The Wire no. 370, Dec. 2014
|Editor||Derek Walmsley; see timeline below for former editors|
|Founder||Anthony Wood, Chrissie Murray|
|First issue||Summer 1982|
|Company||The Wire Magazine Ltd. (independently owned)|
|Based in||Hackney, London, England|
The Wire (often called simply Wire) is a British avant-garde music magazine based in Hackney, London. It has operated as a monthly print magazine since 1982. Its website launched in 1997, and an online archive of its complete back catalog became available to subscribers in 2013. Since 1985, the magazine's annual year-in-review issue, called Rewind, has named an album or release of the year based on critics' ballots.
A music magazine is a magazine dedicated to music and music culture. Such magazines typically include music news, interviews, photo shoots, essays, record reviews, concert reviews and occasionally have a covermount with recorded music.
Hackney is a district in East and North East London, England. It is the administrative centre of the London Borough of Hackney, forming around two thirds of the area of the modern London Borough to which it gives its name. It is 4 miles northeast of Charing Cross.
Printing is a process for reproducing text and images using a master form or template. The earliest non-paper products involving printing include cylinder seals and objects such as the Cyrus Cylinder and the Cylinders of Nabonidus. The earliest known form of printing as applied to paper was woodblock printing, which appeared in China before 220 AD. Later developments in printing technology include the movable type invented by Bi Sheng around 1040 AD and the printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century. The technology of printing played a key role in the development of the Renaissance and the scientific revolution, and laid the material basis for the modern knowledge-based economy and the spread of learning to the masses.
Originally, The Wire covered the British jazz scene with an emphasis on avant-garde and free jazz. It presented itself as a more adventurous alternative to its more conservative competitor Jazz Journal and targeted younger readers at a time when Melody Maker had abandoned jazz coverage. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the magazine expanded its scope until it included a broad range of musical genres under the umbrella of non-mainstream or experimental music. Since then, The Wire has covered experimental rock, electronica, alternative hip hop, modern classical, free improvisation, nu jazz, traditional musics and more.
British jazz is a form of music derived from American jazz. It reached Britain through recordings and performers who visited the country while it was a relatively new genre, soon after the end of World War I. Jazz began to be played by British musicians from the 1930s and on a widespread basis in the 1940s, often within dance bands. From the late 1940s British "modern jazz", highly influenced by American bebop, began to emerge and was led by figures such as John Dankworth and Ronnie Scott, while Ken Colyer, George Webb and Humphrey Lyttelton emphasised New Orleans, Trad jazz. From the 1960s British jazz began to develop more individual characteristics and absorb a variety of influences, including British blues, as well as European and World music influences. A number of British musicians have gained international reputations, although this form of music has remained a minority interest within the UK itself.
Avant-garde jazz is a style of music and improvisation that combines avant-garde art music and composition with jazz. It originated in the 1950s and developed through the 1960s. Originally synonymous with free jazz, much avant-garde jazz was distinct from that style.
Free jazz is an approach to jazz that developed in the 1960s when musicians attempted to change or break down jazz conventions, such as regular tempos, tones, and chord changes. Musicians during this period believed that the bebop, hard bop, and modal jazz that had been played before them was too limiting. They became preoccupied with creating something new. Free jazz has often been combined with or substituted for the term "avant-garde jazz". Europeans tend to favor the term "free improvisation". Others have used "modern jazz", "creative music", and "art music".
The magazine has been independently owned since 2001, when the six permanent staff members purchased the magazine from previous owner Naim Attallah.
Naim Ibrahim Attallah is a businessman and writer. He is the publisher of Quartet Books and the former owner of the Women's Press. The Palestinian-born entrepreneur was described by The Guardian in 2000 as a "legendary adorer of beautiful women".
The Wire is a monthly magazine that specialises in a diverse spectrum of avant-garde and experimental music. A 1999 subscription flyer for the magazine advertised its subject matter as "non-mainstream" music.In the late 1980s and early 1990s The Wire transitioned from exclusive coverage of jazz to coverage of contemporary music in general, maintaining its prioritisation of the avant-garde. Since its founding in 1982, its monthly circulation has reportedly ranged from about 7,000 to about 20,000.
Avant-garde music is music that is considered to be at the forefront of experimentation or innovation in its field, with the term "avant-garde" implying a critique of existing aesthetic conventions, rejection of the status quo in favor of unique or original elements, and the idea of deliberately challenging or alienating audiences.
