Life & Culture

How So Young Magazine is Reinvigorating Music Journalism

Another Man talks to the creative duo behind the scrappy DIY publication documenting Britain’s guitar scene

  • TextTom Connick

In a dingy-looking New Cross pub on a sweltering summer’s day, there’s a fifth birthday party going on. There’s no birthday cake or party bags here though – it’s all pints, rollies and deafening guitars. While it might sound like one for child protection services on paper, in reality it’s a party worth celebrating – the fifth birthday of So Young magazine, the scrappy DIY publication reinvigorating the printed music press.

In the upstairs room of said pub (The Five Bells, in case you were wondering) before the party kicks off, the magazine’s co-founders Sam Ford and Josh Whettingsteel are in high spirits. Tonight is the culmination of half a decade of graft, which began back in their uni days. “Sam invited me to go and see Palma Violets, because he’d seen them at Reading, and that gig pretty much completely changed our lives,” says Whettingsteel. Walking home through the back alleys of Southampton, drenched in sweat, they hatched a plan to create a mag packed with new bands and dazzling illustrations, drawing on the zine culture that Whettingsteel had become enamoured with at the tail end of his design degree. A few months of cutting, sticking and scribbling later, the first issue of So Young was born.

Offering as much space to emerging artists as they did to their more established idols like Palma Violets, Swim Deep, and Peace, So Young democratised the indie world in a way existing music mags were failing to do. “It’s really important, I think,” says Ford of that approach. “There’s not extra space for a band because you’ve sold an extra album, or you’ve got a bigger record deal – it’s purely down to our taste. I think it’s also why it’s been able to exist for five years; because there’s no one else to please.”

Not that it’s a purely inward-looking endeavour, mind. So Young introduced the zine format – one usually reserved for the punkier end of the musical spectrum – to a new audience and, in doing so, gained a following who latched onto everything they offered. So Young quickly became an underground revolution, too – a flag for Britain’s emerging guitar scene to unite under. This is demonstrated by the amount of people sporting the magazine’s t-shirts and tote bags at venues and festivals nowadays. “Hopefully there’s someone out there that’s got all 17 issues, that would be incredible,” smiles Ford. “It’s mad to think that people subscribe to it, or pre-order it, because we don’t give out any information about what’s coming except the date. So it’s completely blind - it’s complete trust and I think that’s kind of… that’s very satisfying. And it’s flattering too.”

It’s a step up that’s seen the power balance of print publishing shift somewhat too – the pair recall a story that saw one recent cover star (who they declined to name) choosing to kickstart their album campaign with a So Young cover, rather than with the huge, household name fashion mag they were offered. “It’s a great time for guitar bands,” Ford enthuses. “It’s not just your usual websites that are covering these bands now, even these high-end fashion websites are covering it – it’s exciting in that sense.” In spite of that growing stature though, they’re keen to keep their feet on the ground, and their focus on the smaller, more underground groups. “We’re slowly getting a bit bigger with the bands we feature – we had MGMT and Courtney Barnett on the cover recently, but I think, they need to be very special situations, when we get these big bands,” says Whettingsteel.

As it stands, there’s plenty else to be shining a light on. With a second wave of So Young-adjacent bands coming through, spearheaded by the likes of Shame and Sorry, it seems their future is secure for some time. “A big thing for us, now that we look back at issue 1, is that the idea of outliving any of our favourite bands would’ve blown our minds,” says Ford. “For us to be around longer than Palma Violets… we wouldn’t have believed it.” Whettingsteel compares the bands that to a “family”, and it’s not difficult to see why – downstairs later that evening, members of Shame, Fat White Family and Swim Deep can be seen propping up the bar and opening up the mosh-pits, laughing, joking and indulging in all the treats of the magazine’s fifth birthday party until the early hours.

“Even if everyone started hating it, I’d still just release the magazine,” laughs Whettingsteel. “There’s no financial gain, we don’t get money for it. It’s just purely for the love of it.” As another crowd of So Young t-shirt clad teens spills out into the New Cross street, it’s clear that love is reciprocated.

So Young Issue 17 is out now