For 20 years, DJmag has been in amongst it, at the vanguard of dance and electronic music culture, commentating, conversing and partying within the scene that we live and breathe.
But flashback to the start — how did it all begin? What was it like to be there? How did DJmag grow into the entity it is today?
We’re gonna go back, way back, into the mists of time, as we celebrate 20 years of DJ Magazine…
By the middle of 1991, the UK had experienced the biggest youth revolution since punk. Acid house had swept the nation in the late '80s; emanating out of black gay clubs in Chicago, it was imported through early house records ('Acid Trax' by Phuture etc) via New York, Ibiza and beyond. A host of acid house nights started up in Manchester, London and elsewhere (the Hacienda, Shoom! and so on), with DJs such as Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold, Mike Pickering, Graeme Park and Nicky Holloway playing at and starting nights in various clubs. Fuelled by ecstasy, the craze quickly moved beyond nightclubs with their inherent licensing restrictions and 'early' closing times and into a plethora of outdoor raves. The Conservative government of the time, reacting to a tabloidfuelled moral panic, soon clamped down on outlaw raver activity, authorising the Pay Party Unit to scupper the huge outdoor events in elaborate cat and mouse chases, and the new legislation brought in by Tory MP Graham Bright in 1990 massively increased the penalties for unlicensed parties. This effectively drove many of the parties back into the clubs, some of which were now allowed to open later.
As well as imported house music vinyl from Chicago and New York and techno from Detroit, the UK had birthed its own embryonic dance culture. Acts like Bomb the Bass, S'Express, Adamski, Coldcut, The Shamen, 808 State and M/A/R/R/S had even punctuated the charts, and the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays had turned a lot of indie kids onto dance-drug culture - as had Primal Scream's seminal album 'Screamadelica'. By '91, much of the music had gone darker following the ecstasy honeymoon period, and the early Warp releases - LFO, Nightmares On Wax - and early hardcore (Prodigy etc) were making their mark. It was into this mêlée that DJmag was launched in the middle of 1991, although it organically grew into its current incarnation in a bit of a roundabout way. Rewind to the backstory...
It's Just Begun
At the end of the 1980s, Jocks was a trade mag for mobile DJs concentrating largely on equipment and radio stuff. 'Smashie & Nicey' DJs like Steve Wright from BBC Radio One were featured on the cover and Tony Blackburn had a column, and although it had a dance chart in the middle, it was struggling to keep up with the emerging dance scene.
At the turn of the '90s, Tim Jeffrey was a wellconnected DJ and co-founder of house imprint Loaded Records (which would later spawn the offshoot Skint, home to Fatboy Slim). He was also a freelancer for music mag Record Mirror, putting together the four-page dance section, and he was asked by the Record Mirror publisher to take over the editorship of one of the company's other titles - Jocks. Jeffrey set about making Jocks a much more music-orientated magazine.
"It wasn't an easy task being parachuted in amongst the Jocks staff who were very set in their ways and didn't take kindly to some young, inexperienced editor telling them what to do and trying to bring in changes which they weren't in agreement with," Tim recalls. "They enjoyed a cosy world of relationships with equipment manufacturers and didn't want anything to change, despite the dance music revolution that was happening around them."
Over the next year or so, the music content of Jocks increased considerably, and it was just about to relaunch with a new name when the title was sold to Orpheus Publishing. "My job, it seemed, had been to sex up the magazine for sale - and that had been achieved," says the Loaded/ Skint man, ruefully.
"The dance music revolution was happening and there was this dinosaur magazine called Jocks, which had a stupid name that everyone took the piss out of," recalls the mild-mannered Chris Mellor (aka Chris Coco), editor from 1990-2000. "I was trying to cover the emerging scene because I was involved in it and DJing. At the time I felt extremely evangelical about it and thought it was going to change the world. It did ultimately change the cultural landscape, but obviously not any more than that."
Chris started doing the editor's job, although he admits that he didn't really have a clue what he was doing at first. "It was a complete nightmare, learning on the job, making loads of mistakes. But because I was then in control of it, I could say 'Actually, the name's really crap, we need to change it'.
Along with advertising manager Charles Ward freelancer Helene Stokes and designer Michele Allardyce, Chris started kicking around new names for the relaunch.