Experimental music is a general label for any music that pushes existing boundaries and genre definitions. Experimental compositional practice is defined broadly by exploratory sensibilites radically opposed to, and questioning of, institutionalized compositional, performing, and aesthetic conventions in music. Elements of experimental music include indeterminate music, in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. Artists may also approach a hybrid of disparate styles or incorporate unorthodox and unique elements.
A flyer is a form of paper advertisement intended for wide distribution and typically posted or distributed in a public place, handed out to individuals or sent through the mail. In the 2010s, flyers range from inexpensively photocopied leaflets to expensive, glossy, full-color circulars.
Within the American and British music journalism markets, The Wire was among a crop of major new music magazines introduced in the 1980s. That decade also saw the debuts of The Face (1980), Kerrang! (1981), Maximumrocknroll (1982), Mixmag (1983), Alternative Press (1985), Spin (1985), Q (1986), Hip Hop Connection (1988) and The Source (1988), among others.According to writer Simon Warner, The Wire took on a level of "influence disproportionate to its niche readership" compared to other music magazines born in the 1980s, because "not only listeners but music makers and producers were drawn to its columns."
Music journalism is media criticism and reporting about music topics, including popular music, classical music and traditional music. Journalists began writing about music in the eighteenth century, providing commentary on what is now regarded as classical music. In the 1960s, music journalism began more prominently covering popular music like rock and pop after the breakthrough of The Beatles. With the rise of the internet in the 2000s, music criticism developed an increasingly large online presence with music bloggers, aspiring music critics, and established critics supplementing print media online. Music journalism today includes reviews of songs, albums and live concerts, profiles of recording artists, and reporting of artist news and music events.
The Face was a British music, fashion and culture monthly magazine published from 1980 to 2004 and launched in May 1980 in London by Nick Logan, the British journalist who had previously been editor of New Musical Express and Smash Hits.
Kerrang! is a British weekly magazine devoted to rock and heavy metal music, currently published by Wasted Talent. It was first published on 6 June 1981 as a one-off supplement in the Sounds newspaper. Named after the onomatopoeic word that derives from the sound made when playing a power chord on a distorted electric guitar, Kerrang! was initially devoted to the new wave of British heavy metal and the rise of hard rock acts. In the early 2000s it became the best-selling British music weekly.
Most of these magazines—The Wire included—differentiated themselves by targeting a narrow segment of readers based on demographics and taste—for example, by devoting coverage to specific genres, as Kerrang! did with heavy metal or The Source with hip hop.Another industry trend was polarization between two styles of writing: popular criticism for mass-market consumers, on the one hand, versus intellectual criticism for underground music connoisseurs on the other. Though editor Tony Herrington said the magazine prefers "intelligence to intellectualism", The Wire was certainly positioned on the "highbrow" end of the industry. Its embrace of intellectualism aligned it with New Statesman , a politics and culture magazine that started to publish pieces by rock journalists, and Melody Maker, which had hired a group of academically oriented new writers, like Simon Reynolds, who were influenced by post-structuralism. The Wire contrasted most sharply with Q, which emphasised celebrity personalities and the classic-rock canon.
In economics and marketing, product differentiation is the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. This involves differentiating it from competitors' products as well as a firm's own products. The concept was proposed by Edward Chamberlin in his 1933 The Theory of Monopolistic Competition.
Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom. With roots in blues rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. The genre's lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.
Hip hop music, also called hip-hop or rap music, is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans and Latino Americans in the Bronx borough of New York City in the 1970s. It consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. It developed as part of hip hop culture, a subculture defined by four key stylistic elements: MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching with turntables, break dancing, and graffiti writing. Other elements include sampling beats or bass lines from records, and rhythmic beatboxing. While often used to refer solely to rapping, "hip hop" more properly denotes the practice of the entire subculture. The term hip hop music is sometimes used synonymously with the term rap music, though rapping is not a required component of hip hop music; the genre may also incorporate other elements of hip hop culture, including DJing, turntablism, scratching, beatboxing, and instrumental tracks.
The Wire was among the major British music magazines of the 1990s, a decade that represented an overall peak for the print magazine industry before the next two decades brought the rise of digital journalism and a general decline in print readership.However, The Wire has held a steady circulation and remained in print even as other magazines that once sported much larger circulations have folded or become online-only titles. NME once sold 300,000 weekly copies at its peak in the 1970s, but by 2016 it only sold 20,000—the same number The Wire sold at that time—and in March 2018 NME ended its print edition altogether. The Wire was considered one of the most significant independently owned publications covering the musical underground in the 2000s, alongside Fact , Rock-A-Rolla , Dusted and innumerable blogs.
