Friday, 2 November 2007

Stylus Eulogy / Obituary

This is an article which I wrote for the International Mixtape Project website. it should be up there in a few days. This is a sneak preview (mainly to test the html works)

Stylus Eulogy / Obituary

When I heard the news of Stylus Magazine’s closure it was from checking the website on Monday morning of the 29th October. It took me a little while to register as I scanned the blurbs of each feature, until I saw the little bar across the top of the page which announced, undeniably, that Stylus would no longer be publishing from Wednesday 31st October. A flicker of genuine grief rose in my chest, flashed red across my cheeks wavered against slight self-conscious embarrassment then sank quickly and heavily into my gut where it pulled and gnawed at the pit of it for pretty much the rest of the day. As much as I wanted to think they were faking their own death in some kind of crazy way-out-there Halloween feature, or just taking a hiatus to reemerge the other side of the year meaner, tighter, sharper than ever I had a harrowing feeling that this was it, and as the three days counted down and the final articles and thoughts appeared the truth sank in deep and clearly. We had made it to the end.

How could I have ever realized the extent of my affection for the site if it continued to exist? Quite simply, I would never have. I would have continued taking it for granted, cursing the reviews that countered my own feelings, flicking in and out of it during work hours to keep an eye on fellow commenters, slinging barbs and ill-formed ideology at chinks in arguments. I would have continued to half read reviews of albums that disinterested me simply through having a rubbish name, finding that many weeks later those same bands would reveal themselves to me, after which time I would return to the review, read it thoroughly and engage with the sentiments. A situation I now blithely refer to as the Pissed Jeans Effect.
So many writers with such a wealth of skill, knowledge and nuance behind the words, none of them chasing egos or out trying to claim badges of coolness. Though sometimes I was sure Dom Passantino and Alfred Soto were deliberately trying to anti-cool intimidate anyone coming within 20 feet of a haircut. Those were as marvelous pieces to read as the ones which conjured images, which provoked reaction, which plumbed the recesses of the author’s imaginations as well as the limitations of conventional journalism. Stewart Voegtlin produced a piece on Wold’s Screech Owl which reconfigured the album into a form and style you were unlikely to read on any other pop-culture website. Nick Southall wrote reviews with so much detail and observation you could read them over again and come out with new insights each time. Probably the greatest piece of writing to grace the site was Nicks. Imperfect Sound Forever made it into Da Capo’s Best Music Writing series, caused a complete furore in the comments box and influenced 65 Days Of Static in recording The Destruction Of Small Ideas. It is grandiose, but not inaccurate, to suggest that without Nick’s article this album would never have sounded so overwhelming. Todd Burns was right to open the Bluffers Guide with it, it is a remarkable piece of writing.

It wasn’t always the reviews and articles that were the most compelling feature of the site. The comments system was a playground for readers righteous, misrepresented and slighted to vent spleen against the music and writers; a place to offer words of praise and reinforcement in times of agreement. They allowed readers to claim a tiny slice of the site as their own, to leave their mark on it. A kind of reciprocal relationship formed over the years and whether that was Todd Burn’s intention when he took the risk of allowing comments he, perhaps unwittingly, created the environment for sentimental music freaks like me to end the life of the site sporadically welling up over the farewell articles. Derek Miller especially has a way of ending each year with a thoroughly heartbreaking piece of Year End Thoughts, but this Closing Time one? I was pure greetin’ into my mo(u)rning coffee. But before that, there were tears of mirth and some utterly insane exchanges courtesy of the enigma that was The Disexists until the whole commenting ball rolled into a head-on collision with Mr Burns as he slammed his iron fist down hard over Xmas 06 during the Top 50 Albums countdown. I have lots of people to thank on that site for adding extra discourse to the thought provoking material of the staff – namely GrandBanks, Florenz6, Raskolnikov, Terrorist (who just revealed himself as TheDisexists – that’s a shock), CWPerry, BoilingBoy – there’s loads more, but these are the names at the top of my head, and they all contributed to my experience of the site and kept me returning to it as more than daily routine. One of the ways I can tell I actually had some kind of relationship with it, was that Stylus even had the dubious honour of being one of the only sites I visited when drunk as evinced by several wayward and ill-conceived comments on my part. I think Bryan Berge took this one rather well. Apologies Bryan.

In David Moore’s ‘Pop Playground Sugar Shock #002: MySpacing, Part I’ (phew, some title), he introduced me to Brie Larson. Possibly the greatest pop star ever; most definitely my favourite. Even though, as far as I can tell, she never actually does much of the Pop bit. After Neon Bible came out she and I spent about a whole month slapping Arcade Fire lyrics on each other’s MySpaces, I sent her some stuff for her Bunnies and Traps and she even gave me a mention when she came back to Stylus for an interview. Very oblique mind, but then she’s that kind o’ gal.

One thing that always provoked strong reactions from the readers, and reminded me that we were always reading the work of people who knew an immense amount of music in detail were the Top Tens. Some of them were cruelly hilarious, especially the Friday ones which cut loose and really amused and antagonized. This one’s great in itself and for the comments underneath too: Top Ten Most Welcome Movie Deaths

Of all the articles posted on Stylus, probably the one that has the most lasting impact on me was the Shops We Love feature. Kind of useless to me being as most of them were based in the US, until I read about Aquarius Records. Thanks to one curious click I am now several notes shorter every month with a swelling collection of brain melting psychedelia of both the multicoloured and monochrome kinds.

I now realize I have so much to this site to be grateful for: Albums and bands Stylus has introduced me to over the years through reviews – mostly American bands that took another couple of years to really break into the UK music press, but which Stylus put me on to sooner - include, but is in no way limited to The Hold Steady, Of Montreal, The New Pornographers, Surkin, Wold, Ian Mather’s Goslings review was another benchmark, Gui Boratto, The Besnard Lakes, Birchville Cat Motel, Caribou, Richard Villalobos, Villains, Candy Bars, IsoleĆ©, Horse Feathers, Wolf Parade.....Hundreds of intricate and thorough label profiles which placed them inside contexts and revealed the motivations and tribulations behind them including Anticon, Ajna Offensive, Aurora Borealis, Catbird, Kranky, the Universal Music Group, Rykodisc, Relapse, Facedown, Merge, Touch And Go, Violent Turd.....

And of course, I wouldn’t be a member of the International Mixtape Project today if it wasn’t for Rob Lott’s impassioned portrayal of Ryan’s baby.

The lists of everything Stylus has done for me could go on forever. But then, now rather, I realise they can’t because it is no more. A finite site cast adrift.

So Stylus, thank you and farewell. You were truly the greatest music website going and you will be sorely missed. Keep your archives alive as relic, legacy and testament to what should be achievable for those you have left behind and those that will be in the future.


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