With news that the NME’s circulation has sunk to a pitiful 15,000, and it’s going to turn into a freesheet, a lot of people are giving eulogies for how it was a vital part of their teenage years, featuring such great writing from the likes of Tony Parsons, Julie Birchill and Paul Morley.
I am not one of those people; back in the NME’s 1980s heyday I was a loyal reader of Sounds, which was always far more catholic in its music coverage, and didn’t sneer at rock and metal. If your music world revolved around punk and indie, the NME at the time was your bible. But if you didn’t, the NME really wasn’t for you; it was the paper than hated what you loved.
As Classic Rock’s editor Scott Rowley famously said, had one of the other “inkies” survived instead of the NME, we might have a better mainstream music scene today. But in the end it wasn’t really the the NME’s fault; much like the excessive sanctification of John Peel, it was the laziness of the rest of the media that allowed the NME to punch well above its weight as a gatekeeper, and whatever the NME didn’t like (which was a lot of things) tended to get marginalised. It was pointed out on Twitter than in the years 2005 to 2015 the NME faves the Gallagher brothers appeared on more front pages than all female artists put together. And Pete Doherty wasn’t far behind.
With a combination of the internet and a whole load of more specialist publications on the market meaning there’s no longer one powerful gatekeeper, the British music scene will probably benefit from the NME’s continued slide into irrelevance.