The Wire debuted as a quarterly jazz magazine in the summer of 1982. The magazine was co-founded by jazz promoter Anthony Wood and journalist Chrissie Murray.Lacking office space, Wood and Murray prepared the first issues of the magazine an Italian restaurant on St Martin's Lane. The staff sold copies of the first issue to concert-goers at a jazz festival in Knebworth and at the Camden Jazz Festival.
In an essay explaining the magazine's editorial policy and scope, Wood said The Wire would emphasise boundary-pushing musicians; at the outset, Wood declared that free jazz and free improvisation would "be given a loud enough voice to be heard above the dissenters who are still questioning the music's validity."The magazine was named after "The Wire", a composition by American jazz saxophonist Steve Lacy, whose "musical farsightedness" the magazine hoped to emulate. Twenty years later, Lacy's composition was used as the opening track of the box set The Wire: 20 Years 1982–2002.
At that time, Germany was considered the cultural centre of jazz in Europe—especially European free jazz.There was greater cultural appreciation for jazz in Germany than in Britain and more dedicated press coverage, even though the British jazz scene was actually larger than the continental scene. Wood said the state of jazz writing in Britain poorly served listeners under the age of 25, a demographic The Wire intended to target. The only other British jazz magazine in print at the time was Jazz Journal , which Wood criticised for its conservative approach: "the reverend gentlemen at Jazz Journal continue, at best, to admit only grudgingly that jazz has got beyond 1948; at worst, deny its current development." In addition, Wood noted, the British weekly magazine Melody Maker had by 1982 virtually abandoned jazz coverage.
In 1984, Wood sold The Wire to Naim Attallah and it became part of the Namara Group. Attallah's other properties included The Oldie , Literary Review and Quartet Books.Wood announced the new owner, along with a switch from quarterly to monthly publishing, in the October 1984 issue.
Reflecting on the early years as part of the Namara Group, Tony Herrington said:
I think they thought it would be good to have a magazine to support Quartet's jazz titles. We were in this horrible little office off Oxford Street and it was weird because you'd run into Richard Ingrams, Auberon Waugh and Joan Bakewell chatting on the stairs. There were always debs flitting about, Simon Ward's kids, Susannah York's kids. There was no money about, but the great thing was [Attallah] just let us get on with it.
Attallah's laissez-faire attitude and the magazine's editorial freedom contrasted with the state of other UK music magazines in the 1980s. Competition among weeklies like NME , Melody Maker and Sounds heightened in the 1980s, and these publications began to prioritise circulation, advertising and commercial appeal, which resulted in editorial constraint. The Wire did not impose significant editorial demands or stylistic revisions on its writers and, as such, it became an attractive publication for freelancers who had started their careers at UK weeklies during the post-punk era.
Former NME staffer Richard Cook took over as editor in July 1985; by September, Wood's name was gone altogether from the masthead.Around this time there was a resurgence of interest in jazz among white British "hipsters"—a trend that lasted until the 1987 "Black Monday" market crash. As editor, Cook refurbished The Wire so it would seem stylish and appealing to the new wave of British jazz hipsters, but he increasingly steered the magazine toward a pluralistic, multi-genre approach. The Wire also began to develop a house style that tended toward the philosophical and cerebral, printing "articles peppered with references to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, or Jacques Attali's monograph Noise."
Under Cook's editorial oversight, The Wire significantly broadened its coverage of music in genres other than jazz.He hired a new graphic design team and promoted longtime contributor Mark Sinker to assistant editor. The formerly jazz-focused magazine's covers in this period featured decidedly non-jazz artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, Philip Glass, John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison; meanwhile, articles published inside the magazine profiled a broad range of musicians, including Elvis Costello, Stravinsky, Mozart, Frank Zappa, Prokofiev, Bob Marley and Haydn.
Cook told Jazz Forum in 1991 that The Wire was "going into overdrive" with ambitions to expand its domestic and international sales. Estimating the magazine's monthly circulation at 15,000–20,000 copies, Cook said he hoped to reach 25,000.But his efforts to expand the magazine's circulation had mixed results. Chris Parker, the magazine's publisher between 1984 and 1989, said the changes did not make an "appreciable" increase in sales; in Parker's view, "for every would-be hip young thing we recruited to the readership, we lost a diehard jazz fan who just wished to know if Howard Riley or Stan Tracey had made another album and what it was like."
