deep dives

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.

by Josh Baines
04 November 2015, 2:30pm

I remember being young and precious and unpopular and spending all my pocket money on music magazines. The weekend'd arrive and I'd take my three pound coins to the corner shop and spend a solid half hour agonising 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.

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 mum'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 sat 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 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 Johnno 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 SU magazine. Benney, left Manchester after graduating, but returned in the city after finding no suitable work in his hometown of Milton Keynes. On his re-arrival, Burgess suggested that they start a magazine, that combine Boys Own with Smash Hits. "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, "something that happened by accident really. We thought it'd just be a bit of fun for people in Manchester. By issue three or four we had record shops in Glasgow asking to stock it."

Burgess thinks that Jockey Slut, even in those early days, stood out from the club coverage crowd because, as he says, "Mixmag and DJ Mag weren't writing about characters behind the records and the clubs," focusing instead on machinistic write ups of records that focused more on technicalities than feelings. He and Benney dreamed of a magazine that'd combine Boys Own with 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 cites their Northern location for that. "Being based in Manchester meant that PR people couldn't get to us! 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 cheque for a thousand pounds for a cover feature. They politely declined. That sense of working outside the norm 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 favour of the two minute hot take, or the muted, mediated answers of questions 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) is and 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.

Yes 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 cloakroom 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?

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. It wasn't all snark and funny captions, after all. "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.

Jockey Slut
JS

was a magazine that proved that music writing didn't have to be synonymous with po-faced sucking up. Watch this space for more related news coming up on THUMP very soon. It might be time to saddle up in the near future...

For now though, sit back and enjoy what a few of our favourite DJs and producers have to say about a magazine that meant a lot to them — a magazine that changed the face of club culture in the UK forever. Here's to Jockey Slut. Before we get all misty eyed, let's have a read of the first time two young Frenchmen were mentioned in the magazine...

THUMP: What was your first introduction to Jockey Slut?
Tiga: I don't remember what issue I got first. That old Daft Punk cover comes to mind. I also remember a Primal Scream one. I must have bought it on one of trips to London. Maybe 94? I remember I liked that JS didn't waste all that space with the UK club round up like Mixmag. It was noticeably less "party" oriented and seemed more about "my" music at the time. More techno. It's strange to think of it now but it also introduced me to a certain English sense of humour.
Erol Alkan: I can't really remember how I first discovered Jockey Slut, it was definitely in the late 90s, and I recall having an interest in it as it covered a lot of bands and musicians on the alternative scene. It would be fair to say that Jockey Slut soon filled the gap that the NME had started to leave in my thirst for new music. Guitar music was certainly starting to stale and Jockey Slut covered new electronic sounds from right across the spectrum. You'd buy an issue for The Chemical Brothers on the cover and discover a new artist on German indie label Kitty Yo for example...
Raf Rundell (The 2 Bears): In 1995 I was 16. Most weekends my mate Jamie and I used to smoke dope and listen to 60s music or indie bands. Some weekends we used to go to the raves up the road at Lydd Airport near Ashford. There we'd take acid and get scared by the older local boys pretending to be gangsters and, quite often, the music too. We didn't really like the raves but we didn't want to miss out on what was, looking back on it, like a demented extension of our school disco. There were two tribes. The indie kids and the ravers and we didn't fit neatly into either.

That summer we saw Orbital and Underworld on our first visit to Glastonbury. Jamie had an elder brother whose room we used to sit in when he was out. He had better records and a lava lamp. In there one day I found a copy of Jockey Slut. I think LFO were on the cover. Here was a magazine that seemed far out and full of things that I was interested in and had no idea about but was also accessible to a suburban wannabe techno warrior. It had a spirit of inclusion, of different styles of music of fashion, of people. At 16 I thought I knew everything worth knowing about and had a kind of "everything I'm into right now is all there is worth bothering with, everything that came before this is complete rubbish" ethos.

Jockey Slut disabused me of these notions. It was OK to like Blur and LFO. It was OK to like football and music. It was OK not to be really serious all the time. It was OK. What a revelation, what a relief.
Trevor Jackson: That era is all a total blur to me, due not only through my excessive drink and drug intake but also addiction to fast cars, prostitutes, supermodels and any club that played big beat and britpop. My first memory of Jockey Slut was waking up one morning at the Metropolitan Hotel with Kate Moss and a naked Ben 'Fat Truckers' Rymer bursting through the door with a copy in his hand screaming about this new band Daft Punk that he swore would change the future of dance music forever. Kate was furious when I invited him to join us and left me for the chap out the Kills. Ed and Tom Chemical were in the kitchen making beats with a ZX spectrum, Erol was doing the washing up, the rest is history.*
James Lavelle: Reading the first issue.

What kept you reading, issue after issue? Where there any favourite features or interviews that still stand out?
Tiga: I liked the interviews. Reviews. Obviously this is at a time when information was scarce (and I lived in Canada) so every little scrap was cherished. Photos of people (like the Daft Punk shots) came to completely define the artists in my mind's eye for years to come. I liked that last page "have you ridden a horse" thing. I guess at its core I was interested in many of the same artists: Weatherall, Mills, etc...
Erol Alkan: I always felt like I was discovering something new. I remember the writing being of a high standard, so I'd read every feature, each issue. Two pivotal moments were when they awarded Gonzales 'Album Of The Month' for The Entertainist and Alan Braxe & Fred Falke's "Running" Single Of The Month, on both occasions I immediately left my house and went out and bought those records without hearing them. I later went on to book Gonzales to play Trash (he eventually played on three separate occasions) and "Running" is one of my favourite records from that era..
Raf Rundell: Pre-internet, Jockey Slut was the place I found out about new bands and artists. If you didn't read the magazine you were missing out. It's hard to imagine that now but that's what it felt like. Favourite features? Later on I became a press officer. The magazine did a feature on an artist called Brooks who I was working with. We did the interview and pictures around Soho. One of the shots is Brooks and I stood at the urinals in the public toilets on Great Marlborough st. Brooks is peering over my shoulder with a carry on nudge-wink look to the camera. A proud moment: a picture of me having a piss in Jockey Slut.
Trevor Jackson: I liked the free CD's, I'm rather cheap and the idea of buying anything I find disgusting.
James Lavelle: They were particularly good in their choice of topics and music — it felt more organic and real than the other dance based press, reminding me of magazines like Soul Underground which I had loved as a kid.

Was there a particular regular feature you always looked forward to?
Tiga: No not really. But I read it cover to cover daydreaming about one day being part of that world. It held clear priority over Muzik and Mixmag and DJ and stood alongside The Face and ID in my monthly educational curriculum. It's actually quite amazing to think back at how much influence those articles had on a kid in Montreal. I wanted to tell somebody that yes, I had once been on a horse.
Erol Alkan: The great thing about Jockey Slut was that the sum was greater than all the parts, even though each interview and feature was worth reading. I think they documented a particular moment better than anybody else. I suspect it had a lot to do with being involved with Bugged Out and close to many of the pivotal artists of the time. Jockey Slut gave me a sense of confidence in being different within the world of dance music.
Raf Rundell: I'm sure everyone's going to say this but Luke Cowdery's Vee Vee Right/Vee Vee Wrong column was always a highlight.
Trevor Jackson: Anything that mentioned myself.
James Lavelle: I loved it as a whole, which is a very rare thing!

*This may not have actually happened.

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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