Jul 09

Hip Young Gunslingers

FT17 comments • 2,704 views

It might have been the death of Steven Wells, or the closure of VIBE, or just people having a tired old moan, but there’s been a lot of mulling over the state of music writing this last couple of weeks. It seemed to me that one obvious thing to do if you’re interested in this question might be to see where new music writers are coming from and what they’re getting up to.

In the grand tradition of getting other people to do my work for me I went to a couple of places and asked – who’s good under 25? Some people rightly pointed out you didn’t have to be under 25 to be a good new music writer. I agree, and I haven’t checked the ages of this lot. It’s also true that you can be under 25 and pretty well-seasoned: Jessica Popper has been blogging for well over 5 years; Matt LeMay (whose age I’m not sure of) is a Pitchfork vet and has a book out. Both were mentioned, but I figured “new” was a stretch in those cases.

Otherwise, everyone who was named – or named themselves! – is in. I trust my Twitter/Tumblr follows enough to feel they won’t sell me many pups. Some would have been on any list I made, some I’d never heard of! You may look at this lot and say “Music writing? Yup, it’s a goner”. You may find a few things to add to your RSS. I’m not going to editorialise – at least not until we’ve got through the names…

Brandon Soderberg writes No Trivia, which has a mostly hip-hop focus. His latest post is a link to his excellent, informative unpicking of Baltimore, Philly and New Jersey club music, their scenes and sociologies. Oh yeah, and he co-writes a comic blog too!

David Drake ADMITTED IN HIS OWN WORDS to being 26, but shhh – he has a blog (linked) but does a bunch of stuff for paid publications: here’s him reviewing everyone’s favourite hip-hop LP of 2009.

Nick Minichino not only tumblrs, he did stuff for Idolator. I dunno if this precisely counts as “music writing” so here he is discussing Christopher Weingarten’s take on rockcrit.

Kate Richardson is another Idolator alumnus tho according to editor Maura she doesn’t want to stick with music journalism. (This is kinda sorta a theme as we’ll discuss later).

Rodney J Greene was mentioned by loads of different people – he writes for The Singles Jukebox, for which William B Swygart has recruited a mighty force of rakish young blades and grizzled old tars. The Jukebox is awesome but if you want to see Greene cut loose at greater length here’s his piece on Georgia Ann Muldrow’s “New Orleans” for his Sidewayz R&B series over at Cave 17.

Jordan Sargent is one-third of hip-hop blog So Many Shrimp (linked – David Drake is another 1/3), also writes for the Jukebox, and does incisive R’n’B and hip-hop stuff for Popmatters: here’s him on Ciara’s much-tinkered-with Fantasy Ride.

Iain Forrester is another Jukebox dude with more of an indie rock bent on his own blog.

Renato Pagnani nominated himself for which a big thumbs up! He’s a Jukeboxer and his blog often adds gloss on those entries, with extra (mostly hip-hop) material like this Durrty Goodz review.

Joe Colly is a new(ish) Pitchfork contributor. I know from experience that what you review for P4K isn’t the best guide to your own taste but his beat seems to be the electronic/indie/psych crossover zone. Here he is on Telepathe.

Ian Cohen is another Pitchfork writer, hugely prolific but his most notorious contribution is certainly his (entirely accurate) Airborne Toxic Event review, which goaded the band into a rather mealy-mouthed “open letter” in response. Like a lot of the people mentioned, he used to write for the late Stylus webzine.

Andrew Unterberger started writing for Stylus when he was 17, which probably puts him in the ‘vets’ category: he’s now counting down his (pop-friendly) top 100 of the decade on his own blog.

Theon Weber doesn’t seem to have a blog, so I’m grateful for his googlability. He used to write for Stylus too, and now writes for a bunch of print outlets, including the Village Voice: his take on Eminem’s latest.

Ethan Stanislawski writes for Prefix and Blogcritics (mostly as a theatre critic) – his own weblog, Tynan’s Anger (linked) is currently on hiatus.

Dan Weiss is music editor for the indie-centric online mag Lost At Sea. I liked this less formal meeting-a-band piece from his own blog.

Thom Gibbs – another self-nominator! – does stuff for Drowned In Sound and The Guardian: here he has a go at the album showcase gig and reviews Future Of The Left.

Hazel Robinson writes for this very site and was named by almost all the people I know in real life. (I know Hazel in real life too.) She writes for BBC Chartblog, but my favourite thing she’s written is this excellent piece about being a McFly fan.