Regardless of Cook's impact on sales figures, several of his contemporaries acknowledged that he had made The Wire a more accessible publication. Scottish writer Brian Morton said "[u]nder Cook's editorship, The Wire evolved from a small, coterie magazine into a more broadly based music journal that covered mainstream jazz as well as the avant-garde, but one that also began moving into other areas of music: pop, soul, reggae, classical." 's] content and design and opening out a specialised, sometimes uninviting publication" to a broader audience. British-Ghanaian writer Kodwo Eshun pointed to "Black Science Fiction", a essay by Sinker from the February 1992 issue, as a major influence on Afrofuturism, a term that was coined the following year.John Fordham, the jazz critic for The Guardian , credited Cook with "transforming [The Wire
In June 1992, Cook left The Wire for a position at PolyGram UK and was succeeded by Sinker.Cook's departure coincided with the magazine's 100th issue, an unannounced move that caught Sinker by surprise. Though he only served as editor for 18 months, Sinker took a bold editorial approach. During his brief tenure, few covers featured portraits of musicians, and instead often featured abstract photos of isolated objects, like a sofa or a toy robot. Sinker devoted issues to broad themes such as "Music and Censorship", "Music in the Realm of Bodily Desire" and "Music and the American Dream", and for these issues he commissioned multiple argumentative essays on those topics. In retrospect, he characterised his attitude as editor thusly:
Losing money? Threatened with closure? Ignore all that. Old punky rule-of-thumb (just now made up): the contradiction is the hook—don't bury it, flaunt it. NO FUTURE NO FUTURE NO FUTURE: treat every issue as if it's the last, and go for broke with the material you have. I wanted (he writes with ten-year hindsight) an alert, funny journal which cruised its readers, chafed and teased and englamoured and thrilled and hurt and baffled and fucked with them—a space for speculative playful malicious unfrightened imagination which when it vanished (any moment, we all thought) left a questing shadow behind the heart.
Sinker's vision—later characterised as "a thorny, quizzical, fanzine cum proto-Weblog"—clashed with then-publisher Adele Yaron's ideal of "a sleek and stylish urban music 'n' lifestyle monthly".Yaron sacked Sinker when a potential buyer requested his removal as part of, in Sinker's words, the "bride price" for the deal.
While Sinker's stint as editor was brief and controversial, music writers have praised his editorial decisions in retrospect and highlighted his influence on the magazine's future directions. The French writer-musician Rubin Steiner considered the August 1993 issue with Björk on the cover to be a definitive turning point, signalling the start of constant changes in coverage that would follow, after which The Wire could no longer be considered a jazz magazine.The Guardian columnist Maggoty Lamb said Sinker's tenure was "visionary" and had laid the "foundation" for the magazine to become a "thriving institutional presence". At Pitchfork , Tom Ewing argued that the argumentative articles Sinker commissioned "weren't simply trying to shock or drive readers off—they achieved both—but were trying to build, as ... Sinker put it, [a place] where people could 'have fun starting arguments,' ones that could co-exist within a comfort zone."
After Sinker was sacked, Tony Herrington took over as editor starting with the March 1994 issue.Herrington had contributed to the magazine as a freelancer since the 1980s, but he had minimal experience as an editor and had only become a permanent staffer the year prior. Yaron left shortly afterward, and so Herrington assumed the position of publisher as well. By January 1995 the magazine adopted the new subtitle "Adventures in Modern Music", which it used continuously until 2012.
Two months after Herrington became editor, the magazine published an influential piece by Simon Reynolds in which he defined the parameters of the genre "post-rock".The genre and its associated artists became a focus for the magazine in the mid to late 1990s, along with electronica and nascent subgenres like illbient and glitch. Throughout the decade, Reynolds also contributed a series of essays on post-rave trends in UK dance music, covering jungle, drum 'n' bass, hardstep, neurofunk and 2-step garage. These essays culminated in his theorizing of the "hardcore continuum": a diverse, ever-evolving tradition of electronic dance music that had diverged from American-born house and techno to become a distinctly British style.
The magazine launched its website,, in October 1997. By 1999, the magazine reportedly reached a monthly circulation of about 20,000 copies.
Rob Young became editor in March 2000. Later that year, the magazine's staff bought it from the Namara Group. When Herrington learned Naim Attallah was preparing for retirement and wanted to sell the magazine, he offered to buy it himself; Attallah replied "I know how much I pay you and you can't afford it."Herrington consulted with his fellow staffers, secured a loan and negotiated with Attallah for about six months. The six permanent members of the staff—Herrington, Young, Chris Bohn, Ben House, Anne Hilde Neset and Andy Tait—purchased the company on 21 December 2000 and announced the sale in the February 2001 issue. The magazine has been independently published since then.
