The Wire (magazine)
Cover of The Wire no. 356, Oct 2013, featuring American musician Matana Roberts
|Former editors||Chris Bohn, Rob Young, Tony Herrington, Mark Sinker, Richard Cook, Anthony Wood|
|Founder||Anthony Wood, Chrissie Murray|
|First issue||Summer 1982|
|Company||The Wire Magazine Ltd. (independently owned)|
|Based in||Hackney, London, England|
The Wire (often called simply Wire or stylised in all caps) is a British avant-garde music magazine based in Hackney, London. The Wire launched in 1982 as a jazz magazine with an emphasis on avant-garde and free jazz. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the magazine expanded its scope to include a broad range of musical genres. Since then, The Wire has covered electronica, modern classical, free improvisation, avant-rock, hip hop, nu jazz, traditional musics and beyond. The Wire has been independently owned since 2001, when the six permanent staff members at that time purchased the magazine from its previous owner, Naim Attallah.
- 1 History
- 2 Content
- 3 Design
- 4 Annual critics' polls
- 5 Books
- 6 Contributors
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
1982–1984: Founding and acquisition by the Namara Group
The Wire debuted as a quarterly jazz magazine in the summer of 1982. The magazine was co-founded by jazz promoter Anthony Wood and journalist Chrissie Murray. Lacking office space, Wood and Murray prepared the first issues of the magazine an Italian restaurant on St Martin's Lane. The staff sold copies of the first issue to concert-goers at a jazz festival in Knebworth and at the Camden Jazz Festival.
In an essay explaining the magazine's editorial policy and scope, Wood said The Wire would emphasise boundary-pushing musicians; at the outset, Wood declared that free jazz and free improvisation would "be given a loud enough voice to be heard above the dissenters who are still questioning the music's validity." The magazine was named after "The Wire", a composition by American jazz saxophonist Steve Lacy,[a] whose "musical farsightedness" the magazine hoped to emulate.
Wood said the state of British jazz writing underserved listeners under the age of 25, a demographic The Wire intended to target. The only other British jazz magazine in print at the time was Jazz Journal, which Wood criticised for its conservative approach: "the reverend gentlemen at Jazz Journal continue, at best, to admit only grudgingly that jazz has got beyond 1948; at worst, deny its current development." In addition, Wood noted, the British weekly magazine Melody Maker had by 1982 virtually abandoned jazz coverage.
In 1984, Wood sold The Wire to Naim Attallah and it became part of the Namara Group. Attallah's other properties included The Oldie, Literary Review and Quartet Books. Wood announced the new owner, along with a switch from quarterly to monthly publishing, in the October 1984 issue. Reflecting on the early years as part of the Namara Group, Tony Herrington said:
I think they thought it would be good to have a magazine to support Quartet's jazz titles. We were in this horrible little office off Oxford Street and it was weird because you'd run into Richard Ingrams, Auberon Waugh and Joan Bakewell chatting on the stairs. There were always debs flitting about, Simon Ward's kids, Susannah York's kids. There was no money about, but the great thing was [Attallah] just let us get on with it.
Attallah's laissez-faire attitude and the magazine's editorial freedom contrasted with the state of other UK music magazines in the 1980s. As recounted by German music journalist Julian Weber, competition among weeklies like NME, Melody Maker and Sounds heightened in the 1980s, and these publications began to prioritise circulation, advertising and commercial appeal over the quality of their content. The Wire did not impose significant editorial demands or stylistic revisions on its writers, and as such, the magazine became an attractive publication for freelancers who had started their careers at UK weeklies during the post-punk era.
1984–1993: Expanding beyond jazz
Richard Cook, a journalist who had been on the staff of NME, took over as editor in July 1985; by September, Wood's name was gone altogether from the masthead. In these years, articles in The Wire began to develop a house style that steered toward the philosophical and cerebral, printing "articles peppered with references to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, or Jacques Attali's monograph Noise." In 1993, Gail Brennan at The Sydney Morning Herald opined that The Wire "covers a surprising range of music while bringing a narrow and contrived 'punk' attitude to bear. Let's be blunt. It is a pretentious magazine."
Under Cook's editorial oversight, The Wire significantly broadened its coverage of music in genres other than jazz. In a 1991 article in Jazz Forum on the magazine's change in direction, Kevin Henriques noted major changes in personnel like a new graphic design team and the promotion of longtime contributor Mark Sinker to assistant editor.[b] Henriques observed that the erstwhile jazz magazine's recent covers had featured Michael Jackson, Prince, Philip Glass, John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison; meanwhile, articles published inside the magazine had profiled Elvis Costello, Stravinsky, Mozart, Frank Zappa, Prokofiev, Bob Marley and Haydn. Cook told Jazz Forum that The Wire was "entering a genuinely new era" and "going into overdrive and aiming for a substantial international profile as well as enlarging its home market." Estimating the magazine's monthly circulation at 15,000–20,000 copies, Cook hoped to increase sales to 25,000.
