New generation of Black British trendsetters

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The Independent Online
Today sees the first birthday of a magazine charting the style and music of Black British trendsetters. Randeep Ramesh examines why, despite predictions of its early demise, the publication has not only survived, but thrived.

Rarely do magazines manufacture a mood. Most are content to retail the Zeitgeist. But for one organ, 2nd Generation, the emphasis is on creating, not covering, a culture.

"I knew something was going to happen, it was just a question of who was going to start it," says Imran Khan, the 26-year-old editor and founder of 2nd Generation.

What "happened" was the flowering - early last year - of the hitherto underground Asian dance scene. The children of those immigrants who came to these shores in the Sixties and Seventies suddenly seemed to have the casting vote in London's style council. Nightclubs such as Anokha and Outcaste were considered de rigueur for dedicated dancers, and British Asian-fronted bands such as Babylon Zoo and White Town had No 1 hits.

With the loan of a friend's computer and a pounds 5,000 grant from the Princes Youth Trust, Khan's magazine was born in a bedroom in Brixton. "I tried people like Shami Ahmed (the millionaire owner of the Joe Bloggs fashion empire) to get backing, but while the response was not negative it was not positive either."

Khan, who grew up in Manchester and Peterborough, peppers his patter with marketing slogans. This is unsurprising, given that he failed to realise his dream of becoming a travel writer and settled, after university, for selling advertising space on the New Musical Express.

"I worked on NME, the Modern Review and Dazed & Confused and was always on the business side of publishing. I made loads of contacts but I knew there had to be a space for a magazine for people like me." For "me" read bright, hip, twenty-something "Black Briton" with an eye for fashion and an ear for the latest sounds.

In its earliest incarnations, 2nd Generation focused on British Asian culture. Whether through luck or judgement, it proved popular. With India celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence in August and the emergence of Britain as the coolest country on the planet, Khan popped up as a cultural commentator - most notably in Time magazine - on the scene he helped to create.

"At the time it gave us a unique selling point, so that's how we sold it," says Khan. "But now we have moved on, because everyone else has caught up."

The first issue managed to sell all 15,000 copies it printed. The cover of its second edition - featuring an Asian model in a Union flag T-shirt, was lifted by The Sunday Times Style section. Most pop pundits sniggered when it put an unsigned group - the rock-and-rap band Asian Dub Foundation - on its cover, but weeks later the quintet were picked up by a recording label.

The last issue managed nearly 40,000 and brought in nearly pounds 100,000 in sales. But the rewards are editorial, not financial.

"This has not made me rich. The next issue was produced by just eight people. Half of income goes on distribution costs and the rest is bills and re-invested in what's needed to bring out the next issue," says Khan.

"We only use unsigned black and Asian models for our photo shoots. It is because nobody else does that, we do," says Khan. That is not to say the pages are populated by the unknown and the unheard of. The precocious 20-year-old writer Bidisha is a contributing editor and recent features have included the young England cricketer Min Patel on his real love - soul music - and a fashion spread featuring supermodel, Iman.

"That was a real high point, because Iman has given up modelling, but she did it because she and David [Bowie] love the magazine," said Khan.

The story behind Khan's scoop is worth recounting, simply because it underlines how hip 2nd Generation has become. Bowie, during one of his forays earlier this year into the capital's club scene, was presented with a bundle of magazines when he visited a nightclub Khan runs. So impressed with 2nd Generation were the pop superstar and his supermodel wife that they agreed to a photo-shoot and an accompanying interview.

"I mean this is David Bowie," says Khan. "And if he likes the magazine, we must be doing something right."

Ever aware of the fickle nature of fashion, 2nd Generation is now, says Khan, concerned about the broad range of experiences of all "young people of colour in this country". The front cover of the anniversary edition features the sombre face of MC Maxim Reality - a member of the techno group, the Prodigy.

"His solo single is coming out next year. He likes the magazine so much he gave the interview to us," says Erroll Jones, the magazine's creative editor. "You see, whenever the Prodigy appear in the press it is always the two white guys who get the exposure. That's why we did him."

For Khan, things can only get bigger. He is on the hunt for a new arts editor and a film reviewer and has plans to get an issue out every four weeks, instead of the bi-monthly deadlines he currently meets.

"Nick Logan [founder of The Face] started from his kitchen table," says Khan. "So nothing is impossible."