In 2002 the magazine commemorated its 20th anniversary with a special issue, the publication of the book Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music and a 3-CD box set, The Wire 20 Years 1982–2002 .
In the 2000s, The Wire devoted significant attention on the emerging genre of dubstep.Several noteworthy musical genres were coined or first defined in the pages of The Wire in that decade, including microhouse, by Philip Sherburne, in 2001; New Weird America, by David Keenan, in 2003; and hypnagogic pop, also by Keenan, in 2009.
In 2007, The Wire reportedly sold about 17,500 copies per issue.A press release from the same year gave the magazine's monthly circulation as 20,000 copies, with 9,000 subscribers. In 2013, the magazine made available its entire archive—amounting to 25,000 pages at that time—to subscribers, via the site Exact Editions.
A series of new music compilation CDs called The Wire Tapper has been given away with the magazine since 1998.The magazine has used the strapline "Adventures in Modern Music" since 1994; on 14 December 2011 The Wire's staff announced that the magazine's old strapline "Adventures In Modern Music" had been replaced by "Adventures In Sound And Music". In addition to the Wire Tapper CDs, subscribers receive label, country and festival samplers.
Apart from the numerous album reviews every month, the magazine has features such as "The Invisible Jukebox", an interview conducted by way of unknown tracks being played to an artist, and "The Primer", an in-depth article on a genre or act.It also features the avant music scene of a particular city every issue. In addition to its musical focus, the magazine likes to investigate cover art and mixed media artistic works.
Since January 2003 The Wire has been presenting a weekly radio programme on the London community radio station Resonance FM, which uses the magazine's strapline as its title and is hosted in turns by members of The Wire.
The Wire celebrated its 400th issue in June 2017.
The Wire does not employ staff photographers. Instead, the magazine commissions all of its photography from freelancers or relies on musicians and labels to provide their own publicity photos. In recent years, the magazine has published work by photographers like Nigel Shafran, Todd Hido, Tom Hunter, Pieter Hugo, Alec Soth, Clare Shilland, Leon Chew, Jake Walters, Juan Diego Valera, Michael Schmelling, Mark Peckmezian, and Takashi Homma.
The Wire's first art director was Terry Coleman. Paul Elliman took over art direction in January 1986; by July, he debuted a serif-typeface logo that the magazine would continue to use, with variations, until 2001. Lucy Ward succeeded Elliman as art director in July 1988 and introduced a broader array of fonts. Under both Elliman and Ward, the minimalist aesthetic of The Wire favoured simple typography, black-and-white photography and ample white space.
Elliman and Ward's late-1980s work for The Wire has been praised by their contemporaries in the graphic design field. Robert Newman—a former design director at magazines like Entertainment Weekly , New York and The Village Voice —said The Wire's minimal design contrasted with colourful late-80s trends in both British and American magazine design. Newman said he was inspired by Elliman's designs and borrowed stylistic elements for his The Village Voice layouts. In Newman's opinion, Elliman and Ward produced "some of the most beautiful and remarkable magazine covers of that (or any) era, timeless designs that still look strikingly contemporary today." John L. Walters, an editor and owner of the quarterly design magazine Eye said their designs did not look "home made or like academic papers (or both)", as other specialist magazines of the time tended to look, and said the magazine "took musicians seriously, and its design made them look good without trying—be they stars, greying veterans or young turks." John O'Reilly cited Elliman's work for The Wire among the "most exciting and apparently vibrant work of the 1980s" and said it shared a "kind of melancholia" with Neville Brody's work from the period and Vaughan Oliver's designs for the record label 4AD.
A major redesign was completed in 2001 by Non-Format, a design team composed of Kjell Ekhorn and Jon Forss, who were working out of an office next to The Wire. Ekhorn and Forss were the magazine's art directors between 2001 and 2005.Herrington, who was familiar with their previous work designing music packaging, approached the team to redesign the magazine. In addition to designing the magazine's current logo, they designed each issue of the magazine until 2005. While they retained the magazine's overall clean, Modernist aesthetic, they incorporated highly intricate, unpredictable details into the designs of features. At first, Ekhorn and Forss created custom layouts and typographies in nearly every issue, rather than relying on standardised templates for features; however, this became too much work, and they eventually settled on using a single style across several months at a time. Their typographic work often added elaborate variations to base fonts, which included winding, branching curlicues and interwoven illustrative elements; Karen Sottosanti described their typical design work as "type made of stars or flowers that exploded into negative space [and] type that merged with images of tree branches or birds.".