"The name Jocks just seemed really dated, embarrassing and trashy," recalls Helene. "A lot of it was geared towards the mobile DJs, which didn't seem very relevant to what we wanted to write about. A mobile DJ at that time took all their equipment around and was very jokey and populist, and we wanted to write about the underground dance scene that wasn't being written about. It was exciting and fresh, it needed to be covered."
After some deliberation, the name was settled upon.
"I'd wanted to call it BPM, but in the end we went with DJ because the publisher thought it was better, more inclusive," Chris Mellor says. The first issue of DJ emerged in the middle of 1991. The iconic red logo was splashed across the top of the cover with the tagline: 'New look! Still the UK's top-selling DJ magazine'. An egg-shaped blue oblong declared 'Incorporating Jocks', and the first issue of DJ itself featured Frankie Knuckles, the Ragga Twins ('Reggae Ravers') and pieces on vinyl and Belgian new beat (check out another new beat feature this issue, on p.89).
The second cover featured long-forgotten Italohouse producers Sonic Family, and in the first year house don Joey Negro, trip-hop chanteuse Nicolette, conscious hip-hop act Arrested Development, Kevin Saunderson's Inner City, rave heroes Bizarre Inc, acid house pioneer DJ Pierre, UK house dons Farley & Heller and US house bod David Morales all appeared on the cover. Taking an issue at random, August 1991: 'Energy Flash' 19-year-old sensation Joey Beltram is on the cover, and the mag interviewed him in his adopted home of Belgium. Overleaf, Moby - who had just released breakthrough track 'Go' - is interviewed, there's a debate with Kiss FM DJs Graeme Park, Colin Faver, Dave Pearce and Steve Procter, hosted by long-serving DJmag contributor Phil Cheeseman, and a report on the Swedish house scene, when any house mafia was just a distant twinkle.
To the staff, producing the magazine felt like stepping into uncharted territory. There was an established rock music industry by 1991, but dance music was still very much in its infancy. "Yeah, it needed to be hunted down," remembers Helene. "It wasn't commercial and for the masses, it was underground and subversive." "It was quite a small community in the UK at first, because there weren't that many people doing it, and there weren't that many records," says Chris. "There weren't thousands of DJs back then either, so you did know most people involved. If you were into dance music, you could keep up with it. You could go to a record shop and listen to all the new house records that had come out that week, because there would be nine - and maybe you'd buy three or four of them. And that was all there were, it wasn't like there were 500 - like there are now - on one website, and then another 400 on Beatport. Now, you can't physically listen to every house record that comes out in a week, there isn't enough time."
"We wanted to support the scene, to let people know about it, but for it to stay underground as well - a balance that was quite tricky to achieve," Helene adds. "Because we were just starting out, there was a fanzine feel about it - talking to the few people who felt the same way as you. It was for DJs, by DJs."
Indeed, the technology to produce the mag was pretty primitive at first. "When I started we didn't have computers, so I did it the old-fashioned way by sending copy off to the typesetters and pasting up galleys to be made to film," informs Michele Allardyce, the designer for the whole of the 1990s. "We basically used typesetting rulers, tracing paper, spray glue and colouring pencils! It was quite a long-winded process compared to now."
Somewhat ill-informed about early technology, the magazine bought computers with floppy disk drives, instead of hard drives.
"The computers were like glorified typewriters - you could save your work, and that was about it," says Chris. "All the layout was done physically - printed out and pasted up onto boards. It was a bit like pressing vinyl; you made a reverse print of the page which was then used by the printer."
Michele effectively learned desktop publishing on the job, as other embryonic publishing ventures did at the time. It's amazing to think about the paucity of technology back in the day, compared to 2011. There was no internet, and so no email (all copy comes in via email these days). "People would submit their copy via floppy disk, or they'd come into the office and type it in," smirks Chris. "Or it'd be faxed and someone would type it in, or worse case scenario dictated down the phone." "It was pretty manual at first, there was a lot of spray-mount and a lot of phone calls," adds Helene. "I don't know how on earth we did it then, but somehow we did."
The workload was increased when the magazine decided to go fortnightly in 1992 - it had been monthly, as most magazines were/are.
