RWD magazine: Going underground

The urban music and style magazine RWD stands out in the fanzine market because of the quality of its production values. And it's a policy that's attracting previously reluctant advertisers. Ian Burrell reports
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The Independent Online

It's not every magazine that organises an office shindig and then finds one of its guests waving a firearm because he doesn't approve of the proceedings. Stranger still is that one publication that has had to cope with such tribulation, the music and style magazine RWD, is endorsed by Prince Charles and has been supported by such forward-thinking media investors as Matthew Freud.

RWD's world encompasses the underground raves, the late-night pirate radio broadcasts and the musical, visual and sartorial predilections of the grime, bashment, drum and bass and UK garage scenes. In short, it is the word on the street, or "on road", to use the modern parlance.

This is a complex media landscape, where many advertisers and marketers fear to tread, wary of the questionable legality of tower block broadcasting and late-night flyposting, and daunted by the fact that they don't know their "nang" (good) from their "swag" (bad).

Hattie Collins holds no such fears. As editor of RWD (short for Rewind and in its 50th issue last month) she moves easily in these circles, hanging out at east London grime venues and travelling to the US to interview the likes of Harlem gangsta rapper Juelz Santana. "As long as I love it I'll write about it," says Collins, who has documented new musical trends such as grime and dubstep. "As well as trying to keep an open ear, I also look at emerging scenes."

Beyond music, Collins has introduced lifestyle coverage into the magazine, bringing the portrayal of street fashions a little closer to the glamour of Vogue House. "I'm trying to build the brand," she says. "We've redesigned the magazine and incorporated a lot more fashion."

Sharp media planners have always had an eye on the street, and Adidas were quick to advertise in a title that is distributed through record and clothes shops. But though RWD is a free monthly it stands out from fanzines because of its high production values and the fact that it is ABC audited (circulation 25,376). It is this level of professionalism that is attracting prestige ads from companies such as Lacoste and Duck and Cover.

Collins says: "Preppy brands have cottoned on to the fact that kids aren't just wearing trackies and trainers and that they are trendsetters and taste-makers." According to publisher Nigel Farquhar (who four years ago began RWD with a group of friendsand support from the Prince's Trust, working from a flat in Crystal Palace, south London) the title's success will be determined by its ability to combine the look and feel of a paid-for with the intimacy and insight often found only in the world of fanzines.

"Being unique is the key to the whole thing. You can get mainstream stuff anywhere you want but the kids who read RWD are more interested in the local artists they know than the big American stars. We are an aspirational tool," he says.

On Collins' blogsite, "Hattie C in the Place To Be", she notes that "A highlight of my year happened at this year's Rap Power Summit in the Bahamas. The palm trees and Caribbean waters were of course all jiggy, but more than that was seeing the interest the US DJs, producers and industry heads were showing in UK sounds." But it is the new underground British music that is really exciting her. "To be honest I've never had a heartfelt passion for UK hip-hop... finally though, I've fallen in love with a music that isn't American," she says. "The UK's voice is finally being heard and I can't get enough of it. It's distinctive and loud and beautifully British. As editor of RWD, I feel privileged to be one of the people documenting the scene."

Her tip for future stardom is the east London artist Plan B. "This kid has stories, words, metaphors, similies, sick and twisted tales, punchlines, a beautiful vocal and some kind of magnetic stage presence."

As RWD documents the evolving British underground, other media players are anxious to be there with it. Radio DJs such as Logan Sama from Emap's Kiss FM and Semtex from the BBC's 1Xtra have columns in the magazine. Separate from Collins' blog, RWD is expanding on the internet, claiming to have 20,000 people on its chat forums and an e-mail list of 50,000.

Many of those live far from the London scene that is RWD's primary subject matter, and Farquhar is busy widening the footprint of the magazine so that it is available to all those who want to be abreast of the latest trends. He says: "People want to read it because of our production values. We are doing something no one else can do - we are producing a full-colour glossy style magazine with good editorial for free."