Felicia Alexandersson does the MP3 blog First Up! which is rather good. More on MP3 blogs in the round-up comments.

Alex Ostroff is another Jukeboxer. (My googling was hindered by a film director Alex Ostroff, so if there’s more stuff out there let me know!)

And Melissa Bradshaw who is a few years outside the nominal age bracket but it would be a shame not to mention her blog as it is so great.

That’s your lot. Not selected by me, so what do I make of it en masse?

The first thing that strikes me is how many of the names I was given are writing about hip-hop, R&B, dubstep, funky, rave and other urban musics. This is partly a reflection of my tastes but on the other hand I have a whole load of pop and indie rock contacts. I’d guess that it’s easier to become a good young writer working on this stuff because i. there isn’t a pantheon of legendary critics to nearly the same extent as there is in rock, so it’s more exciting to find a language that works. And ii. to the extent that there ARE legendary critics, they’ve mostly stopped raving themselves and are thus ripe for a bit of iconoclasm.

The second thing is that only a couple of MP3 blogs were nominated. Now admittedly the lines have blurred and almost all blogs with extended writing would also offer MP3s or mixes, so perhaps this is a specious distinction. But I think – as well as the justifiable issues people have with some bloggers’ total avoidance of criticism – the curatorship involved in MP3 blogging isn’t necessarily seen as a kind of ‘writing’ or ‘criticism’. This is wrong: if you look at something like FirstUp!, the writing and the music dance together and the creation of a compelling host/persona is even MORE important than it ever was in the music press days.

A third thing: the list as it stands is male-heavy to say the least. Of course I left out Jessica P for long service, and two other women were mentioned – our friend Cis and DJ Sara Manara. But they were mentioned explicitly in the context of not being music writers, or even writers – just people who happened occasionally to touch on music. This is a familiar thing – a lot of the best conversers about music would never self-identify as “music critics”. Not out of shyness, just incomprehension. They might identify as being writers, or commentators, something like that.

When I think of my favourite music criticism of the 00s, what springs to mind aren’t pieces at all mostly – more experiences: great conversations, epic blog battles, forums going apeshit for a new release. None of that really fits into the traditional British model of music criticism – mateyness plays a part, for sure, all hacks together! But the conversation happens as something secondary to the real work of the lone groover at his typewriter or keyboard. We still don’t have a great understanding of how to build spaces where brilliant conversations about music happen.


  1. 1
    Tom on 17 Jul 2009 #

    (Maybe worth pointing out that the REASON we know Hazel R is that she turned up in our pop community one day and was awesome.)

  2. 2
    Nick Southall on 17 Jul 2009 #

    That, I think Tom, is the great thing about ILM; it may look like it’s still 1998 and occaisonally be a war zone, but it allows communication in a way we’re still learning how to deal with. Most of my noughties music writing memories come from there.

    I’m also filled with a warm glow that so many of these names are Stylus alumni. I hoe Todd is reading.

  3. 3
    Lex on 17 Jul 2009 #

    I think that myspace link for Manara might be out of date, I know they’ve abandoned the Faggatronix moniker – I should probably link Dot Alt, the blog she’s affiliated with but hasn’t recently posted on. The other contributors to that are worth noting too – her bf Alex Bok Bok is also a DJ who happens to be a great music writer, and I think even fits into the age limit here, plus Dan Hancox who doesn’t but is still a great writer.

  4. 4
    Lex on 17 Jul 2009 #

    On a purely musical tip, I highly recommend the Cheasleauen tracks still on the FirstUp! front page, esp “Jelly”.

  5. 5
    Jessica on 17 Jul 2009 #

    Thanks to whoever nominated me! I can’t believe I am too well seasoned to ne included in an under 25 list when I’m only 21! I must leave the house more often.

  6. 6
    Alexander Ostroff on 17 Jul 2009 #

    “But the conversation happens as something secondary to the real work of the lone groover at his typewriter or keyboard. We still don’t have a great understanding of how to build spaces where brilliant conversations about music happen.”

    And this is a central problem, especially as space for criticism as it has existed up until now gradually disappears. Conversation is usually more fruitful, interesting and revelatory than individual pieces. However, even the creation of a network of continuous conversation between ‘critics’/commentators/etc. will be vaguely insular by its very nature (Hello, ILX). How does one create a public conversation about music that is informative, engaging, not too insular for public consumption and rewarding to participants…No answers, but this seems to be the utopian ideal. Which, honestly, sounds like something resembling Stylus and I’m not sure how successful that model was in the end.

