The work of independent publisher Olu Michael Odukoya now spans his two key titles Kilimanjaro and Modern Matter. In the time he's spent since quitting his job as a dispensing optician, he's had much cause to break bread and trade emails with Jefferson Hack, Dazed and AnOther's founding publisher. In the new issue of Modern Matter, Olu presented emails exchanged over the months. Less a predictable tale of print's endurance, it's an enlightening, entertaining trade on the state(s) of independence today. Read the article below, extracted exclsuively for Dazed Digital, and buy the new Matter, themed around all things "stellar" and featuring Hans Ulrich Obrist, Sarah Lucas and Mark Leckey, from all good shops today.
Socialist Cowboy: A Private Conversation With Jefferson Hack
The below is a conversation which occurred via email with the esteemed Editor and publisher Jefferson Hack, the founder of Dazed and Confused, AnOther Magazine, and AnOther Man. The catalyst for this discussion, in fact, was a headline I saw on the cover of the Telegraph about the photographer Erwin Blumenfeld, which described him as The Man Who Made Women Into An Art Form: the idea of turning something human into art through the medium of commercial magazines was intriguing to me – to imagine the same being possible of youth culture, or popular culture, or of the recording of creative culture, makes the whole industry feel modern and worthwhile, and relevant.
Jefferson and I know each other from working in the magazine industry together, and from various encounters in Milan and Paris: during this time, we’ve had various unrecorded conversations which I’ve always felt have verged on the editorial. After initially meeting to discuss – on the record, finally – subjects like Diana Vreeland, the perfect online publication, and the idea of the magazine Permanent Food being the very first Tumblr, he proposed that we turn the meeting into a two-way email discussion about what, exactly, the purpose of a magazine is, amongst other things.
Let me begin by throwing out a question: what matters to you about Modern Matter?
Well: we’ve already talked about the idea of the introspective - a take on culture which looks within, and everyday life, in a sense; the idea of creating a magazine which can document not only the actual mainstream medium of culture, but the existence of a culture consumer which runs alongside it. To add this element of everyday life adds a story - a narrative - to a view of culture: a personal thing. And then this becomes extrospective, too - looking out. On the simplest level - this interview came from us knowing each other, after all. So this does add a personal element, too: a human story within a broader cultural discussion.
On a different note, I've been thinking about your description of your perfect day - the tennis match, the Beck concert, and then the discussion with Hans Ulrich Obrist. To me, that day sounds almost like the kind of magazine I'd like to read, if that makes sense. It's living culture, as well as documenting it.
Following on from this, my question to you would be: having since read the Bukowski poem you recommended (Style) - I'd like to hear you elaborate more on how this ethos applies to your work at Dazed (the idea of doing a dangerous thing with style).
If we consider these quotes:
“To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without style.
To do a dangerous thing with style, is what I call art.”
“I have met men in jail with style.
I have met more men in jail with style than men out of jail.
Style is a difference, a way of doing, a way of being done.”
Every person we have ever interviewed, featured and collaborated with in the magazine has had a strong personal style. I think this is where we differed from the 'style' magazine's of the 80's, like The Face and i-D - we didn't see style as something you wore, or bought into, we saw it as an attitude inherent in artists – also, we saw it as a Bukowski-meets-Burroughs “fuck you” to boredom (or a “no more boring art,” as Baldassari says). I remember putting Burroughs’ Thanksgiving Prayer in the first issue of Dazed, next to an interview with Gilbert and George.
Gilbert and George, actually, have been amazingly supportive to Dazed. I always wondered if Rankin and I would end up as synonymous as them. I remember that I was 19, and they asked me to pose - to be in one of their photographic works - and I refused, out of shyness and fear. It's one of my few regrets.
Any professional regrets for you, Olu?
I know exactly what my greatest professional regret is – in 2005, I remember Patrick Scallon reaching out to me, and suggesting that I did an issue of Kilimanjaro with Maison Martin Margiela. They had no budget for the thing, and so I said no. At the time, I had no real concept of how content worked, other than just allowing myself to come across things that I liked; I had no idea how rare it was for an independent magazine to be approached by a brand like Margiela.
