Arts blog: ‘We gave Franz Ferdinand and Frightened Rabbit their first exposure’

Frightened Rabbit
Frightened Rabbit
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As Is This Music? Celebrates its tenth anniversary, editor Stuart McHugh recalls a decade of championing Scottish indie bands

When I started Is This Music? in winter 2002 I had no idea how long it would last. It was to fill a gap in the market, as I felt Scotland’s musical underground wasn’t getting a fair hearing despite some remarkable music coming out. Plus, in those early days of the web, there was still a place for printed music journalism. Fanzines were all very well, but to redress this perceived imbalance we needed to sit alongside the glossies on the High Street with Idlewild, Teenage Fanclub and ballboy staring out alongside The Strokes, White Stripes and Radiohead.

Despite the shiny colour cover, for me it was all about the music. So the masterstroke would be a free covermount CD – albeit produced on a very Heath Robinson duplication machine, while freeing up my time to single-handedly produce the mag. Actually, that part’s not strictly true – more than 250 writers passed through the ranks of the magazine; some going on to work for the likes of the NME, BBC, and even The Scotsman.

Sadly, after five years it was time to call a halt on the printed publication. Expansion was impossible without major investment, far more than advertising, sales and even the welcome support of the Arts Council could allow.

Ironically, with most copies sold via record shops, the task would have become impossible shortly afterwards with closures at Fopp, Virgin, HMV and myriad independents as well as the Borders bookshop chain. We’d completed 25 issues, giving the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Frightened Rabbit their first exposure and putting the faces of Snow Patrol, King Creosote and Arab Strap on to mainstream shelves for the first time.

So, perhaps belatedly, to the brave new world of the web. With blogs the new fanzines, there’s a level playing field now – if you want to tell the world about your new favourite band, you simply hit ‘publish’. CDs, free or otherwise, are in their death throes with instant musical gratification available via mp3 and, ironically, vinyl keeping the remaining record shops alive. However, the web allows freedom to review much more whenever we like, rather than squeeze it into 40 A4 pages every couple of months. So the site has seen the likes of Calvin Harris and Glasvegas come through as Snow Patrol and Franz became world-conquering megastars. And with the conveyor belt of talent still rolling, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be writing about their successors for another ten years and beyond.

• The Is This Music? tenth anniversary show is at Electric Circus, Edinburgh, tonight, with ballboy, Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit, Adam Thompson of We Were Promised Jetpacks and We See Lights.