The Wire Tapper. To borrow a phrase from Cornelius Cardew, this was the time of The Great Learning.




If The Wire seems less vital in these recent times, it is perhaps a consequence of this reader not having the time to keep up with the endless flow of new music that emerges every month, but I must admit I've become increasingly frustrated by the magazine’s unfortunate inclination for fussy scholarly writing. The most recent offender, Philip Clarke's overview of Lou Reed's RCA & Arista Album Collection, in issue 397 in which the author couched the review in esoteric musicological language ("plagal cadences" and so on) was virtually unreadable. And yet I still eagerly buy it every month, usually rushing to grab one of the four or five copies my newsagents stocks. Incidentally, I had my name mentioned in The Wire back in 2012, albeit in the letters page when a tongue-in-cheek complaint about the previous issue's cover was fired off to the amused editor, who published it much to my dismay...

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