For years I had the same routine every Saturday. I would head into town for a spot of lunch, look around HMV and the record stalls in the market, buy the latest copy of NME and chill for an hour or so in my favourite cafe. Over the course of a very large pot of loose leaf tea I would read every last article and feature. That seems like an age ago now. Pardon the nostalgia, but with the announcement that Britain’s most iconic music publication will cease printing by the end of the week after 66 years in circulation, I’d rather remember it as it used to be rather than what it became.
Truth be told, most avid NME readers would regard the days I look back fondly on as being the magazine well past its prime and a shadow of its former self. The New Musical Express has been like the Forest Gump of the music world, always there for the big moments throughout history. Documenting the birth of Beatlemania and charting the rise of The Rolling Stones, bringing punk from the underground to the attention of the masses, at the cutting edge of the Britpop scene, breaking countless bands over the decades and making them household names, the NME has been a constant companion to music fans young and old across the country. The magazine I knew hardly had its finger on the pulse like it used to in days gone by, but you would still get a giddy thrill when a small band you’d been following for years made it to the front cover, and every now and then you’d find a new star to follow within its pages.
However, when it became a free publication a few years ago, and subsequently got significantly worse in just about every aspect, it became pretty clear that the writing was on the wall. The publication that not too long ago helped the likes of Wolf Alice and Royal Blood become some of the most talked about new rock acts on the planet, now hosted the likes of Taylor Swift and members of One Direction on its front covers. I’ve never known a company perform such a whiplash inducing U-turn, completely forsaking decades of heritage, turning their back on their entire target demographic and moving in a direction that literally no one on the face of the planet was interested in.
For a publication about new music, during its final death throes it contained very little music at all. Where you once had pages and pages of reviews of new releases from small bands, instead you had about three reviews about last month’s flavours of the month padded out with scores of adverts, asinine fashion statements, and cringeworthy observations of pop culture. It fit in with the real state of country’s music culture about as well as a giraffe would blend in at the Grand National. You literally couldn’t give them away. It was like seeing a sick and elderly relative at the end of their life, there was so little left that you could hardly recognise it anymore.
As with many people, the NME was an important inspiration to me as I started to write about music. There have been many times I had daydreamed about working for them, but during their dying days even had an offer been on the table I’d have been embarrassed to be a part of what it had become. There are a lot of complex situations in the world that have no easy answers… this isn’t one of those times, it’s about as painfully obvious as America’s gun control debate. In order for the New Musical Express to be a success it needed to actually feature new music, it’s hardly fucking rocket science. It could’ve been saved at any point by anyone with a modicum of sense, but instead it died a slow, lonely death.
It’s worth noting that the website is still carrying on for the time being, but with the end of the weekly magazine the consensus is clear that the NME as we know it is done. It is hard to lose such an important icon within our music culture, but maybe its final gift can restore some fight and spirit to the music community. Much like how I argued that the recent string of small festival shambles should inspire others to do better, so too is there a chance for people to look at what they wanted the NME to be and subsequently just go out and do it. There are enough new releases every year to fill a whole library full of reviews and features, and plenty of music lovers out there eager to share their discoveries. The NME may be dead in name, but its legacy will live on in some shape or form so long as people are making music.