NME at 70: why the secret to success is never getting jaded, complacent or old

As we celebrate our 70th birthday, our columnist argues that the publication never officially got past 24, which is why our enthusiasm has never wavered

At long last: it’s our turn to go Platinum. This week marks NME’s 70th anniversary but, unlike that other long-standing figure celebrating her Platinum jubilee this year, we’re not interested in parades or fanfares or Brian May playing on our roof. We’re not ready for Grade II listed status or a blue plaque over that strange stain down the wall of the 100 Club. Frankly, the NME has never felt fitter, happier or more productive because, unlike so many of our fallen newsstand comrades, it’s never been allowed to get old.

A complaint I’ve heard countless times since day one of my tenure at NME – and I’ve been the title’s Alliterative Cynicism And Arse Gag Correspondent (Anti-Bastille Division) for almost 40 per cent of its existence – is that ruddy-nosed classic “it was better in my day”.

You’d hear it relentlessly from retired readers, the more curmudgeonly ex-writers and hordes of bitter bands that turned out to be mere puffs of sonic flatulence in the cultural tornado. The ageing musos pine for the days when Nick Kent would share a spoon with the ‘70s dinosaurs. The punk veterans hawk wistful phlegm about being caught in the crossfire of the paper’s hip young gunslingers of 1976. The ‘80s post-punks argue that it’s never been the same since it was all hip-hop wars and French literary theory round here; the ‘90s generation get misty-eyed about our frontline heroism at the Battle Of Britpop.

Bring Me The Horizon, who closed the BandLab NME Awards 2022. Credit: Zoe McConnell

Fact is: they’re all right. For them, NME really was better in their day. Because, back then, it was for them. For seven decades, NME hasn’t just been a documenter or provocateur of pop culture; it’s been a rite of passage for the serious music fanatic. You’ve found it – or it’s found you – early in a journey of a deep sonic immersion that shaped the rest of your life. And it hasn’t merely red-pilled your idea of ‘modern music’ by chucking you into a gushing torrent of new favourite bands and expecting you to sink or swim; it’s also acted as a gateway to whole previous decades of groundbreaking left-field brilliance you barely knew existed.

NME catches you at a moment in your life that can never be repeated – at that first elated rush of discovery, when you realise that this dull, dreary Adele-dominated world has a hidden dimension of seemingly endless colour and excitement. A phenomenon known as The Neutral Milk Hotel Effect.

“Like Doctor Who in Dr. Martens, NME has regenerated with every new scene”

Key to maintaining this noble societal role is that NME has never grown bored, bitter and stuck in the mud along with any one generation of music fans. Research shows that our musical tastes are generally set at around 14-16, that our eagerness to discover acts peaks at 24 and that by 30 we enter a kind of ‘musical paralysis’ where we’ll only ever listen to a new band once we’ve ascertained without a glimmer of doubt what Noel Gallagher thinks of them.

Our readers have naturally been far more pro-active than that, but having myself seen The Wedding Present seven times since lockdown lifted, I can attest that even for the most avid sonic adventurer, those formative sounds stick incredibly deep. It’s why comebacks are often longer and more successful than a band’s entire original incarnation, why The Darkness are still bothering to make records and why your dad thinks Stormzy is what blew his shed over the other week.

Like Doctor Who in Dr. Martens, however, NME has regenerated with every new scene and movement. Young writers flock to unseat the old guards and better reflect the changing landscapes. The enthusiasm of the title has never wavered, and its shift to internet-only has only helped it epitomise the glutinous, genre-blind thrill of possibility of the streaming age. Just look at last week’s Bandlab NME Awards 2022, where alt-R&B innovator FKA twigs picked up the Godlike Genius Award and metal titans Bring Me The Horizon obliterated the O2 Academy Brixton with their closing set.

Right now NME has a fresh new team of talented future stars itching to start fighting to the death over control of the all-powerful office stereo, and it’s as young as it’s ever been. In this case, more than any other, age really is just a number.