It’s hard to believe it was 25 years ago I came up with the idea for Knowledge Magazine. At the time I’d just moved to Bristol from Glasgow and was living with my old school friend Markee Ledge and his flatmates DJ Dazee and Rachel Patey.
They’d just started promoting a jungle club called Ruffneck Ting and I just got involved. We were hungry in those days and promoted the event hard, flyering outside clubs in Bristol and the south-west most weekends. We also drove to record and clothes shops in Cardiff, Newport, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Swindon to flyer and sell tickets and mixtapes.
The Bristol scene was very small at the time so we often travelled to London for big events. AWOL at the Paradise Club was a particular favourite and it was here that I remember being given a free copy of Atmosphere when I was leaving. It was really basic but it was passionate and captured the energy of the music.
British dance music magazines of the time either gave jungle/drum & bass token coverage or were dismissive. From going to the clubs I knew there were plenty of people who loved the music and wanted more information on it.
Slowly the idea to start my own magazine formed. I didn’t DJ or make music but I wanted to make more of a contribution than just being a promoter. I’d been a freelance music journalist for a few years and was writing for magazines like i-D and Generator, while Rachel had sold insurance so could sell adverts.
The opportunity to buy a second-hand Apple Mac Classic from a friend was the final piece of the jigsaw. It only had 4mb of RAM and a 40mb hard drive but I could write all the text for the magazine on it and it was an all-in-one-unit so portable enough to share with Rachel!
As we never got Atmosphere in Bristol I just wanted to cover the south-west on the back of our Ruffneck Ting distribution network.
We needed a good name though. The Ruffneck Ting promotion team were known as the Ledge Crew and I loved the hip hop track ‘Juice (Know the Ledge)’ by Eric B & Rakim so Knowledge seemed a good fit. I also liked the connotations of spreading knowledge about drum & bass.
The first issue came out in December 1994 and was A5, black and white and only 12 pages. I was so green somehow I failed to notice a feature that started in the back half of the magazine and finished in the front half!
People liked it though and a couple of months later we were back with two colours (cyan and magenta) and 32 pages. The abiding memory of those early days was just trying to make each issue bigger and better somehow: more pages, full colour, increasing the size to A4, more copies, etc. We always strived to be professional and this extended to the writing, photography and design.
Once the Ruffneck Ting record label got off the ground I realised that we could expand our distribution. In return for a free advert, Vinyl Distribution would chuck in a few copies of the magazine to record shop orders across the UK and internationally.
Gradually the magazine grew and became more professional but we realised that to take it to the next level we had to start selling it. This was a huge decision and one that could have jeopardised the future of the magazine if we didn’t get it right.
How do you start charging for something that people have been used to getting for free? I have to thank Paul Rico at SRD for coming with the answer. SRD was the main distributor for drum & bass (they still are!) and I had approached them to distribute the magazine to record shops. Paul said they would on one condition: it came with a free CD.
Dance music magazines with free CDs were nothing new but the majority were rubbish. I wanted our cover CDs to be as good quality as compilations on sale in shops. We couldn’t afford to licence the tracks though and had to convince labels to give us them for free in return for promotion in the magazine.
Thankfully the record labels bought into the idea and we never looked back. This was 1998 remember so before broadband, you connected to the internet via dial-up modems on your phone line which was incredibly slow!
I sought out specific distributors for both Europe and North America and the world started opening up. As I said, I didn’t DJ but being able to travel the world writing about drum & bass was a dream come true. Countries we visited included Brazil, Iceland, America, Puerto Rico, Hungary, Norway, South Africa, France, Germany, Italy, Canada.
Other highlights included promoting the Knowledge Drum & Bass Awards in 1999 and 2001 and Brian Belle-Fortune approaching us to reprint his classic All Crews book in 2004.
The rise of broadband internet in the early noughties saw a gradual drop in sales and advertising revenue. People could now get their information much quicker than we could deliver and for free. The availability of DJ mixes also mean the cover CD was losing its cachet.
By 2009 we could see that there would soon come a point where we would start losing money, so we decided to stop printing the magazine and become a website. In hindsight, this was a mistake. As soon as we became a website we went from being one of a handful of magazines to one of thousands of websites. Even though our costs were reduced drastically so was our revenue as advertising was our only source of income and display advertising on the internet has much less value than print.
We soldiered on for a few years but it became clear that the business model wasn’t working. We were having to make money elsewhere and couldn’t spend the time on it that it deserved. We were so close to our 20th anniversary that I decided to keep it going for another year to reach that milestone.
Over the years people have told me I should bring it back but I’ve always resisted the temptation as I don’t want to revisit the past. So why am I bringing it back this time? Well, I feel we have unfinished business. Reaching 20 years was such an important milestone but it was a bittersweet moment and I didn’t celebrate it at all because I knew the end was coming.
Earlier this year I realised that this year was our 25th anniversary so I wanted to mark the occasion somehow. What better way than with one last issue? 2009 – 2014 didn’t really represent what we were about so I want to put that right with another print issue and to showcase the music that I love so much.
At first, I considered doing a magazine but I want to make it really special. One of the things former readers say to me when they find out that I used to edit Knowledge is that they still have all of their copies and can’t bring themselves to throw them away! So if people can’t part with their magazines then surely they will appreciate a one-off premium book?
There have been some special issues in the past but this will be the biggest and best Knowledge ever:
- Limited edition run
- 10” x 10” large format book
- Hardback cloth cover with debossed Knowledge logo
- 120gsm premium paper
- Over 150 full-colour pages featuring new and classic long-form features and interviews
The book is published in December 2019 but you can pre-order it now to get your name in the credits and be part of drum & bass history.
Also, lookout for a very special 25th-anniversary party at Fold in London on 21 February 2020. Tickets will be available from Eventbrite and Resident Advisor. This event will be limited to 500 people, once tickets are gone, they’re gone.