Iconic music and current affairs publication Rolling Stone is coming to South Africa, promising to be ‘ahead of the curve in discovering new talent and paying tribute to local artists’.
*First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2011/ 10/16.
“Rolling Stone South Africa”. It’s worth pausing there to stop, and read it again. One of the most iconic titles in the history of magazine publishing is coming to South Africa. Pre-launch, which is unequivocally positive, seems to be equal parts of “that’s too good to be true” and “what’s taken them so long?” The US-based magazine, hailed as both a bastion of independent publishing and as a cultural taste-maker, had been twice approached with offers for a South African edition, without success. Then, in July this year, they said yes to a proposal by a team headed by publisher Mohammed Khan, CEO of 3i Publishing; Editor-in-Chief Miles Keylock, veteran music journalist and South African Music Awards judge who has helmed everything from independent music start-up “Collapse” through to the music sections for publications like “GQ” and “Mail & Guardian”; and as Creative Director, multiply awarded visual designer Georgia Gardner (who took “Obrigado” to countless SAPPI and PICA magazine awards).
The team’s heavyweight credentials continue, with chief photographic duties falling to internationally acclaimed artist Pieter Hugo, with consulting and contributing editors in the form of SAMA-winning rapper and online hip-hop community founder Siya ‘Slikour’ Metane (of Skwatta Kamp and ReverbNation fame); award-winning journalist and SAMA judge, Diane Coetzer and, as marketing strategist, BrandsRock CEO Mike Joubert. In free and fair disclosure, as would any other journalist worth her or his salt, this journalist leapt at the chance to also contribute to the launch issue. It hits newsstands in mid-November, with a cover and lead feature shrouded in secrecy, although perfectly fitting with the launch theme, “home is where the music is”.
“We made it happen through a series of conversations,” says Keylock, taking a welcome break from his computer screen in the sun outside the City Bowl offices of the newest addition to the “Rolling Stone” international family. “It started when an independent publisher (Khan) gave me a call, saying, ‘I believe you’re someone to talk to about South African music?’ I said yeah, and was open-minded enough to sit down and chat with him. We put forward our proposal to ‘Rolling Stone’ in the US. They said it sounded interesting and we should come over. That was literally a conversation too, it wasn’t a pitch. We had a chat for a couple of days, then they said, ‘You’re independent; we’re independent, let’s continue these conversations’.”
In September, the team returned to New York to attend the international “Rolling Stone” conference and learn from the experiences of the magazine’s imprints across 15 countries, as well as to understand their culture and ethos. “The magazine is in Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Australia, Chile, Argentina, France, Spain…” says Keylock. “What was most striking for me was that everyone who works for them internationally is happy. I didn’t see one person who was miserable, or who had any agenda other than a passion for music, and communicating that to their audience. There was a complete absence of any corporate mentality.”
They also got to meet and have more of those prized conversations with Jann Wenner, the founding father of the magazine, and the man who is still editor and publisher of one of the world’s most respected titles, which he founded in 1967. “For him, and it’s something that rings true for us, editorial integrity is more important than anything else,” says Keylock. “In the States, he’s been on a mission for the past couple of years with a campaign titled ‘Print Is Not Dead’, and has got all the other independent titles to buy into this. Of course this is the era of the internet, but print and web are two different mediums. From his mouth, and it’s a simple gem: ‘The net you surf; print you dive into’.”
Launching a new magazine into the South African market – even one with such international kudos – has many challenges, but I ask Keylock to focus on some of the delights. He revels in that. “The current print landscape in South Africa has been about separate development, with boutique brands talking to very specific niche demographics. There have not been conversations and, especially, conversations across genres. Now we’re saying, ‘Let’s create a space where all those conversations can have a voice’. We will be featuring kwaito alongside rock, and hip-hop alongside house. That potential, to start cross-pollination, is one of the most exciting things about the magazine.”
“Rolling Stone” is best known for its coverage of music and popular culture, but has always tested its maxim of journalistic integrity with hard-hitting, and often delightfully controversial and left-of-centre, coverage of political matters. What’s the plan for that in the South African editions? “In a country like ours, music and politics have always gone hand in hand,” says Keylock. “They are the two cultural areas that most South Africans are the most interested in, and we will be following the US lead with every month carrying an in-depth long-form investigative piece on current affairs. The current print climate has reduced column space over the years, to where a so-called ‘feature’ is 800 words. That’s not a feature. A feature is 4000 or 5000 words and, yes, we’re challenging our readers to read that. If publications disrespect their readers by treating them like idiots then, eventually, they’ll become like idiots. Arts interviews and features are trapped in a perpetual present about the ‘now’. What’s dropping now; what’s hot now; who’s in now… There’s no sense of history which has horrible consequences over time. We’re an antidote to the amnesia that is consequent upon short form journalism.”
Despite cajoling and, indeed, downright begging to reveal some of the content for the launch issue – and, of course, who is going to be on that all important first issue of the ever iconic “Rolling Stone’ cover – Keylock will not be budged. “We will focus on icons,” is all that he will say. “It’s important to share the wealth of knowledge that is there, and to reconnect with that, especially inter-generationally. Also, of course, there will be reviews and interviews and previews on those emerging artists that we think are truly groundbreaking, or have something interesting to say. I think people will be pleasantly surprised. It’s cross-generational, and with a 50/50 mix of local and international content, with only international content that is of real interest here. As for people ‘stepping into the shoes’ of ‘Rolling Stone’ legends like Annie Liebovitz or Hunter S Thompson, I don’t think anybody can step into those shoes, and I think we have enough original vision that we don’t need that. It’s not about getting bogged down in what may or may not happen with the magazine; it’s about making things happen.”
“Rolling Stone South Africa” launches in mid-November on newsstands across South Africa, and atRollingStone.co.za
*First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2011/ 10/16.