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The Big Takeover February 10, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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The Big Takeover

The Big Takeover

I used to buy a lot of music magazines. It used to be the main way I could find out about music that might interest me, because radio wasn’t doing that. Commercial radio didn’t play much I cared for, and though campus radio stations often did, DJs would too often play endless sets without breaks, so by the time they bothered to tell us what we’d heard (assuming they actually did) I’d have no idea which artist name and song title went with a song I might have liked.

So, magazines. I liked Creem back around 1980; they covered mainstream rock, but they also covered a lot of punk and other underground/independent music. Heavy Metal is an adult comic book, but for a while around 1980-81 Lou Stathis had one of the best music review columns going. I also picked up the occasional UK music paper (NME, Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Sounds), and in 1985 a new magazine started publication: Spin. I bought and read every issue up to 1999 or so. I bought Alternative Press for years, until it dropped its diversity of coverage and focused on nu-metal and mall punk. I read Option until it went under, and Reflex until it disappeared. I occasionally picked up issues of more specialized magazines dealing with punk, goth, electronic music, alt country, even swing revival. I still pick up XLR8R when I can find it, and Magnet’s a worthwhile alt/indie rock magazine.

But The Big Takeover is something special.

The Big Takeover 33 (1993)

The Big Takeover 33 (1993)

I first heard about it in Alternative Press. BT editor/writer Jack Rabid had a column there for a while, and it mentioned his own magazine. When I finally saw a copy, it had a cover story on the great and underappreciated Kitchens of Distinction, plus features on various other shoegazer, punk, and new wave bands. That was in 1993 and I haven’t missed an issue since.

BT is not your average music mag. It’s dense, with long feature interviews by people who really know the music of the people they’re interviewing. It’s fanzinelike in its devotion and dedication to the bands who fit the magazine’s description of “music with heart.” Their cover features over the last few years include Death Cab for Cutie, REM, the New Pornographers, the Shins, the Decemberists, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Wilco, Stereolab, and Belle and Sebastian. Each issue also has a massive reviews section starting with Rabid’s top 40 releases since the last issue, a few dozen more reviews by Rabid, and then hundreds more by a gradually shifting group of reviewers.

You could argue that the kind of music BT covers is also covered by a lot of blogs and websites, like Pitchfork, but that’s really not the same sort of thing. Because it only publishes twice a year, BT isn’t about being on top of the band that’s going to be the biggest thing on Earth five minutes from now and history ten minutes from now. There’s coverage of classic ’60s rock bands, ’70s and ’80s punk/new wave/postpunk bands, bands that have been around for years but are still going strong, and new bands that don’t just look like flashes in the pan. It’s also about enthusiasm, not snark. It’s the kind of magazine you read and put on a bookshelf to go back to later, not the kind that goes into the recycling a few days after you buy it.

It’s not perfect. As Rabid has added more reviewers to his mag, he’s included some whose writing styles annoy the hell out of me, and he’s included one or two who cover the occasional prog or hair metal album, which to me seems diametrically opposed to the point of the magazine. There are also fewer really long interview features than there used to be, and too many short front-of-book interviews that could as easily have appeared in a weekly urban listings guide. And, inevitably, I’ve developed other musical interests that just aren’t covered in BT.

But it’s still always something to enjoy. This time around there’s the second half of a two-part article on the 50 best roots reggae albums, and most of the big feature articles look good, especially Devo and Johnny Rotten. The web may be the place to keep up with what’s happening in, say, dubstep, but I’ll keep buying BT as long as it comes out on paper.

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