Friday, April 25, 2014

The NME And The Never Ending Past.

‘In the two years that he’d spent there he hadn’t gone very far into American life. Still, he’d been touched in a way by their brand of music, where they, too, try to get away from the weight of routine and the crushing misery of having to do the same thing everyday … While it’s playing, they can shuffle about for a while with a life that has no meaning.’

Céline - Journey to the End of the Night.

[Random thoughts as collated during a week in Northumberland where internet access was non-existent and most days were spent listening to the radio {R3&R4 obvs} on a crappy radio at low volume whilst reading the papers and Céline ]

Thanks to the Sleaford Mods I bought a copy of the NME for the first time in decades. There they were staring out at me from within its meaningless pages. I read it and swore I'd never buy another copy as long as I lived. With any luck I may even outlive it.

I gave up buying the New Musical Express when it began championing conveyor belt Indie pap and drug-fuelled dance music. Judging by its circulation figures I wasn't on my own. From a height of 300,000 copies the once mighty weekly now struggles to shift a paltry 20,000, half of what Melody Maker was selling when the life support was turned off. Its website and a digital version may be just enough to save it from eternal obscurity.

As it stands now [and this is after last year's relaunch] the NME feels as flimsy as a tabloid freebie, a magazine that is as far removed from its inky broadsheet heyday as it is possible to imagine, a trivial pamphlet that is the musical equivalent of Take A Break. Tagging itself as 'The Past, Present & Future of Music', it still seems as reliant on the kind of male-dominant Indie landfill I gave it up for all those years ago [judging from the 19th April issue at least]. It clings to life like a faded aunt whose mansion has been flogged off to pay for her constant care. Care here being provided by several attendees whose Sisyphian task includes trying to convince its ever dwindling band of readers that it still matters. It doesn't. iTunes, Youtube, social media, blogging, and to some extent daily newspapers, monthly retro music magazines and its own digital presence, have made the last remaining member of the weekly music press gang irrelevant. It's out of date before it hits the presses. Its deceased rivals: Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror, all healthy weekly publications that covered a music scene that did matter, have all long since curled up their toes and shuffled off to join Punch and The Sporting Times.

Buying my first NME on the same weekend as the now yearly National Record Store Day banjoree gave further cause for thought. It's the only weekend of the year that record shops and vinyl get their day out in the mainstream press with many a floppy-haired journo sent out into the shires to find a record shop before filing copy that always includes the words 'they may be struggling, but the internet hasn't killed them off yet'. A yearly cut and paste ritual if ever there was one. Thanks to the resurgence in vinyl reissues and the continued resilience of £50-a-week man, record shops will no doubt continue a while longer, but I dare say that most of those queuing outside Rough Trade East on Saturday morning will be savvy investors who realise that their £50 can be turned, via eBay and Discogs, into a tidy bit more a week later. NRSD releases are deliberately manufactured rarities designed to titillate a market that is almost exclusively reliant on reissues - for one day a year at any rate. The record shops that stock them have become living archives, where you can buy plenty of old stuff but very little new stuff of worth. And whilst I'm here, £35 for a repress of Neil Young's ‘After The Gold Rush’ anybody? Even £50-a-week man winces at those prices.

But who needs new bands when you can have all the old ones that are much better in the first place? We now live in a musical world where the past and the present have never been more intermingled and with plenty of choice and not much in the way of competition, the past is oh so more appealing.

So who needs the NME when you can follow your favouritist, bestest, rock, pop, hip hop star on Twitter, 'like' their Facebook page and sign up to alerts so as not to miss out on those early ticket promotions and limited edition headphones? On the same weekend as NRSD, and the day I buy the NME, Jimmy Page announces he's found another Led Zeppelin barrel to scrape. Who needs the NME when a band that became creatively defunct 33 years ago is still churning out reissues?

The paper version of the NME and the reissue market both hide the fact that plenty of the new music that's getting released these days is also pretty much instantly redundant. The last Beyoncé album sold nearly a million digital copies in three days before disappearing into a black hole full of ones and zeros. Those who downloaded it moved on, updated their software, got excited about a new social media platform and flicked through a thousand Instagram pictures before sending everybody a tweet #reallybored.

Once everything that's ever been recorded has been reissued there remains but one option; reissue it again, this time with some newly discovered archival recording, an indifferent live show, a scarf, some marbles [see Pink Floyd Immersion box sets], a t-shirt that you’ll never wear, a physical item that can't be downloaded that makes you feel you have something of worth when in reality all you have in your hands is the same old turd in a shiny new box.

OK, if the Sleaford Mods ever make it on to the cover of the NME I will buy it again - they’re one of the very few bands of worth now breathing. I’ll pay my £2.50, no doubt read what I already know and chuck it in the bin. It's where its going to end up anyway.

1 comment:

Steve said...

I whole heartedly endorse every comment in this piece. I haven't bought the NME in over 30 years - the biggest splash comes at the end - £2.50!