The effort to expand the magazine's circulation had mixed results. Chris Parker, the magazine's publisher between 1984 and 1989, said the changes did not make an "appreciable" increase in sales; in Parker's view, "for every would-be hip young thing we recruited to the readership, we lost a diehard jazz fan who just wished to know if Howard Riley or Stan Tracey had made another album and what it was like." But regardless of the impact on sales figures, several of Cook's contemporaries acknowledged that he had made The Wire a more accessible publication. Scottish writer Brian Morton said "[u]nder Cook's editorship, The Wire evolved from a small, coterie magazine into a more broadly based music journal that covered mainstream jazz as well as the avant-garde, but one that also began moving into other areas of music: pop, soul, reggae, classical." John Fordham, the jazz critic for The Guardian, credited Cook with "transforming [The Wire's] content and design and opening out a specialised, sometimes uninviting publication" to a broader audience.
In June 1992, Cook left The Wire for a position at PolyGram UK and was succeeded by Sinker. Cook departed as the magazine marked its 100th issue, an unannounced move that caught Sinker by surprise. Though he only served as editor for 18 months, Sinker took a bold editorial approach. During his brief tenure, few covers featured portraits of musicians, and instead often featured abstract photos of isolated objects, like a sofa or a toy robot. Sinker devoted issues to broad themes—like "Music and Censorship", "Music in the Realm of Bodily Desire" and "Music and the American Dream"—and commissioned multiple argumentative essays on those topics. He later explained his attitude as editor:
Losing money? Threatened with closure? Ignore all that. Old punky rule-of-thumb (just now made up): the contradiction is the hook—don't bury it, flaunt it. NO FUTURE NO FUTURE NO FUTURE: treat every issue as if it's the last, and go for broke with the material you have. I wanted (he writes with ten-year hindsight) an alert, funny journal which cruised its readers, chafed and teased and englamoured and thrilled and hurt and baffled and fucked with them—a space for speculative playful malicious unfrightened imagination which when it vanished (any moment, we all thought) left a questing shadow behind the heart.
Sinker's vision—later characterised as "a thorny, quizzical, fanzine cum proto-Weblog"—clashed with then-publisher Adele Yaron's ideal of "a sleek and stylish urban music 'n' lifestyle monthly". Yaron sacked Sinker when a potential buyer requested his removal as part of, in Sinker's words, the "bride price" for the deal. While Sinker's stint as editor was brief and controversial, music writers have praised his editorial decisions. The Guardian columnist Maggoty Lamb praised Sinker's tenure as "visionary" and said he had laid the "foundation" for the magazine to become a "thriving institutional presence". At Pitchfork, Tom Ewing argued that the argumentative articles Sinker commissioned "weren't simply trying to shock or drive readers off—they achieved both—but were trying to build, as ... Sinker put it, [a place] where people could 'have fun starting arguments,' ones that could co-exist within a comfort zone."
The magazine launched its website——in October 1997.
The magazine was bought out by its staff in December 2000 and is now published independently.
According to writer Simon Warner, The Wire took on "influence disproportionate to its niche readership, as not only listeners but music makers and producers were drawn to its columns."
A series of new music compilation CDs called The Wire Tapper has been given away with the magazine since 1998. The magazine has used the strapline "Adventures in Modern Music" since 1994; on 14 December 2011 The Wire's staff announced that the magazine's old strapline "Adventures In Modern Music" had been replaced by "Adventures In Sound And Music". In addition to the Wire Tapper CDs, subscribers receive label, country and festival samplers.
Apart from the numerous album reviews every month, the magazine has features such as "The Invisible Jukebox", an interview conducted by way of unknown tracks being played to an artist, and "The Primer", an in-depth article on a genre or act. It also features the avant music scene of a particular city every issue. In addition to its musical focus, the magazine likes to investigate cover art and mixed media artistic works.
Since January 2003 The Wire has been presenting a weekly radio programme on the London community radio station Resonance FM, which uses the magazine's strapline as its title and is hosted in turns by members of The Wire.
The Wire celebrated its 400th issue in June 2017.
Paul Elliman took over the magazine's art direction in January 1986; by July, he debuted a serif-typeface logo that the magazine would continue to use, with variations, until 2001. The minimalist aesthetic of The Wire in the late 1980s favoured simple typography, black-and-white photography and ample white space.
Elliman and Ward's late-1980s work for The Wire has been praised by others in the graphic design field. Robert Newman—a former design director at magazines like Entertainment Weekly, New York and The Village Voice—said The Wire's minimal design contrasted with colourful late-80s trends in both British and American magazine design. Newman said he was inspired by Elliman's design work and borrowed elements of his style for The Village Voice layouts. In Newman's opinion, Elliman and his successor Lucy Ward, who became art director in 1988, produced "some of the most beautiful and remarkable magazine covers of that (or any) era, timeless designs that still look strikingly contemporary today." John L. Walters, an editor and owner of the quarterly design magazine Eye said their designs did not look "home made or like academic papers (or both)", as other specialist magazines of the time tended to look, and said the magazine "took musicians seriously, and its design made them look good without trying—be they stars, greying veterans or young turks." John O'Reilly cited Elliman's work for The Wire among the "most exciting and apparently vibrant work of the 1980s" and said it shared a "kind of melancholia" with Neville Brody's work from the period and Vaughan Oliver's designs for the record label 4AD.
