Friday, May 22, 2009

The Dream Is Over

Plan B is dead.

As I understand it, the end had been coming for some time: as staffer kicking_k notes, the mag was largely subsidised by indie-label advertising, something which has been steadily dropping since the beginning of the recession - people have less money to spend on records and magazines, labels have less money to buy advertising, and a noble enterprise like the magazine suffers the consequences. In this kind of context, it was impossible to keep the magazine going at its current standard (monthly publishing, good, capacious writing, beautiful printing and illustrations, nationwide distribution).

I only wrote for Plan B beginning in September 2007, after I had been reading it for just under a year - around 21 issues, including the final number. I never did anything longer than a brief interview, but it was always a strange thrill to see my own words in print, alongside those of so many others who I admired. It was reading Plan B during the dark winter of 06/07 that re-awakened my knowledge of the power of music, that suggested a community existed beyond the parochial agonies of a southern English town (it always heartened me that the editor, Frances Morgan, came from Bishop's Stortford, a place even more obscure than Bournemouth) who cared about the things I cared about, that introduced me to much of the music that now means the most to me - which, even I didn't have the money to hear it, still fascinated me through the descriptions, the extrapolations in print - that was largely responsible for forming the way I interact with music. The magazine was partially responsible for helping me to my first breakthrough in writing fiction ("finding yr voice", as it's known), and for pushing me towards writing about music - something which lead, in turn, to my writing for them. They were the first place to allow a miscreant like me into print, and for that I'm very grateful. It's vastly to their credit that they would trust an untried 18-year-old to write for them - I blanche now to think of the shit I wrote during my time, but hopefully there was enough that contributed to the full mass of each issue. It was also through writing for them that I was introduced to a community of writers and fellow music fans who I'm very glad to know (among them a number of the writers whose work I admired when I first began reading): the likes of Louis Pattison, Frances Morgan, Joe Stannard, Petra Davis, Lauren Strain, kick, Jon Dale, Neil Kulkarni, Stewart Smith, Matt 'Guanoman' Evans. The magazine played, I suspect, a large part in convincing me to apply for a creative-writing course, and probably helped me to get into Warwick (music journalism always looks good on such an application form). I don't want to get all mushy about it, but it did change my life.

The people involved needn't be in the least humble about their achievement: I don't think it would be an overstatement to call it consistently the best national music magazine in the UK. Everything about it was correct: its presentation, its politics (DIY, post-Riot Grrrl feminism, empowerment), its intelligence in a market dominated by the wearied hackery of the dadrock mags (and I include the likes of Clash in that) and the brainless nihilism of Vice, Dazed and Confused, etc., its relentless neophilia and futurism, the surprise and sprawl of its writing (the sheer number of fresh and diverse voices gathered on its pages), the fact that it was OK with pop and Web 2.0, its wilfulness in championing any and all music that was interesting, regardless of genre ghettoisation, and re-injecting real opinion and passion into the music press (which one admired, even if one didn't agree with said opinions), its motivations - idealism, curiosity, righteous commitment, and sheer love of music. Because it seemed, unlike most other music-mags, to be written by music fans, for music fans. Its ethic was one of full instinctual and intellectual engagement with every aspect of culture (the book and film pages, and the columns, were as much of a delight as the music writing) reversing the increasing trivialisation music is now subjected to.

In this sense, it was a slight bit of a throwback. As Ned Raggett notes, along with its predecessor Careless Talk Costs Lives (although Plan B was very much the project of Frances Morgan, as opposed to CTCL, which was largely True's magazine) it was partially "
about comfort and retrospection, a reverence for print over the digital world", a resurrection of the spirit of the UK music press at its best - the late-70s/early-80s NME of Ian Penman, Paul Morley and (indeed) The Legend!, and the 90s Melody Maker of Simon Reynolds, Neil Kulkarni and (indeed) Everett True. (Hm.) And I am, frankly, convinced that it will go down in history as the equal of those zeniths, as the music magazine of the noughties. The sheer ambition, the gall of what it attempted to do - to create a national monthly magazine covering the most marginal and heterogeneous of music, with some of the best discourse to be found anywhere, printed to a beautiful standard - in today's music market was incredibly admirable, and enough to commit it to the music-press hall-of-fame.

Watching Twitter after the news slipped out, I was amazed at the sheer outpouring of sadness that followed (and amused that people thought it was the rapper who was dead). Then there were the blog-eulogies. It is, of course, not the end. What those responsible for the magazine go on to do will def. be worth watching for.

Long live Plan B.


Blogger kek-w said...

"brainless nihilism " - gee, Dan, you make it sound so glamorous.

Welcome to the world of commercial market-focused freelance writing.

It'll be The Wire for you next, then?

(hmm: sounds like some form of medieval torture, which is actually a fairly reasonable description...)

May 23, 2009 at 6:08 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Yr fine efforts excepted, of course, sir ;)

Srsly though, 'Dazed' does get on my tits - it pretends to intelligent, independent coverage of the zeitgeist, when all it generally does is pander to the forces of capital. I might be getting it mixed up with 'i:D', though :S

I've sent article proposals to The Wire before, and they've always ignored me, but I may well try again...

May 23, 2009 at 6:54 AM  
Blogger kek-w said...

Everything pretends to be 'intelligent', myself included.

It's a sad fact of life, unfortunately.

"they've always ignored me" - that's standard operating practice lol. You've got some pals/contacts there - so it's only a matter of time.

May 23, 2009 at 8:10 AM  
Anonymous a_ said...

I know how it feels to have a publication you've put enormous amounts of love and work into disappear. I was devastated when Mess+Noise, in Australia, got sold. That was worse actually, because it didn't just end, it got taken over by people who had no real interest in keeping alive the passionate, risk-taking ethos that you write of in relation to Plan B. Also, the first proper publication that gives you a break always remains dear to your heart, I think. So, I'm sorry to hear the news. Another intelligent publication gone, so few remaining.

May 23, 2009 at 8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Re The Wire, try sending some stuff on-spec

i.e., finished pieces rather than proposals -- a live review or two of something Wire-appropriate

they might not use it, but they can see whether you hit the right tone & you might be able to get a dialogue going

May 24, 2009 at 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Kenicky said...

The editor is a very nice guy. He sent me this email:

Hi from Plan B

You're getting this email because you've applied for an internship at Plan B in the last few months. Just a quick email, then, to apologise for not getting back to you - the future of the magazine has been somewhat precarious these last few months, and we haven't been in the position to offer any new placements. As you may have heard, the June issue will be our last.

Big thanks for your interest in the magazine, though, and I hope you managed to find work experience elsewhere.



I wonder if due to a lack of response from NME, Mojo, Uncut, Q, Empire etc if those magazines are also going.

May 26, 2009 at 1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


no significance there at all

NME, Mojo, Uncut, Q, Empire - none of them are thriving.

But you'd have been lucky to hear back regarding an unsolicited request for work experience even in the glory days of print. Mags are swamped with such requests.

May 27, 2009 at 1:18 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Fuck it, I should just start a fucking fanzine. Then who's gonna turn down my writing, or run me out of business, eh?!

May 30, 2009 at 3:45 PM  

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