"Changing the name to DJ had already got us more record label advertising, and we worked out that the equipment manufacturers would basically pay twice in a month if we went fortnightly," says ad manager Charles Ward, who had previously been a Jehovah's Witness before being 'turned on' to house music by Back To Basics' Dave Beer in Leeds one night.
The theory ran, as well, that dance music was so fast-moving that it needed to be more current. "It was a bit anachronistic, being fortnightly," says Chris, "but we wanted to make it more frequent because there was so much happening." The mag continued being fortnightly right up to 2008, creating a continual succession of nightmare deadlines for the staff - and bemused publishers and distributors, as well as widespread ignorance by the readers that it wasn't, indeed, monthly.
Beats Per Minute
One of the key parts of the mag in the early days was the BPM reviews section, in which the reviews also told you the beats per minute of every record. "We had this guy James Hamilton, and he worked for Record Mirror before coming to DJ," remembers Chris Coco. "He'd get the vinyl and he'd listen all the way through and manually count the beats per minute by tapping on the table."
This was in the era when drum machines weren't always used in a track, so the actual beats per minute would sometimes vary slightly. Hamilton did this so that DJs would know which records were within a similar BPM range, but the practice brought its own problems, as Chris explains. "He had to listen to every single mix of every single track, so as the dance music revolution progressed and people started making double-pack vinyl with eight remixes, it would take him a day to review one record. So he was the bane of my life, because his copy was always late.
"You could see these dinosaurs being out-run as we watched," Chris continues. "Eventually I had to decide to cut what he was doing, as he never did it on time and it was irrelevant. There was a transition; it was like a generational change. There were remnants from what it used to be - a magazine for mobile DJs, like a trade magazine - and obviously there was always this conflict between the music stuff at the front and the equipment stuff at the back."
Charles Ward consolidated building up the equipment ads at the back of the mag, so that by the end of the 1990s, this section read like a 70- page Argos catalogue. All the latest record decks, mixers, lights, amps and so on were advertised here, and as DJ culture grew during the '90s - and everybody wanted to be a DJ - the equipment section effectively bankrolled the rest of the mag. "The ads at the back made all the money, but people bought it for the music stuff, and there was always a battle between editorial and advertising - as there always is on most magazines," says Chris, sagely.
The editorial team moved offices a lot in the 1990s. From being above the MTV offices in Camden, it moved to Watford for a short while and a couple of addresses in Victoria, before being taken over by Nexus Publishing - publishers of such memorable titles as Practical Woodworking and model railway and boat magazines. Nexus were actually quite successful with their special interest publishing ventures, but couldn't quite get their heads around a specialist magazine devoted to dance culture.
"They let us get on with it to a large extent," recalls Helene Stokes. "There was a feeling of a 'them and us' situation. We felt like we were let loose a bit, especially when we moved to Holborn. The bosses might say, 'We need to do this, we need to do that', and we'd kind of ignore them."
"It was a bit like a terrorist cell, the way we set it up," adds Chris. "It was our group, we knew what we were doing, we knew what it was about, and the publishers had no clue - none of them did. But because it made money, they kept it going, but they hated the fact that they didn't know what it was about and that everybody was freelance and it wasn't under their control and they couldn't tell people what to do."
As the '90s progressed, the mag became fully immersed in the broadening dance music spectrum. The staff were all going out or DJing themselves every weekend.
"We were solely focused on the various strains of dance music - that was it," says Chris Coco. "It went so fast that you didn't really think about it. "It was terribly nepotistic and undemocratic," Chris continues. "People wanted to work for the magazine, so we'd give them a small task like an album review. If they did that on time and they could write coherent sentences without too many spelling mistakes, then we'd give them another one. If they did that on time we'd give them a news story, and if they did that ok we'd give them an article - then they became part of the team. It was basically that - you could become part of the team if you had the right attitude and basically did what you said you were going to do. If you didn't, that was it."
Working DJs like John Digweed (Bedrock), Damian Harris (Skint), Andy Morris (Narcotic Thrust), Frank Tope (Rooty), Muff Fitzgerald (who later became the Spice Girls' PR) and Princess Julia (Kinky Gerlinky) were early writers for the mag, while Louise Rhodes, later of trip-hoppers Lamb, was one of the main photographers.