David Jury praised Non-Format's designs, writing that the magazine "retained an identity all its own through its creative use of experimental headline fonts, white space and excellent photography."Noteworthy examples of Non-Format's cover art include the July 2004 issue, which portrayed the composer Alvin Lucier using brainwaves he had recorded with electrodes at a concert, and the December 2004 issue "In Praise of the Riff", which placed repetitive black lines across the cover and pushed the logo to the bottom right, halfway off the page. In 2011 Complex named Non-Format's March 2005 cover with MF Doom among the 50 greatest hip-hop magazine covers.
Every January since 1986, The Wire has published a year-in-review issue with a critics' poll. The staff collates ballots submitted by its contributors into a list of the year's best releases. Originally, the poll only selected the best jazz LP of the year. In 1992, the main poll grew to include albums in any musical genre, and in 2011 it began accepting releases in any format or medium, not just "albums". In addition to the main all-genre list there are typically shorter lists of the best releases within selected genres as well. These year-in-review issues have been called Rewind since 1997.
Like the magazine itself, The Wire's critics' polls have garnered a reputation for their unconventional, eclectic selections. Guardian columnist Maggoty Lamb commented in 2007 that The Wire has "the annual best-of list most likely to single out an ensemble called Kiss the Anus of the Black Cat as having made 'one of the most interesting records of the year'." When the magazine named James Ferraro's vaporwave album Far Side Virtual its 2011 Release of the Year, Eric Grandy remarked in Seattle Weekly that it was "[n]o surprise that willfully obscurantist British rag the Wire's Best of 2011 list is topped by James Ferraro's winking Windows '97 soft-rock hellscape ... and further ranges from the Beach Boys' Smile Sessions to Laurel Halo and Hype Williams."
Over the years, The Wire has received both praise and derision. Positive commentary about the magazine has often referred to its diverse range of coverage and unique status as a longstanding publication devoted to obscure, unpopular music. In 2005 the writer Bill Martin called it an "invaluable resource" and said "there is no other English-language magazine today of comparable scope ... what I especially like about the magazine is that all of these forms ['Electronica, Avant Rock, Breakbeat, Jazz, Modern Classical, Global'] sit next to one another each month."On the occasion of the magazine's 400th issue in 2017, Josh Baines of Noisey said the magazine "examin[ed]" music "in the kind of detail that puts most other publications to shame" and "treat[ed] boundary-pushing music with diligence, care, and above all else, enthusiasm." The same year, designer Adrian Shaughnessy said that he regarded The Wire and the British film magazine Sight & Sound as the only two magazines that "remain unmissable"; he said both publications had "serious writing at their core", which "is never softened to make it 'accessible' to a wider audience," and he said both were still "stonking good reads that have introduced me to hours of pleasure that I might otherwise have missed."
Unfavourable assessments of the magazine have often derided its avant-garde sensibility as pretentious, self-important and inaccessible. Gail Brennan at The Sydney Morning Herald opined in 1993 that The Wire "covers a surprising range of music while bringing a narrow and contrived 'punk' attitude to bear. Let's be blunt. It is a pretentious magazine."In 1999, The Wire was mocked in "The Rock Critical List", an anonymous zine distributed to newspapers and magazines that ridiculed a number of music journalists, critics and editors. The writer of "The Rock Critical List" had this to say about The Wire:
"[T]he British trainspotter's catechism The Wire [is] a monthly logjam of the most defensively arrogant, humorlessly dense, and gleefully school-marmish verbiage (David Toop excepted) you'll hopefully never encounter in any other music magazine. After institutionalizing the annoying Euro catchphrase 'electronica', lapping up everything DJ Spooky ever mumbled, and trashing rock-damaged Americans for not inducting Lamonte Young [ sic ] into the Baseball Hall of Fame, they just keep on droning."
