Friday, May 22, 2009

Plan B R.I.P.

I'm very sad to hear that Plan B magazine is to close. As others have pointed out, it wasn't the web that necessarily did for Plan B: the advertising recession meant it was no longer possible to keep the magazine going without cutting staff, pages and print quality. They did the right thing to quit while they were ahead: nobody would want something as special as Plan B to fall into terminal decline like Melody Maker or other magazines. It's a serious blow for music journalism. Plan B allowed its contributors the kind of freedom that had all but disappeared from the mainstream music press, and its passion, wit and intelligence was a joy to behold, even when you disagreed strongly with a writers' opinion. It looked amazing too, with beautiful photographs and illustrations that captured the personality of the music.

This feels like the end of an era. I first picked up Plan B's predecessor, Careless Talk Costs Lives, when I moved to Glasgow to study journalism in 2002. Increasingly frustrated by the NME and a bit bored of Mojo's dad rockness, I needed something that directed me to the world of possibilities I sensed was surely out there. Meeting my Beard co-conspirator Neil Jacques, and discovering Stephen Pastel's then recently opened Monorail record store were important factors in my awakening, but CTLC played a huge role in my exploration of unknown realms. At first it seemed infuriating. I'd never really been a big Melody Maker reader, so I was perhaps unprepared for Everett True's wildly opinionated and personal writing. This was not how we were being told to write in journalism class! But I soon came to love the magazine's approach, and came to trust its writers' integrity and passion. CTCL tore the retrogressive bullshit of NME's trumpeted New Rock Revolution to pieces, all the while pointing me to the good shit. The magazine also had a strong sense of underground music history, and with Neil's record collection and a shop like Monorail at hand, it wasn't difficult to access the likes of Daniel Johnston or Jad Fair - indeed, both artists performed wonderful shows in Glasgow during the summer of 2003. CTCL was the first place I read about Peter Brotzmann, thanks to a free jazz roundup by the excellent Jon Dale. The striking illustration (apologies, I don't have a copy at hand to credit the artist) of a walrus 'tasched bezerker made me think, 'I wanna check that crazy motherfucker out'. I didn't actually get round to that for another few of years, but a seed was planted.

Plan B continued what CTCL had started, but thanks to the direction of Frances Morgan, developed its own personality. It was broader in scope, perhaps a little less cranky, but still hugely characterful. While indie-rock focused, it had the confidence to cover grime, techno, dubstep, noise, metal, experimental music and pop in a passionate, knowledgeable manner. As a poster on the Plan B forum put it, a magazine that can write about Keiji Haino alongside Britney is right up my street. I'm really proud to have contributed to recent issues, albeit in a minor way, and have my modest efforts placed alongside pieces by such intimidatingly great writers as Frances, Neil Kulkarni, Everett True, Joseph Stannard, Petra Davis, Kicking K, Lauren Strain, Miss AMP, Richard Stacey, George Taylor, Nicola Meighan, Daniel Barrow, Euan Andrews, Louis Pattison, John Doran, Matt Evans, Melissa Bradshaw et al.

The CTCL and Plan B forums have been lively and friendly places over the years, helping me through several crappy temp jobs and various episodes of personal angst. The forums introduced me to all kinds of amazing music, books and films, and, most importantly, to some wonderful people. It began for me when a few of us Glasgow posters realised we were all going to the same gigs. A meet up was surely in order. Good times and great friendships ensued, and various ATP's, Green Man's and other festivals brought posters from further afield together. We even ended up meeting some of the Plan B staff, who turned out to be as generous, friendly and righteous as their writing suggests. This open and good natured spirit continues. It's no great exaggeration to say that CTCL and Plan changed my life.

As the staff have pointed out, this is not the end, but an opportunity for new beginnings. I can't wait to see what its staff and contributors get up to next and wish them all the best for the future.

Finally, let me direct you to some excellent posts by Everett True, Daniel Barrow, Jon Dale and Ned Ragget.


Milo said...

As a subscriber and big fan of the mag I'm also sad about this. I came to it a little later than yourself and it took me a few issues to get used to the style also, but for me it was a great place to find out about the weird and the wonderful oddities that weren't necessarily covered anywhere else and I loved the photos and illustration. A damn shame - is there any future in print at all or should we all just forget it?

Danyal said...

Plan B to end? No! I had no idea.

I also took a while to come around to the magazine's style. I bought a copy of CTCL and remember dismissing it as fashionista bullshit, and I think the writing style had a lot to do with that. But gradually I came to appreciate that CTCL and Plan B were covering more interesting music than MOJO, although I still read that occasionally.

Maybe print really is dieing. Scary thought.

Anonymous said...

Was it really a lack of advertising that did for Plan B, or was it the case (as Kickin K admitted on Drowned in Sound) that had they had more readers a drop in advertising revenue would have been less of a problem?

At the risk of being facetious, no advertising is no problem if you have enough readers, and no readers is no problem if you have enough (admittedly stupid - if they are going to advertise in a mag with no readers!) advertisers. Plan B may have been cut short by a drop in advertising revenue, but had it had more readers it might have been OK.

My second point is regards the writing. It was good, but I am not sure it was great, though some was. (Legendary Miss AMP's ultra-legendary Grinderman piece springs to mind). That is not to say that Plan B did not piss on the opposition. Nothing I have seen for years comes close. But having just read Neil K on Drowned in Sound talking about music journalism, I am far from convinced that most Plan B writing was great by his - a Plan B writer's - definition, let alone mine. I first picked up Plan B for one reason and one reason only, Everett True. I put down Plan B for a variety of reasons, but one of the main ones was that little f the writing came close to matching ET or Miss AMP at their best.

The magazine was absolutely not 'fashionista bullshit', but it was very cliquey and I for one got the impression that it was more wilfully obscure than it needed to be. Again there are much worse crimes than that.

And forgetting the words, just think about the look and feel and smell of the mag... that won't be beaten in a hurry.

Stewart said...

Sure, but great writing alone doesn't make a great magazine. I like ET's writing and approach, but I don't always agree with him or share his enthusiasms (post-punk and 60s girl groups aside) Whereas there are other, more transparent writers who have had more of an impact on my taste. Plan B was great because of its range of voices and its passion for new music. While I had my favourite writers, I most looked forward to Plan B as a way of learning about new music.