For the 100th issue on the 21st October 1993, the 100 Best DJs in the world - in the opinion of all the staff - were chosen. Alongside the biggest club DJs at the time - Sasha, Andrew Weatherall, Dave Angel, Dave Haslam, Justin Robertson etc - Steve Wright from Radio 1 still featured, the last bastion of personality radio jockeying. "Congratulations on your 100th issue DJ Magazine, respect," he said. The Top 100 DJs phenomenon was born.
Underworld featured on the cover in February 1994 for their fantastic breakthrough 'Dubnobasswithmyheadman' album, and while there were still soul and reggae columns in the mag in '94, the covers reflected the total immersion in dance music - US house dons like Armand van Helden and Erick Morillo, and new junglists such as DJ Rap.
The mag began cover-mounting cassette tapes, such as Tony Humphries mixing a string of Strictly Rhythm tracks and a selection from Kickin' Records, and producing some supplements given away free - the DJ Yearbook, How To Be A DJ, the Euro Club Guide and so on.
All this time, while the dance music explosion had reverberated in the UK, Ibiza was becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination for European clubbers. With its great clubs and devotion to repetitive beats, it was - and still is - a dance music Mecca. "I used to write about Manumission in the club pages when they were in Manchester, they always used to do something quite funky and different, and they invited me and Michele the designer to go to Ibiza," remembers Helene Stokes. "When we got there, we thought it needed to be written about as there was so much happening. Sue Bennison, who was living in Ibiza, said, 'Somebody needs to do a magazine'. When we went back, we said 'We need to do it', and started to work on it."
The following summer, 1995, DJ produced several Ibiza supplements, and has continued to do so to this day. "We were smitten," smiles Helene, "it became a place, and still is, that you keep going back to. It's irresistible." "It was the same reason we went to the Miami WMC, because we felt like it was relevant on our cultural planet," adds Chris Mellor. "At that time, there were tunes that came out of that place every summer that turned into hits, and it seemed like there was a lot of stuff happening there. And, of course, we wanted to go there.
"With Miami, it used to be smaller, you could go there and bump into Todd Terry and buy him a drink at the bar and have a chat," Chris continues. "Then you'd see Armand van Helden wandering around, all the people were actually at the thing all the time and you could just go up and talk to them, because there wasn't 100 fat DJs from Middle America doing that. It was just the big names, so you could literally go there and just chat to people and make gigs happen - arrange to interview people, and so on. It was really worth it. The same in Ibiza, there was enough happening on a friendly enough scale for it to work."
By the mid-90s, following the Castlemorton free festival and others, the Criminal Justice Bill had been passed by the Conservative government, attempting to outlaw unlicensed gatherings "characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats". Rave had been legislated against, but it hadn't killed the spirit - as DJmag's 'Underground Party People' cover story highlighted, featuring the Advance Party sound system, the Exodus collective from Luton and anarcho-techno terrorists Turbo Unit. This issue was followed up by a happy hardcore special, and soon after an electro special, while cover stars included d&b fiends Roni Size/Reprazent and Alex Reece, and house/chill heads A Man Called Adam. In April '97, the mag put unknown London house duo Basement Jaxx on the cover, and - again randomly picking an old issue - the 27th September '97 issue reported that Judge Jules had joined Radio One and that Erick Morillo was launching his own label, Subliminal.
A snatch of cover artists from the last months of the decade gives a good idea as to the depth of the dance scene by then: Jeff Mills, Deep Dish, Orbital, Sasha & Digweed, Richie Hawtin, Masters At Work, Nitin Sawhney, Leftfield, Laurent Garnier, LTJ Bukem, MJ Cole, Paul van Dyk, Fergie, Norman Jay, Danny Tenaglia... By now, the dance scene was massive, and various UK club brands such as Cream, Renaissance and GodsKitchen had started promoting in Ibiza. The other main dance mags at the time - Muzik, Ministry, Mixmag - all started doing their own Ibiza supplements, but none of them lasted more than a year or two.
In 1999, Sasha, Digweed, Danny Howells and Dave Seaman were on the cover under the banner 'Deep Trance: The Nu Progressive Sound of the future', but pretty rapidly - around the Millennium - trance became commercialised and exploded into the pop charts.
"It became more and more difficult to cover everything, chopping reviews up into more and more genres," remembers Chris. "To an outsider it's all the same anyway, so it became harder to keep up.