The Wire commissions photography from freelancers. In recent years, the magazine has published work by photographers like Nigel Shafran, Todd Hido, Tom Hunter, Pieter Hugo, Alec Soth, Clare Shilland, Leon Chew, Jake Walters, Juan Diego Valera, Michael Schmelling, Mark Peckmezian, and Takashi Homma.
Annual critics' polls
Since 1985, The Wire has published an annual critics' poll, collating critics' ballots into a list of the year's best releases. Like the magazine itself, The Wire's critics' polls have garnered a reputation for their unconventional, eclectic selections. An academic book on music journalism noted "its lists do not look like any other magazines', as rather obscure music is often featured." Guardian columnist Maggoty Lamb commented in 2007 that The Wire has "the annual best-of list most likely to single out an ensemble called Kiss the Anus of the Black Cat as having made 'one of the most interesting records of the year'."[c] When the magazine named James Ferraro's vaporwave album Far Side Virtual its 2011 Release of the Year, Eric Grandy remarked in Seattle Weekly it was "[n]o surprise that willfully obscurantist British rag the Wire's Best of 2011 list is topped by James Ferraro's winking Windows '97 soft-rock hellscape ... and further ranges from the Beach Boys' Smile Sessions to Laurel Halo and Hype Williams."
1985–1991: jazz era
The early polls were limited to jazz albums, mirroring the magazine's focus at that time, but the purview gradually expanded; by 1990, the main jazz list was published alongside lists for blues, Latin music, "composition" (i.e., classical music) and "suspect rock" (i.e., experimental rock). The magazine published an all-genre poll for the first time in 1991, a so-called "open vote 'beyond' category" that was still subordinate to the "main" list of jazz and improvised releases. The Mix, a remix album by German electronic group Kraftwerk, was the first release to top an all-genre poll.
|1985||LP of the Year: Ronald Shannon Jackson||Decode Yourself||United States|||
|1986||LP of the Year: Pat Metheny and Ornette Coleman||Song X|||
|1987||Top LP of the Year: Ornette Coleman||In All Languages|||
|1988||Top LP of the Year: Cecil Taylor Unit||Live in Bologna|||
|1989||Critics' Poll: David Murray||Ming's Samba|||
|1990||The Critics' Choice: John Scofield||Time on My Hands[note 1]||United States|||
|1991||"Main jazz and improvised" category: Sheila Jordan||Lost and Found||United States|||
|"Open vote 'beyond' category": Kraftwerk||The Mix||Germany|
- Several critics had voted for Cecil Taylor's 11-CD box set In Berlin '88 as their number-one choice, but it was kept off the main list altogether because "11 against one wasn't really fair odds for the rest". Instead, In Berlin '88 was separately "honoured ... with a special Wire accolade of the year's most impressive recording project."
1992–2010: Record of the Year
In 1992, The Wire stopped privileging its jazz poll and instead began to designate its all-genre poll as its primary year-end list. The blurb accompanying that year's poll announced that the "main chart takes the form of an all-inclusive, open-ended category—contributors were asked to vote for their favourite records across all genres, from jazz to Techno, opera to Africa, metal to Minimalism." The magazine continued to publish genre-specific lists, including for jazz. In 1993, The Wire started calling its all-genre poll the "Record of the Year", a designation that would remain in place through 2010.
2011–present: Release of the Year
In 2011, The Wire switched the name of its annual critics' poll from Records of the Year to Releases of the Year. The change meant that critics could cast votes for "any self-contained audio entity, be it a vinyl LP, 12" EP, cassette, CD, download, mixtape, etc." Editor-in-chief Tony Herrington explained the reasoning and observed how it had changed critics' submissions:
We made the change in a spirit of 'all formats acknowledged' democracy, but while a few up-to-speed contributors took us at our word and ran with it, submitting Web 2.0-driven charts containing YouTube uploads and tracks given away via Twitter, the bulk of the electorate continued to cast their votes for old fashioned albums, records or otherwise."
- Undercurrents - The Hidden Wiring Of Modern Music. Continuum, 2002.
- The Wire Primers. Verso, 2009.
- Savage Pencil’s Trip or Squeek. Strange Attractor, 2012.
- Epiphanies: Life-changing Encounters With Music. Strange Attractor, 2015. Edited by Tony Herrington.
- Lacy composed "The Wire" in tribute to the late jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler. "The Wire" of the title represents "the end, the wire that marks the boundary and announces his death" and the composition is "supposed to be a portrait of Albert Ayler, about a life cut short by the wire—down to the wire."
- Sinker accepted the assistant editor position after NME asked him to rewrite a negative review of a U2 album. He refused and quit NME instead.
- Kiss the Anus of the Black Cat is the name of a real musical group. The quote was taken from British writer Jim Haynes's reflection in the 2005 Rewind issue: "When a group with as terrible a name as Kiss the Anus of the Black Cat can have one of the most interesting records of the year, it's a good sign that 2005 was a remarkable year in music." Kiss the Anus of the Black Cat's 2005 record did not actually appear on any of The Wire's lists that year.
- Lindberg et al. 2005, p. 315
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