Others within the avant-garde music scene have also criticised The Wire. For example Ben Watson, who has contributed to The Wire himself, critiqued the magazine's editorial approach to covering noise music. In Watson's view, the magazine has had a tendency to treat noise musicians' work as "so worthy, alternative and dis-corporate" that virtually all of it must be inherently meritorious.This tendency results in an institutional reluctance to distinguish between good noise music and mere noise, along with an excess of positive, yet shallow, reviews. Rather than delving deeper into the genre's radical political dimensions, Watson argued, The Wire has instead curated its noise coverage based on superficial trends of underground fashionability; he suggested that the writing may sometimes provide "a clue as to how some new crew of hopeless hairy Stateside noisemaker muffins have been selected: 'Thurston says they're okay...'." The magazine's writing on noise came to rely on a style of "descriptive objectivity" that studiously avoids any actual evaluation of quality; as Watson wrote,
[C]ritics are loath to dismiss anyone waving the Noise flag. ... This 'Fear of Avant' leads to the style of reviewing which pervades The Wire, where music is described like some exotic landscape the writer has witnessed from train or plane—they played high frazzles, then low drones, chucked in some steam engine samples, then did some drumming—with value judgments suspended. Chuck in some words like 'visceral' and 'ambient' and 'fractal' and the job's done.
Watson also recalled bristling at Herrington's suggestion to "think niche" when writing for the magazine, which he took as a anti-universalist and commercially motivated attitude.
In a 2007 interview, Herrington addressed the magazine's reputation for pondering music that he joked might "sound like a steamroller running over a broken fax machine", saying: "Most people would take the mickey out of some bloke making music by bowing away at the femur of a mountain goat, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt."
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There are multiple books based on material first published in The Wire. Invisible Jukebox (1998), published by Quartet Books, collected entries from the recurring feature of the same name. For these features, an interviewer plays several pieces of music for a musician without identifying them, usually selecting tracks that the musician would be expected to know. The musician is challenged to guess the artist and title, as well as to comment on the music. Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music (2002) was published by Continuum as part of the magazine's 20th anniversary; it collected a mix of new and previously published essays about important but overlooked developments in the history of modern music. The Wire Primers (2009), out on Verso, collected 19 essays that give introductions to various genres and artists. Savage Pencil Presents Trip or Squeek's Big Amplifier (2012) collected Savage Pencil cartoons from the preceding twelve years. Most recently, Epiphanies: Life-changing Encounters With Music (2015) anthologized essays from a recurring guest column about musical experiences that made a profound impact on the writer.
No wave was a short-lived avant-garde music and art scene that emerged in the late 1970s in downtown New York City. Reacting against punk rock's recycling of rock and roll clichés, no wave musicians instead experimented with noise, dissonance and atonality in addition to a variety of non-rock genres, including free jazz and funk, while often reflecting an abrasive, confrontational and nihilistic worldview. In the later years of the scene, it adopted a more playful, danceable aesthetic inspired by disco, early hip hop, and world music sources.
Progressive music is music that attempts to expand existing stylistic boundaries associated with specific genres of music. The word comes from the basic concept of "progress", which refers to development and growth by accumulation, and is often deployed in the context of distinct genres such as progressive country, progressive folk, progressive jazz, and progressive rock. Music that is deemed "progressive" usually synthesizes influences from various cultural domains, such as European art music, Celtic folk, West Indian, or African. It is rooted in the idea of a cultural alternative and may also be associated with auteur-stars and concept albums, considered traditional structures of the music industry.
Art rock is a subgenre of rock music that generally reflects a challenging or avant-garde approach to rock, or which makes use of modernist, experimental, or unconventional elements. Art rock aspires to elevate rock from entertainment to an artistic statement, opting for a more experimental and conceptual outlook on music. Influences may be drawn from genres such as experimental rock, avant-garde music, classical music, and jazz.
Post-rock is a form of experimental rock characterized by a focus on exploring textures and timbre over traditional rock song structures, chords, or riffs. Post-rock artists are often instrumental, typically combining rock guitars and drums with electronic instruments. The genre emerged within the indie and underground music scene of the 1980s and early 1990s. However, due to its abandonment of rock conventions, it often bears little resemblance musically to contemporary indie rock, borrowing instead from diverse sources including ambient music, electronica, jazz, dub, and minimalist classical.
Industrial music is a genre of music which draws on harsh, transgressive or provocative sounds and themes. AllMusic defines industrial music as the "most abrasive and aggressive fusion of rock and electronic music" that was "initially a blend of avant-garde electronics experiments and punk provocation". The term was coined in the mid-1970s with the founding of Industrial Records by members of Throbbing Gristle and Monte Cazazza. While the genre name originated with Throbbing Gristle's emergence in the United Kingdom, concentrations of artists and labels vital to the genre also emerged in America, namely in Chicago.