"Whoever's running a magazine has preferences, but that's not a bad thing - that's just being human. You have to make some kind of decision at some point. You don't always cover the most popular thing, you cover what you think is good - that's your job, to have an opinion."
Drugs were a part of the dance music scene, and DJmag did cover drugs issues a little bit in the 1990s, but decided in the main to concentrate on the music.
"Mixmag was going more commercial and the dance music scene was becoming more mainstream, and there was the point when Mixmag did their big drugs survey issue [in 1996]," says Chris, the '90s editor. "We had to decide to either compete with that, or focus on the music. The logic of it was that the music was the most important thing, and the other thing was that we didn't have the financial resources to compete with that, so we concentrated on what we do well - covering new music and technological changes. At that point, we decided not to go down the commercial route, and I think that's the thing that saved the magazine and why it's still going now.
"The mainstream scene is linked to pop music and it has a place, and most pop music is now related to that kind of music, but it's not dance music - music made primarily for people to dance to - it's music made to listen to on the radio, and you can dance to it. There was a point where we decided to keep it focused on music you can dance to.
"Also, you can write about drugs, but it's always the same," Chris continues. "The thing with music is there's only 12 notes but there's an infinite number of variations - so there's always a new great moment. With drugs, there aren't that many different ones, and the result is always the same, so there's not really anything to say. You can't say, 'Oh, there's some new cocaine which has got 5% more rat poison than the last time', because you still have the same results. There's nothing to say about it. It's not really interesting."
By 2000, there was the DJmag.com website in primitive form, and a tight editorial team based in a small office in Holborn. The technology was still fairly primitive - there was just one computer that could receive email via a Compuserve account that would only hold 250 emails. "It was my job on the Friday night to empty it, so that by Monday, it wouldn't have gone over the limit," recalls Helene.
"Photographers were still using film, and I signed off all the final pages for print in separate CMYK films," adds Michele Allardyce, who by now had upgraded her job title from designer to Art Director and had given the magazine a funky, distinctive look. "Of course, now you upload your digital files to the printer's website and it goes straight to plate." The staff - editor Chris Mellor, deputy ed Jim Byers, assistant editor Claire Hughes, news editor Alex Griffiths, and key freelancers such as Andy Crysell, Thomas H Green, Claire Morgan Jones, Simon Morrison, Daniel Newman, Alex C, Paul Sullivan, James Horrocks, Ian Peel (internet expert), Gordon Knott (charts guru), Daniel Duffell (Tech editor) and Ronnie Randall (Ibiza editor) - had the fortnightly operation ticking over pretty smoothly.
"The last 18 months of my time, I had it running so nicely that I didn't actually have to do anything," laughs Chris.
There was a point when the publishers Nexus wanted to move the editorial team down to Swanley in Kent to join up with the advertising team of Charles Ward, Heath Holmes and Matt Dicks, but this was resisted. However, Chris Mellor had already decided that he wanted to leave. "I wanted to do something else," Chris says. "I'd done it for the whole decade, it was a long time, and it wasn't exciting for me anymore. I knew that it was still exciting, but I wasn't feeling excited by it. I wanted to do my own stuff and do more music, so it was unfair to keep doing it."
In the summer of 2000, Chris, Jim Byers, Alex Griffiths, Daniel Duffell and Michele Allardyce all left, and newcomers Tom Kihl and myself, Carl Loben, were left holding the baby, ably assisted by part-time freelancers Claire Hughes and Helene Stokes, and new designer Sam Brown, who had worked on the Ibiza supplements over the summer. Crying out for more staff help from the publishers, we worked long hours to take it through the next few months, including the bumper 2000 Top 100 DJs edition - won by Sasha - until a new editor was brought in.
Glaswegian journalist Lesley Wright, the former editor of Scottish dance mag M8, arrived like a tornado in the office at the start of 2001.
By now, Highbury House Communications had bought the publishers Nexus, and so the whole operation was shipped to Kentish Town in north London. Placed into a large open-plan office next to other magazine titles such as Health & Fitness and Puzzles, there were issues with the sound levels of the music playing on the office stereo - checking new music obviously being an essential part of the job - but the team settled down into continually meeting those fortnightly deadlines.