Mistakes, though, I think are alright – when you’re doing an independent magazine, you sort of feel that you have another chance to get it right the next time. And yet, you’ll never get it perfect – but that’s alright. The Beckett idea: “try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
“Making It Up As We Go Along” – that’s your thing, though, isn’t it? Do you still feel like you can do that? Is it alright for you to make mistakes sometimes?
I think making mistakes is part of creativity. Nothing is ever without a flaw. Perfection is inhuman. Let me elaborate slightly: mistakes happen along the way, and they can lead to interesting places. Harmony Korine used to call his method a 'Mistakist' art form or process. Making it Up as We Go Along was about the DIY nature of making a magazine that was run by non-professionals, who had no structure from which to draw any support and who just put it out there. The rawness of it was embarrassing sometimes. But at least it was genuine to who we were.
Now is it the same? Yes, but only in areas of newness. For instance, I feel like I'm making it up as I go along in all the digital media explorations - its important for me to feel like I'm constantly on the edge of failure.
I'm interested in what you think of digital storytelling. Are you excited about the possibilities of all the different media your media can manifest itself through, or is print still the primary purpose?
It's really interesting to hear you say "digital storytelling," because to me, the basic tenets of storytelling are the same, whatever the medium. But of course, you're absolutely right that the stories can reach a reader in a far greater range of ways, and that's wonderful, of course, for anyone who wants to reach an audience. Exclusivity is a huge thing in the culture of digital stories, too - I guess because information is so much more easily-disseminated on the web. Really, the very idea of "exclusivity" feels like a very analogue one, to me: an idea which belongs to an age where things were not as fast to transfer from place to place. Think about Jay Z's recent performance at Pace Gallery - it was all over Vine and Instagram immediately, where before, it might have been an "MTV video exclusive."
One thing I do love, though, about digital, is that it doesn't require as much context or explanation, always. You couldn't simply put the images of the Jay Z performance into a magazine without any contextualising text, but online, it feels as if less elaboration is needed. A Tumblr account, for instance, will often provide a feed of images with no context at all. That isn't always the right approach for every occasion, but sometimes it's genuinely freeing. The same for a YouTube channel.
So with the Jay-Z thing, and its circulation in a digital sense: what was interesting was seeing real-time reactions from everybody from rap fans to art critics, to people not particularly invested in either. What did you feel about it? Actually, I thought it was pretty awesome to see him rapping at Marina Abramovic - there's that bit in particular where she gets really confrontational with him, and puts her forehead on his.
Also, to tie together three of your favourite things (that is socialism, Interview magazine, and music) - have you read the interview between Daniel Craig and Thom Yorke in the latest issue? Daniel Craig says that the UK is a place "that had a very strong socialist principle, but one born out of looking after people who otherwise might fall through the cracks." It got me thinking about your egalitarian way of running things at Dazed, where anyone can enter into the family. Is that an idea born out of socialist principles, in a way?
I think you've touched on something very important here: context. The facts and circumstances around the word or event. That's a basic tenet of journalism, and its place has changed a lot in what I have began to refer to as a “post-symbolic” youth culture. What's interesting is to invent and utilise new formats that re-introduce context. But most of what passes for a story is in fact a murmur, a kind of symbol of a story, a heiroglyph. Anything more than 140 characters is long-form content - that's where we are at. Google Glass and the various UI's it inspires will take it to the next level. In the future we will drink content, and the stories will appear in our minds without us having to read. We will inhale news as smoke - literacy is one of the big national crises no-one is talking about. Why is that?
I love print: I love the format of magazines, and will continue to protest for reading in favour of the super long-form. Outside of these meta-changes, one thing I’d like to acknowledge with you is how when we carry a magazine about our person or place it face up on table at work or home – it’s symbolic of our taste, our interests. It carries and communicates a message without it even being read. That never happens when stories become unbundled and circulate through the web.
Jay Z and Marina – it’s a little bit like watching your parents dance, isn't it? Hardly an event to mark history with: more like a slightly embarrassing skit we'd all like to forget from a shotgun wedding we read about in the gossip press. Now, had it been done for Saturday Night Live, I think it might have made more sense…
I’d like Dazed to become like National Geographic, and run as an institution which promotes the explorers in arts and humanities who are shaping our futures. That's the dream. If we have a role to play, it's to be a thorn in the side of the establishment and to protest against cultural conformity and the obvious political and corporate agendas at work in most of pop culture, which are designed to keep young people - socially and creatively – un-ambitious.