'So Young': The Magazine Picking Up Where the NME Left Off
As one dinosaur crumbles, a small newcomer takes the reins of documenting Britain’s guitar music scene.
Above: This issue's centerfold by Josh Whettingsteel
So it turns out that VICE isn't the only magazine in the world. Ink Spots, is a helpful guide to which zines, pamphlets, and publications you should be reading when you're not reading ours.
By now, the ruination of the NME has become so well-documented that there's almost no point in repeating it. The thing gets handed out in tube stations, features The Chainsmokers and Rag'n'Bone Man on its covers and is now mostly advertorial about coloured socks or portable radios. It is, in this day and age, no longer the place to go for new music.
So, then, a new paper must take its place. Step in So Young magazine. Of course they'll be loathe to describe themselves as a new iteration of an old magazine, but where the NME left a void in providing a platform to young guitar-based bands, the guys behind So Young have filled the hole. Unlike other good but free British music papers and magazines, So Young is relatively free of advertising, printed on a very small run and exclusively features illustrations. It documents the vibrant and underreported new indie scene that includes Sleaford Mods, Fat White Family, Savages, Happy Meal Limited, Goat Girl, The Big Moon and Wolf Alice. Somewhere, across So Young's back pages and three or so year history, they have featured every worthwhile UK band, most at the earliest stages of their career.
I spoke to Sam and Josh from So Young to find out why they've decided to create a new product in what could arguably be described as the dying industries of guitar music and paid-for magazines.
VICE: I found out about you guys on one of the later issues and the first ones are quite difficult to come across now. How did this all start?
Sam: It was really just a combination of going to a few gigs. One of them was a Palma Violets show - it was the first time I'd found a band at such a small level that I really was into. Josh had just finished doing an illustration degree and had an obsession with punk zines. I showed him the band.
Josh: At first I thought Sam was flogging a dead horse. But I thought Palma Violets were pretty cool. He had a blog of music writing; I had a blog of artwork – we decided to combine the two in a way that resembled some of the old punk fanzines.
Old punk fanzines don't look like this, though. They're more shitty and throwaway.
Josh: Yeah, the idea of this issue was halfway between a punk fanzine and an old Tate catalogue or something. You have this high-end artwork next to crappy black-and-white photocopies.
It's weird you both aren't from London because So Young seems like it was a product of the new South London scene.
Sam: I think we've been attributed to that scene because we were the first to document a lot of those bands in bigger profiles. It wasn't just a small bit on the side saying "watch out for these" – they had full pages. It's just that some of these bands have grown to become more popular. But what's going on there is amazing.
Josh: I guess it's all kind of come from Fat White Family. We love them and they've kind of left this space in South London for bands to do their own thing with it – and I think that's where the scene has come from.
I've always thought that punk happened, it did its thing and it's best left alone now. But clearly you guys were and still are influenced by it. What made you base So Young upon it?
Josh: When we started So Young our problem was: how do we stand out in an internet-based world? Everyone has a blog, everyone has a Twitter. That's why we thought a magazine would be the way forward. Everyone can get hold of photos of bands, so we thought illustrating them would be a nicer way to do it, too.
Sam: Magazines like Beat and CRACK are amazing because they've just nailed it. So there would be no point in us trying to do cool photo shoots either, as they're doing similar bands to us.
Do you not feel like loads of these new bands are really derivative? Are they doing anything different? That's something Sleaford Mods talk about a lot, who feature in your latest issue.
Sam: Well... we're well aware the idea of doing a punk fan zine now is ridiculous. But the fact that it's just us two doing it, we just have to be ourselves. We don't have to be innovative; we know we're being kind of nostalgic – you can easily trace some bands back to their influences. But – and I don't know what you look for in a band – with us there's this tiny element of nostalgia with it. We're not looking for all this futuristic stuff.
Josh: I'm kind of of the thought that nothing's really 100 percent new. Everything comes from somewhere. It's just whether it's natural and it's kind of true to the people. Some bands have come through and we've intentionally ignored them. They didn't feel right. Whereas there are other bands who – yes, they may have listened to that album and this album on repeat, but they've made their own version. When it comes to a live-set up, you can really tell the making of the band. That's where it stands out.
Agreed. I remember hating Fat White Family but being sold after I saw them live.
Sam: One of the best things with Fat White Family is that they've introduced people of our generation to bands like The Fall, because they're so blatantly influenced by The Fall. But maybe this generation didn't really know about The Fall and now they're listening to their massive back catalogue.
I guess that's one positive thing about some of these bands' influences being so clear-cut. It's cool you got Libs and Strokes A&R James Endeacott to write a piece for you [on HMLTD]? Do you know him?
Sam: He still loves bands, basically. I met him at a university conference thing. We'd just released issue one and two, so somewhere in his attic he's got those. I suppose as we grew and then met him at gigs and realised just how nuts he was, he was the perfect person to ask to write for us. He's always looking for the next thing, too. He'll say, "Oh, can you put me on a guest list because I want to catch so-and-so," and it will be the first band on the bill.
Nice. Okay so let's get to the heart of it: describe So Young in a sentence...
Josh: It's a nostalgic look forward. I've said before we're kind of treading the line between nostalgia and innovation, so we're kind of like – we want all these new kids to listen to these bands that we know that we love. We love The Beatles and we love The Clash; yet also want these bands [we're covering] to have that same effect. We want to help give these bands to the people.