"It was constant, very demanding of your time," relays Lesley. "The biggest challenge of all at first, though, was probably trying to get through a Friday after Bedrock on a Thursday night! And I'm not alone in saying that, there was some pretty disgusting face-pulling going on some Friday mornings in the office."
Other dance mags in the early noughties, with the notable exceptions of Muzik, Jockey Slut and Seven, started splashing drugs stories on their covers, but Lesley also steadfastly refused to take DJmag down that route.
"Ministry - fair play to them, their £1 pill issue did very well for them, from a newsstand point of view it was very clever, it shifted shit-loads of copies," says Lesley. "But how many times can you do that? It was a quick, fast hit and they became associated with being that kind of mag. DJmag's always been a little bit more serious about the music."
The mag continued to concentrate on the music makers and players, putting various people from the emerging breakbeat scene on the cover, or Mr C, Roni Size or electroclash hype act Fischerspooner, and the publishers pretty much left the staff to get on with it.
"Having publishers without a clue about the music or the culture was frustrating, but ultimately gave DJmag a lot more freedom," believes Tom Kihl, production editor in the early noughties and later deputy editor. "We had the ability to put pretty much whoever we wanted on the cover and write honestly, often pissing people off in the process. It was frustrating, but funny. Still, being passed around from the publishers of Model Boat mag to the publishers of Beanbag Monthly gave us a collective power to kick against, which was always good for team spirit." Plucking more random issues from the archives, Fatboy Slim was on the cover of the 13th July 2002 issue just before his second free Big Beach Boutique event in Brighton. 40,000 had turned up to the first one, and Norman Cook told us that they were maybe even expecting 60,000 for the second. In the end, a quarter of a million people brought mayhem to the seaside city, and the staff hoped that it wasn't as a direct result of the DJmag cover... The following issue - the biggest seller of the year - on 27th July 2002 saw Sasha, pipped by John Digweed for the Top 100 crown in 2001, grace the cover, with a DJ Marky-mixed V Recordings 'History Lesson' covermount CD courtesy of Bryan Gee's label - just as Marky was preparing for his Top Of the Pops appearance for sunshine Brazilian d&b behemoth 'LK'.
Death Of Dance?
Guardian journalist Alexis Petridis then pronounced that dance music was dead in 2002, and it was certainly true that in the UK, the superclub bubble had burst.
DJ fees - and consequently door prices - for Millennium parties had been excessive, and there was a bit of a backlash from clubbers against superstar DJs and superclubs like Cream and Ministry. However, DJmag knew that there was life in the old dog yet, particularly internationally, and continued to cover all bases.
"That was a shitty time to be steering the magazine through," remembers Lesley Wright. "Everyone started saying dance music was dead, but we continued to fly the flag, and I think that gave the dance music industry some stability and a bit of hope. If DJmag had folded then, it would've been a sure sign that dance music was a bit fucked. But we managed to navigate through the shit and continued plugging what we believed in. And we came out the other side."
As it was, Ministry mag folded in late 2002, and Muzik and Jockey Slut went the following year. But DJmag found new acts to champion, giving people like Röyksopp and Mylo their first covers and coming up with a new CD covermount series - the 'World Series', featuring Umek from Slovenia (techno), Dieselboy from Philadelphia (d&b), Anderson Noise from Brazil (tech-house), Phil K (Aus, breaks) etc - to reflect the dance scene's increasing international outlook. One covermount idea though, a set of DJ Top Trumps playing cards, got the publishers in trouble with the Top Trumps people who were about to revive their brand. Oops. Having been through several designers in quick succession, the layout was looking a bit uninspired, but then a guy called Giles Arbery (now NME Art Director) came in and revamped the mag so that it looked funky again. Photographer Chris Davison started to be used a lot for cover shoots, and he'd do a lot of post-production Photoshop work on the images to, essentially, make two ugly bald blokes look cool.
The parent company had by now merged with another magazine publisher, WVIP, and briefly moved the office to Old Street, before going back to Kentish Town. Then the magazine was sold to Future Publishing - one of the largest UK media companies.
This brought about a sea change akin to a dance act signing to a major label. Suddenly, DJmag was owned by a corporate company, and although they were undoubtedly professional, they sucked the life out of the mag a little bit, according to editor Lesley Wright.
