[JPL] A haven for lovers of avant-garde bagpipe music
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Thu Oct 25 09:54:16 EDT 2007
A haven for lovers of avant-garde bagpipe music
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 25/10/2007
For 25 years 'The Wire' magazine has been celebrating the sound of cussed
eccentricity. Thomas H Green meets its men in black
In a magazine culture where Heat, Now, Nuts and Zoo are bestsellers, and
what remains of the music press is in a fight to the death with online
media, The Wire is thriving.
The Wire is an outlet for respected writers
A true English eccentric, the independent music magazine is about to
celebrate its 25th birthday, and, far from bowing to the twin cults of
celebrity and youth, its current issue features an interview with an
avant-garde bagpiper from New York and a middle-aged underground techno act
on the cover. The reviews section is, as always, a commercially suicidal
pick-and-mix of the esoteric and the cacophonic.
The Wire's office is a converted industrial unit in London's revitalised
East End. It could be any successful small business but for the sound of a
single droning violin scraping from the speakers, like the amplified death
throes of a trapped insect. But the nine-strong staff appear oblivious.
"What's this?" says editor-in-chief Tony Herrington, 46, a tall cheerful
individual with a passing resemblance to Bing Crosby, albeit clad in black.
He turns to reviews editor, Derek Walmsley. "Oh great, Derek: 'The Wire's
offices haunted by an austere solo violin'."
Herrington is gently mocking his magazine's reputation for deadly serious
analysis of music that, as he later puts it, might "sound like a steamroller
running over a broken fax machine".
"Most people would take the mickey out of some bloke making music by bowing
away at the femur of a mountain goat," he says, "but we'll give them the
benefit of the doubt.
"For instance, there's a school of improvised music called reductionism
where you'll be listening to a 60-minute CD with nothing there except a
slight scratch after 10 minutes. It's an aesthetic dead end, but in an odd
way it's inspiring. Music has its own branch of outsider art. In their
belief in what they're doing, and their desire to communicate, a lot of
these people are as driven as Bono."
With a steady sale of 17,500 an issue, The Wire's business model is very
different from most magazines. Its readers are international half live
abroad and extremely loyal, with almost half its sales through
It also provides an outlet for respected writers who have grown sick of
being edited down to bite-size chunks, encouraging the likes of Simon
Reynolds, David Toop and Ian Penman to expound over 5,000 words on subjects
they feel passionate about.
Thus, while artists closer to the mainstream, such as Björk, do appear in
its pages, one is more likely to read a hefty feature about, say, radical
digital experimentalist Yasunao Tone.
The magazine was named after a track by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and
was founded by promoter Anthony Wood in 1982 as an alternative jazz
magazine. In '84 it became an unlikely part of maverick publisher Naim
Atallah's Namara group, which was also home to The Oldie, Literary Review
and Quartet Books.
"I think they thought it would be good to have a magazine to support
Quartet's jazz titles," says Herrington. "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 Atallah just let us get on with
The Wire spent the '80s enjoying London's decade-long flirtation with jazz
but, in the '90s, it gradually became home to pieces on underground music of
all varieties, celebrating anyone who vented ideas that sat outside the
The boom in electronic music, from drum and bass to ambient, fitted
perfectly into The Wire's world and nowadays, as editor Chris Bohn (53, clad
in black) says, "It's easier to define us by what we don't cover than what
Such complete autonomy is aided by the fact that The Wire is now
staff-owned. Herrington led a successful buy-out in February 2001 when
Atallah said he was going to sell the magazine. "None of us wanted to do
anything else," he says.
The magazine is regularly involved with curating festivals, from Sonar in
Barcelona to Adventures in Modern Music in Chicago, an event whose title is
taken from the magazine's strapline. To celebrate the 25th anniversary, The
Wire is putting on a month-long season of events in London with artists
ranging from Japanese noise-rockers Boredoms to a night of dub-step.
"Our relationship with our artists is not like the NME's with Arctic Monkeys
it's much closer," says Herrington. "Everyone on the bill is people we
know and like. It's like they're local bands and we're a local fanzine."
And this is the key to the magazine's appeal: it is the curator of a
self-sufficient and non-aligned musical world, and its relationships are
very direct. If you ring The Wire, you can speak to whoever you want and
The staff take even the most oddball ideas seriously, and demonstrate a very
human affection for the music involved, almost to the point of obsession.
There's a kind of bloody-mindedness to this that its readers relate to.
"Cussed eccentricity," says Herrington, "should be celebrated."
The Wire 25 season opens tomorrow night at Shoreditch Town Hall, London E1,
with a performance by the Boredoms.
For full season details go to www.thewire.co.uk
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