The sound of music: the mags that matter

Radio 2's Stuart Maconie gets ready to rock 'n' roll, if you will, as he soundchecks the best of British and American music press
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The Independent Online



Publisher: IPC

Circulation: 70,014

Reading this magazine these days stands you a better chance of bringing on a migraine than a family sized Cadburys Dairy Milk, ten cans of Fanta and an evening of Japanese kiddie cartoons. This is said not as an embittered old boy of the title but purely with reference to its shouty, unsophisticated design style. The magazine of old was inky, brooding and as dark as the Joy Division albums that were its stock in trade. But Kerrang's sudden late-90s upturn forced NME to remodel itself in its lurid image. Still as snotty but much less serious than it used to be, it's a tabloid for Libertines and White Stripes fans.


Publisher: Haymarket

Circulation: Not yet published

Newly launched title that looks like every other British music mag on the shelf; hugely crowded and slickly glossy. The difference is inside, as soon becomes apparent. This is specifically designed to cater for the current and, indeed one would one think, eternally ongoing appetite for digital music; downloads, iPods, weblogs and games. As with all launch issues that plunge into uncharted waters - see the late, hilarious and unlamented What Karaoke? - you feel every idea that came up at the brainstorming meeting is in the first issue, which of course begs the question of what they'll put in the second one?


Publisher: Dennis Publishing

Circulation: 525,000

Based in New York, this savvy operation was set up by the American wing of Dennis publishing, but using British talent. Under the stewardship of Andy Pemberton - previously Q editor - it has really shaken up the slightly Ivy League-magazine world there. Influenced by Q's house style of the mid 90s but with lots of lissom female flesh on offer. They cleverly manage this without ever having that horrible whiff of old goat and flashers macs that UK mags often have. They love Pink, Christina and Ashlee Simpson though this month they have U2 on the cover of a typically sharp issue.


Publisher: Emap

Circulation: 100,347

Envisaged originally as Q's big brother, possibly Dad, Mojo is sometimes unfairly lampooned as the magazine for the man - and it is generally man - who can't live without an 18-page retrospective on Van Der Graaf Generator. This title has weathered several wobbles to become an authoritative fixture on the newsstands and while it covers new music its real strength lies in its long, scholarly excavations into time-honoured rock myths of the Nick Drake/Beach Boys variety. John Peel is on the front of this one, as indeed he is on Word. Often has excellent genre-based compilation CDs as free giveaways.


Publisher: Wenner Media

Circulation: 1,277,041

The daddy of all rock magazines. When Jann Wenner set up his counter-culture bible in the 60s the NME was still covering Chris Barber and The Tremeloes. Though the success of Blender's youthful sauciness has made it rethink its position, there's not much evidence of a major shift. This issue boasts a sober portrait shot of Eminem and the cover splash promises "Iraq under fire; Dispatches from the lost war". But, get this, one feature promises the hottest sex scenes from the year's DVDs and there's a contents page pic of Destiny's Child, though it's much smaller than the one of Bono and The Edge.


Publisher: Emap

Circulation: 62,591

Though its sales have "plateau-ed" of late, Kerrang had a very good early millennium. Essentially this was down to the popularity of Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and other US nu-metal acts. Since then, it's benefited from the Darkness rehabilitation of classic hard rock and from its admirably broad definition of metal that embraces Muse, The Manic Street Preachers and The Hives. The bulk of the current issue is a sprawling "666 Songs You Must Own" leviathan. Features are at a premium against charts, news splashes, celeb vox pops etc - then again that's probably just how its readership likes it, brief and brash.


Publisher: Future Publishing

Circulation: 38,485

With "Riffs That Changed The World", a regular feature called "Survivors, They Did It So You Don't Have To", and Lemmy and Ozzy on the cover it's easy to see why this has become a commendable small-scale success. This magazine is well designed, briskly and intelligently written for the most part and is in no doubt of where its heart lies, with the 30- and 40-something men who see a Zeppelin tribute band a week, think the Darkness are pisstakers and have Use Your Illusion, Nevermind and Deep Purple in rock on the car CD auto-changer. A magazine that knows what its doing. And knows what it's not doing either like putting Justin Timberlake on the cover.


Publisher: Emap

Circulation: 50,457

A publication which rode the cresting wave of the dance and club boom of the early 90s. Back then it was trendy and stylish but dance music has taken a significant downturn in recent years with club attendances falling and its core acts - Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Basement Jaxx etc - finding it tough, and the magazine has had to change tack. That seems to mean going downmarket and aiming for the clubber who chucks up in doorways rather than the ones who hire private jets to Miami. See the ostensibly humorous features about clubbing do's and don'ts which include "Don't tell girls you love them when you're fucked up" and getting "shitfaced" on drugs.


Publisher: Emap

Circulation: 150,801

This is the publication that broke the mould of the market in the early 80s by adopting a self-consciously different style from the inkies. Where NME would routinely savage the Stings and Springsteens, Q sucked up to them. The current issue, with Elton John and Bono on the cover, is untypical. Of late it has tried to court a punter I doubt exists - the intelligent, reasonably affluent young male who wants to read a Justin Timberlake feature - and has unwisely jettisoned its older readers. But it's still characterised by good writing, solid and well-researched features, great pictures and a formidable reviews section. You get the feeling it's just not quite sure where to go next.


Publisher: IPC

Circulation: 112,816

Launched in 1997, this title is IPCs second attempt at taking on the once-invincible Q. The first attempt was Vox, which was a lamentable failure, its problem was that it always felt shabby and cut-rate next to its EMAP rival. Headlines were weak, humour feeble and ideas thin on the ground. Their second attempt, Uncut, has been a far feistier proposition. Whilst Q has chased the pop kids, this magazine has played to its strengths - rock, diamond geezers, free CDs every month - and quietly overtaken its EMAP rival. Neil Young is on the cover of this issue as surely he must have been a hundred times before. Very hot on blokey films; Godfather and Scorcese and the like.


Publisher: Development Hell

Circulation: 30,051

Produced by former EMAP editors Mark Ellen and David Hepworth, Word is a recent and decidedly different addition to the shelves. I have to declare an interest here; I'm a regular contributor to the title. Unashamedly writerly and uncluttered with modish page furniture, it has become known as the mag for the older yet still hip consumer who is in the market for a good read on everything from Futurama to Franz Ferdinand, from Godfather box sets to Anthony Beevor'sStalingrad. As an independent publication, it's up against the big corporate boys greater firepower when it comes to getting interviews but it does have the pedigree of its founding talent on its side.


Publisher: Diamond Publishing

Circulation: 35,000

This magazine has recently been revitalized by the arrival of music press legend Alan Lewis, a former Sounds hack who turned around the NME in the late 80s. Record Collector will always be primarily for blokes who get excited at finding Frank Wilson's "Do I Love You" on seven inch vinyl at a car boot sale (current value £15,000) but it has lots for the general reader too. After years of looking like a telephone directory, it looks like The Face now with colour and everything.