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The Story of Jockey Slut, the Greatest Dance Magazine You Probably Never Read

We look back at the Manchester magazine that was proof that writing about club culture could be as fun as experience it firsthand.
November 4, 2015, 4:55pm

I remember being young and precious and unpopular and spending all my pocket money on music magazines. The weekend would arrive and I'd take my three pound coins to the corner shop and spend a solid half-hour agonizing over what to take home with me. I'd walk around school with issues of the NME in my pocket. I'd read Mojo cover stories about Mama Cass in the bath. I'd whip my torch out for midnight sessions with the latest batch of reviews in Q. Magazines came and went—what happened to you, Bang and X-Ray?— and subscriptions lapsed and mutated into new ones. In the end all I was really left with was piles and piles of slowly rotting paper, but the memories etched in ink remain. There was one magazine, though, that I never picked up. I'd thumb through Terrorizer and marvel at Mixmag, um and ahh over purchasing the latest Uncut and consider Kerrang, but I never once even picked up Jockey Slut.

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In the way that certain things do when you're on the cusp of pubescence—trapped momentarily between the bald fear of childhood and the life-wrecking anxiety of adolescence and the adult horrors that await—Jockey Slut seemed almost otherworldly in its implied illicitness. It was a magazine I spied from afar, too fearful, almost, to pick it up. I mean, I'd already received the most severe bollocking of my life after my mom's friend flicked through an issue of Kerrang I'd left lying around and had alighted on a particularly distasteful American Head Charge photo spread, so the chances of getting away with stuffing a magazine literally called Jockey Slut under my bed were slim at best.

Jockey Slut, I later learned, was a gloriously irreverent publication that prided itself on pricking the pomposity of the club culture industry, but back then it was emblematic of a world I hadn't yet learned to understand. Fast forward fifteen years, and I find myself sitting in Rough Trade with Johnno Burgess, one of the founders of the magazine. I'd come across a stash of them at work and for a magazine addict like myself, Christmas had come early. I'd decided to track Johnno down and try and work out how you make a magazine so good that it made everything that followed look like a muddy xerox.

Born in Manchester in the early 90s—post-Madchester, post-Boys Own—to Johnno Burgess and Paul Benney, Jockey Slut emerged from a period of idealism when, as Burgess puts it, "people started to realize that they could make a living from what they loved." It was a moment in time when a generation realized that you didn't have to be a civil servant or a bank clerk, and that those chemically enhanced chats going on in lounges across the country after clubs closed their doors for the night could lead to actual change.

Benney and Burgess met at university. During his studies, Burgess found himself running the Student Union magazine. Benney left Manchester after graduating, but returned in the city after finding no suitable work in his hometown of Milton Keynes. Upon his arrival, Burgess suggested that they start a magazine. "We put about £400 into the first print run," Burgess remembers. Initially materializing as a black-and-white inky zine, the Jockey Slut project was, per Burgess, "something that happened by accident really. We thought it'd just be a bit of fun for people in Manchester," he says. "By issue three or four we had record shops in Glasgow asking to stock it."

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Burgess thinks that Jockey Slut, even in those early days, stood out from the club coverage crowd. "Mixmag and DJ Mag weren't writing about characters behind the records and the clubs," he explains. He says that he and Benney had thought of the magazine as a cross between Boys Own and Smash Hits. "That's what made us different at the time," he says. "We were defined by what we didn't put in the magazine. We only wrote about what we were passionate about. We left out who we didn't like." He says you can thank their Northern location for that. "Being based in Manchester meant that PR people couldn't get to us!" he says. "There was no, 'Hey, let's go out for a glass of wine and then you'll write about my crap band!'" Burgess does mention an unnamed PR worker sending the Jockey Slut team a check for a thousand pounds for a cover feature—they politely declined. The magazine's tendency for operating outside of the (sometimes corrupt) mechanisms of the music industry continued until the magazine's very last issue, in 2004. "Even at the end of it, we'd still refuse to give certain massive acts any oxygen if we didn't like them. Much to the annoyance of PR people."

Reading Jockey Slut in 2015 is a painful reminder of just how dull things have gotten in dance discourse. The immediate nature of online content, and the way that reaction seems to have more cachet than criticism, means that actual insight (and actual jokes) have been sidelined in favor of the two-minute hot take, or muted, mediated interviews facilitated by press officers on the behalf of DJs and producers. The dance print press—reduced now, in real terms, to two magazines (Mixmag and DJ Mag)—seems anachronistic, quaint, unable to cope with just how fast-moving club culture and its attendant artefacts (y'know, the records themselves) are. Which leaves everyone in a weird position. On one hand, you could argue that, in a way, language couldn't ever really hope to turn the chaos of clubbing into something permanent, couldn't ever truly hope to translate the lived into the written. On the other, you could have a flick through old Jockey Sluts and realize that, fuck, actually, yeah, you can.

If Jockey Sluts proved one thing, it's that you can make this whole thing—the clubs and the DJs and the producers and the promoters and the dancers and the flyers and the artwork and the people on podiums and the doorpickers and the bouncers and the coat check attendants and the dealers—as absurd, weird, and funny as it actually is. Yes you can give those endless nights in lightless basements some meaning—or at least shed a Beckettian light on their inherent pointlessness. Yes you can, actually, make it nearly as interesting to read about as it is to experience. How do you do that? Or, more pointedly, how did Jockey Slut do that?

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It focused on humour. It gave talented writers—people like Emma Warren and Chantelle Fiddy— freedom to write with intelligence and incision. it understood that, at the heart of it, records are just records, DJs are just DJs, nights are just nights, and all nights eventually bleed into mornings. Crucially, it also had an eye for spotting talent before other publications did. Acts like Daft Punk, Boards of Canada, and the Avalanches made very early—if not first—UK print appearances in Jockey Slut. "We got the first Chemical Brothers interview ever, too," Burgess tells me. "They were mates from college so it wasn't too difficult." It was that intimacy, that connectedness, that kind of "us against the world" spirit that made Jockey Slut the publication it was. That spirit lives on, in a way, even though the magazine said goodybe to the world over a decade ago, through Burgess and Benney's Bugged Out platform, which ran alongside the print publication.

Watch this space for more JS related news coming up on THUMP very soon. And before you leave us, have a read of the first time two young Frenchmen were mentioned in the magazine, below

Keep checking THUMP for more Jockey Slut related goodies in the very near future. If you want to see where the magazine's legacy has taken Bugged Out, head here for information and tickets for Bugged Out Weekender 2016.

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