    Frank (Kogan) has written some v. good pieces on this dilemma without coming to a real conclusion yet.

    P.S. Thanks for the mention, Tom. Flabbergasted, honestly, as I’m not sure if I’ve done anything of note. But it’s much appreciated nonetheless.

  7. 7
    Tom on 17 Jul 2009 #

    I’m not to be thanked! I’m simply the clearing house for unknown benefactors! But very glad to know you have a blog Alex.

  8. 8
    Nick Southall on 18 Jul 2009 #

    The Stylus ‘model’ was really just to be an online magazine – it’s just that we nicked a whole load of people from ILM to be contributors and so they had that context for discourse.

  9. 9
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Jul 2009 #

    vaguely insular by its very nature

    yes, the problem really with my valorisation of the nme was that you only had to step back a couple of steps, and look from a broader perspective, and the thing that i’m saying was awesome was just the jargony chatter of the cognoscenti, that no one else seemed to understand or care about

    (ps i keep hearing that the “critical space” is closing: is this true though? what is happening that people are saying it? obviously there are stances and ideologies that have gone out of fashion — and magazines that have gone out of business — but i’d say there was far more crit than there was when i was a teenager: is it a “bad money drives out good” argument? that more crit has meant lamer crit?)

  10. 10
    koganbot on 18 Jul 2009 #

    Well, more crit has meant more lame crit, but then of course it would; it’s probably also meant more pretty good crit, but it doesn’t seem to have meant more great crit.

    Tom, if I’d known we were allowed to cheat on age I’d have nominated Dave Moore and Erika Villani. (Actually, I’m not positive that Erika isn’t younger than 25, but her MySpace says she’s 101.)

  11. 11
    Tom on 18 Jul 2009 #

    Dave would have been thrown out on veteran grounds – he created the Pitchfork effect ;)

  12. 12
    unlogged moggy on 18 Jul 2009 #

    Which reminds me, I should really idk, WRITE SOME THINGS soonish. I do also write for Thrash Hits and some other places I temporarily can’t remember because I am still a bit hungover.

    I reiterate my point re: I thought Rodney Greene was well old. Sorry Rodney! It’s weird how the internets (particularly the Jukebox) distort age; there are probably loads and loads of bloggers/writers out there under twenty five but I tend to assume everyone’s older than me unless they explicitly state otherwise. This is partly because I have forgotten that I am no longer eighteen.

  13. 13
    Ned R. on 19 Jul 2009 #

    I thought Rodney Greene was well old. Sorry Rodney!

    A whippersnapper he. And a damn good one. And a great dance critic, especially when describing how critics dance. :-D

  14. 14
    masonic boom on 20 Jul 2009 #

    Damn, I forgot to actually send you some names – stupid swine flu – but the best young writers about music that I know.. well, again, thing is, they’re not specifically writers *about* music. They’re kids, all about 17/18, obviously music is a huge part of what they do, but what’s most brilliant about them is the way they write about the intersection of music and their lives in their own blogs.

    A gang of girls called Yas, Rowan, Eleanor, Liz and Beccatron. They do a collective blog: http://fffap.blogspot.com/ but they never seem to update it, but the thing is, their best writing is often NOT on that blog at all (where they seem to become all formal) but in individual, sometimes even private livejournal entries.

    They have adventures, they chase around the country following bands they love, having these personal experiences with the music – as well as sometimes personal interactions with the musicians that create it. I don’t fetishise youth at all – quite the reverse – but they’re just so bright and energetic and open to things. ROWAN in particular just has this distinctive individual voice – and then she has this double act she does with Eleanor which is just so whip-sharp.

    They really make me see music in different ways – you know, I’m old and cynical, and I often don’t see the point of certain artists. Listening to them enthuse about – even something I’m not keen on like The Horrors – it makes me understand what people see in it. I really do feel like I’m listening with fresh ears when I read their stuff.

  15. 15

    […] This is an interesting attempt at writing an interesting post about a new generation of music critics. Still, what else would you expect from such a consistently interesting website? […]

  16. 16
    Roque S on 4 Aug 2009 #

    Woo woo for young ‘uns!

  17. 17
    John on 6 Oct 2009 #

    Pretty sure Ian Cohen is, like, 29!

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