Krautrock is a broad genre of experimental rock that developed in West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s among bands who blended elements of psychedelic rock, electronic music, and the avant-garde among other influences. Artists largely distanced themselves from the traditional blues influences and song structure of Anglo-American rock music, instead utilizing hypnotic rhythms, tape music techniques, and early synthesizers. Prominent groups associated with the krautrock label included Neu!, Can, Faust, Kraftwerk, Cluster, Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh, Amon Düül II, and Harmonia.
Melody Maker was a British weekly music magazine, one of the world's earliest music weeklies, and—according to its publisher IPC Media—the earliest. It was founded in 1926, largely as a magazine for dance band musicians, by Leicester-born composer, publisher Lawrence Wright; the first editor was Edgar Jackson. In 2000 it was merged into "long-standing rival" New Musical Express.
Spin is an American music magazine founded in 1985 by publisher Bob Guccione, Jr. The magazine stopped running in print in 2012 and currently runs as a webzine, owned by the Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group division of Valence Media.
On the Corner is a studio album by American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Miles Davis. It was recorded in June and July 1972 and released on October 11 of the same year by Columbia Records. The album continued Davis's exploration of jazz fusion, bringing together funk rhythms with the influence of experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman.
Slates is an EP by the Fall, released on 27 April 1981 by Rough Trade Records. It was one of singer Mark E. Smith's favourite Fall releases, and he claimed it was aimed at "people who didn't buy records".
Magnet is a music magazine that generally focuses on alternative, independent, or out-of-the-mainstream bands.
Option was a music magazine based in Los Angeles, California. It covered independent, underground and alternative music and multiple musical genres for an international subscription base. Its print run began in 1985 and ended in 1998.
Simon Reynolds is an English music journalist and author who began his professional career on the staff of Melody Maker in the mid-1980s, and has since gone on to freelance and publish a number of full-length books on music and popular culture, ranging from historical tomes on rave music, glam rock, and the post-punk era to critical works such as The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock 'n' Roll and Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past (2011). He has also contributed to Spin, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Guardian, The Wire, Pitchfork, and others.
Post-punk is a broad type of rock music that emerged from the punk movement of the 1970s, in which artists departed from the simplicity and traditionalism of punk rock to adopt a variety of avant-garde sensibilities and diverse influences. Inspired by punk's energy and DIY ethic but determined to break from rock cliches, artists experimented with sources including electronic music and black styles like dub, funk, and disco; novel recording and production techniques; and ideas from art and politics, including critical theory, modernist art, cinema and literature. These communities produced independent record labels, visual art, multimedia performances and fanzines.
Art pop is a loosely defined style of pop music influenced by pop art's integration of high and low culture, and which emphasizes the manipulation of signs, style, and gesture over personal expression. Art pop artists may be inspired by postmodern approaches or art theories as well as other forms of art, such as fashion, fine art, cinema, and avant-garde literature. They may deviate from traditional pop audiences and rock music conventions, instead exploring ideas such as pop's status as commercial art, notions of artifice and the self, and questions of historical authenticity.
Experimental rock is a subgenre of rock music which pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique or which experiments with the basic elements of the genre. Artists aim to liberate and innovate, with some of the genre's distinguishing characteristics being improvisational performances, avant-garde influences, odd instrumentation, opaque lyrics, unorthodox structures and rhythms, and an underlying rejection of commercial aspirations.
Spin Alternative Record Guide is a music reference book compiled by the American music magazine Spin and published in 1995 by Vintage Books. It was edited by rock critic Eric Weisbard and Craig Marks, who was the magazine's editor-in-chief at the time. The book features essays and reviews from a number of prominent critics on albums, artists, and genres considered relevant to the alternative music movement. Contributors who were consulted for the guide include Ann Powers, Rob Sheffield, Simon Reynolds, Michael Azerrad, and Robert Christgau.
Jazz & Pop was an American music magazine that operated from 1962 to 1971. It was launched as Jazz and managed by Pauline Rivelli, with finance provided by Bob Thiele, the producer of jazz artists such as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Count Basie. The publication served as a rival title to Down Beat magazine, which had been established in the 1930s.
Avant-funk is a music style in which artists combine funk rhythms with an avant-garde or art rock mentality. Its heyday occurred in the late 1970s among post-punk acts who embraced black dance styles.
Rewind is the annual year-in-review issue of The Wire, a British music magazine founded in 1982. The year-end issues have been published every January since 1986, adopting the current "Rewind" title in 1997. Each year-end issue has included an annual critics' poll, collating critics' ballots into a list of the year's best releases. The polls survey writers affiliated with the magazine.