Vice: The style magazine hasn't lost it insatiable urge to offend

These hip young things are celebrating the fifth birthday of a style magazine that now boasts its own record label, TV channel and even a pub. But with global success, 'Vice' hasn't lost its insatiable urge to offend...

Vice magazine: an offensive, pretentious rag for the deliberately disaffected London poseur, or global media phenomenon for independent youths? Either way there is no doubt that this slick style magazine is unapologetically stamping its 18-hole Dr Martens all over the UK's media landscape. "We're so much more than a style mag," claims the title's UK editor, Andy Capper. "We're aiming to become the biggest free youth publication in the world."

The magazine has certainly come a long way from its humble origins in Canada. What started in 1994 as a 16-page fanzine by Shane Smith, Suroosh Alvi and Gavin McInnes on a government "welfare-to-work" scheme, now has an annual turnover of 8.5m, 17 offices in 15 countries, its own TV channel, a record label, a festival and even a pub. "There isn't anything like us," says Capper. Arrogant? Perhaps but then Vice has not become famous by being subtle.

Its first UK issue came out five years ago and had an enormous line of cocaine expensively embossed on the cover and a "jokey" interview with the Muslim extremist Abu Hamza inside. "This is its appeal," says its publisher, Andrew Creighton. "After the launch we got about 650 letters some people loved us and some people hated us, but at least we were getting a reaction."

Since then the magazine's schizophrenic blend politics and style on one page, tits and fart jokes on the next have helped earn it a reputation among the 18-30 demographic. Its fashion pages have become a blueprint for hip kids who want to be seen in the latest cutting-edge streetwear.

But Vice has outgrown its niche market and now claims a circulation of 550,000 across Europe, via distribution in fashion outlets and bars, up from 72,000 in 2002. "It's not enough to appeal to 500 nu-rave kids in east London; we have to compete with the big boys," says Creighton.

Tonight, the self-confessed "empire of hedonism" is celebrating five years of sex, drugs and rock'*'roll at the gay club Heaven in London. The streets around London's Embankment are heaving with 2,000 people in skinny jeans, plaid shirts and directional haircuts, clamouring to mark its birthday.

Outside the club, opinions are divided as to what makes Vice so special, ranging from the evangelical ("I have the cover of every issue on my wall") to the scathing ("The only cool thing about Vice is the totty... and the American Apparel ads").

But, of course, the people at Vice don't care what they think and herein lies the essence of its success. Underlining the Vice ethos is a belief in aggressively tackling issues that other mainstream magazines tap-dance around. "There is a real malaise in the media at the moment," says Creighton. "Consumer magazines and TV cater to the lowest common denominator, full of celebrity tits, babes and Kerry Katona aren't we bored of that?"

Vice may laugh at people's trousers and dedicate entire pages to tattooed pigs (the sort of approach that has lost thousands of pounds of advertising revenue), but it also tackles issues such as gun crime, fascism and sex trafficking with a refreshing lack of hand-wringing and faux sentimentality.

The controversial Iraq issue, says Capper, stands as testament to the magazine's journalistic balls. "We used images of dead bodies lying all over the airport field after the Battle of Baghdad to show people how disgusting and outrageous the war was. While our writers were in the red zone actually talking to the people who live there, all the CNN and the BBC journos were sitting in the green zone reading press releases."

The appetite for such frontline reporting also gives an indication of Vice's global ambitions involving an impressive array of side-projects. Its US record label has released albums for Bloc Party and Mike Skinner's The Streets, and last October its online broadcast channel, VBS.TV, went live under the creative direction of Oscar-nominated film-maker Spike Jonze. The magazine's founders Smith and Alvi have also just produced and directed an 84-minute documentary called Heavy Metal in Baghdad, which follows an Iraqi heavy metal band during the final years of Saddam's rule. The result is a ground-level insight into the lives of young people living in Iraq today.

As the media struggles to find a niche within the world of user-generated content, the DIY punk ethic of the Vice media brand, it seems, has hit a chord with a generation disillusioned with mainstream media. "Learning how to marry commerciality with creativity has been a long road, but people are ready for it," says Creighton. "They are bored and want something free, honest and stimulating. But they still want to party and take drugs and that's OK."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own