"They tried to impose editorial policies that they had with their other mags onto DJmag, but DJmag wasn't like any of their other magazines and so it was a recipe for disaster," she says. "It was difficult, there was almost too much bureaucracy, there were meetings about meetings, which were all good in theory, but when you're producing a fortnightly mag with a relatively small team, those meetings became a little time-consuming."
End Is A Start
Nevertheless, music group publisher Chris Ingham - who also dealt with Metal Hammer and Classic Rock - was probably the most clued-up publisher to date the magazine team had to deal with. He tried to trim any excesses and even went out to Space in Ibiza with some of the team to try to understand the dance world a bit better. He oversaw the Top 100 DJs poll becoming more of an awards ceremony by introducing gongs for Highest House DJ, Highest Drum & Bass DJ and so on, so there was more of an awards ceremony rather than just giving a trophy to the winner, and brought in temps for three months so that editor Lesley and new designer Olly Skinner could work on a revamp of the mag.
By now, DJmag had linked up with DJDownload to guide people reading music reviews towards a download store, reflecting the revolution in the way dance music was being bought by DJs. However, after only 18 months, the bosses at Future decided they wanted to let go of DJ, along with a string of other mags. They announced that the magazine would close, if a buyer could not be found. Was this the end of the road?
The staff all went to the pub to mourn its possible demise, but behind the scenes, a bidding process was going on. After a short while, the potential buyers boiled down to two companies - the two-man publishing team behind the Music Industry Manual (James Robertson and Martin Carvell), and the huge dance music conglomerate Ministry Of Sound. "We entered into a David and Goliath battle, which was fantastic," recalls Lesley Wright.
"I think Ministry were more interested in the brand than the people who made the brand, they made it quite clear that they may not even have kept DJmag in a magazine format very soon after their acquisition. They were more interested in online, and the brand."
Future went with the MIM guys - the people behind the small independent company that still publishes DJmag to this day. "I think Future trusted us to look after the magazine and the staff, and that we had experience of publishing within dance music," says Managing Director Martin Carvell, who has proven himself to be very hands-on in the day-to-day running of the mag without interfering editorially. "There was also a healthy combination of chicanery and subterfuge. Who wouldn't want to buy the best dance music mag in the world? It seemed like a good fit."
The team upped from the corporate Future building in Baker Street to a less salubrious office in the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane in trendy east London - where it remains today. Deputy editor Tom Kihl and news/website ed Terry Church soon departed to be replaced by trusted freelancers Ben Murphy and Allan McGrath, and one of the first things the new publishers set about doing was licensing the brand internationally.
"It was a no-brainer, really," says publisher James Robertson. "There was incredible interest abroad for the DJ brand. It's a great way to increase your presence in foreign markets very rapidly - and we get paid for it! Currently, we have some big markets covered - Germany, Italy, China, Brazil, Mexico and Spain - and we will be launching DJ Weekly in the USA by the end of 2011."
The mag switched to being monthly, a more manageable time-frame, and there were more staff changes after a year or so in Brick Lane with business manager Charles Ward and ad man Michael Theanne moving on to pastures new. Just before the end of the noughties, Lesley Wright announced, too, that she was moving on.
"For the mag to be fresh, it has to have new blood at the helm every so often," she believes. "For the sake of the magazine and my own personal development, you have to move onto the next chapter or there's a danger of becoming staid."
There's little doubt that the stability of having just two editors in charge for virtually a decade each has helped the mag's viability - a bit like how Arsenal and Man Utd have had the same managers for many years - and now with music aficionado Ben Murphy in the editor's chair and a new team, the magazine has entered an exciting new phase. With the monthly magazine now available on the iPad, the free digital DJ Weekly up-and-running for a year, and an app available for the Top 100 DJs (with the Top 100 Clubs app to follow), the ways of interacting with readers - who still include everyone from bedroom DJs right up to yer David Guettas and so on - are ever-changing.
Twenty years of DJ Magazine, then. Phew! The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: it's been the people and the DJs and the music that have made it. There have been some huge changes in this fantastic culture we call dance music - stylistic and technological - and with the role of the DJ, and DJmag has tried to reflect these all along the line.
Thanks for coming along with us for the ride. Here's to the next 20 years