After 66 years, the New Musical Express, the NME, is dead. Well, the print edition is finally dead but it will continue as a pretty awful online site that uses the name to maintain some level of brand recognition for something that to be honest should have been dragged round the back of the bins and shot in the early years of the 21st century. Though they did make Conor McNicholas editor and that kind of had the same effect.
Although McNicolas’s run as editor was to be as nice as possible, fucking awful as the paper descended into something that Heat readers would have found not to be intellectually challenging, he was fortunate to be around during what is now really a bright time for music with new American bands complementing European bands but the standard of writing in the NME by 2002 was teeth-grindingly poor. By 2005 it was unreadable and I stopped buying it after 20 years or so.
In 1985 I was 18 and was dabbling in buying the weekly music papers with a Sounds here and a Melody Maker there, but NME kept winning out over the other two because on the whole, it was better written & anyhow, I couldn’t be arsed with Heavy Metal which seemed to be the focus of the other papers. Plus the NME was openly political at a time when that was the only thing to be.
So began a habit that stretched two centuries as the NME helped develop my musical tastes as it alerted me of stuff I’d never otherwise have heard about. Which for folk born in the internet era must be a thing to try to grasp that knowledge of new music was so hard to come by as in those days it was the NME, John Peel, the odd local radio show, The Tube and whatever scraps leaked on TV.
In short, the NME was the Bible for many of us as it helped shape youth movements small and large for decades.
Everyone has a Golden Age of the paper, and for me, it’s the late 80’s spilling up to the Britpop years. Music, culture and politics all collided with the end of the 80’s giving us HIp Hop and Acid House, which gave us a well needed shot in the arm and pushed Indie music into doing wonderful, glorious things.
For a few years everything the NME showcased was turning to gold.
And in the early 90’s, the period tedious Britpop documentaries skim over as not being very interesting, the NME helped point out the fact it was an interesting time as multiple genres, and acts from anywhere could make it.
During all this time the one constant was the writing of Steven Wells who would regularly outshine colleagues who later went on to have very large mainstream success, but Wells would remain to show how a paper like NME needed someone like him who’d call something, or someone, exactly what he thought. However the paper was changing as it started jumping on the bandwagon of what came to be known as Britpop.
I cared little for the Blur versus Oasis fiasco of 1995. As it seemed false, as indeed it was a construct of record companies and the NME itself to essentially make money. Once that was over, Britpop died and a diverse vibrant UK music scene had been made dull in the NME’s image as it tried to remain relevant as it approached the 21st century and the looming threat of this new thingy called the ”internet”.
But I was reading the paper more so out of habit. Sure, sometimes it hit gold but the sense was that the 21st century brought it decline as articles would be 300 or so words attached to big pictures.
Then around 2005, after that year’s Glastonbury, I bought the review issue. Read it. Put it in a box and I’ve never bought an issue since. Sure, I’ve read it be it on a train, or in a pub or club as a copy someone had left behind but five minutes reading at best. Back in the 80’s I’d take an hour, sometimes two or three if it was a Christmas double issue, to wade through it.
And now in 2018 it dies as a print publication. The website is dreadful, and there’s dozens of great sites that cover new music, but this all said there’s something terribly sad about the NME finally ending. If it’d been done right it could have still been here to lead new generations, but it becomes history and memories and that I suppose is all we have left in the end.