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The X Factor

It would seem like a curious time to be launching a monthly rock magazine but, then again, these are curious days, writes Michael Byrne.

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The music press is in a bad way and has been for many years now. Melody Maker, Select and Vox have all gone to the wall in recent years and the rump that's left consists of a faded glory (NME), a faddish nu-metal upstart (Kerrang!), a confused fuddy-duddy (Q), an arthritic academic snoozefest (Mojo) and a nostalgic Americana-obsessed film and tunes title (Uncut). And as for the state of music itself… step forward 'Fame Rivals Popstars Academy', will your 15 minutes ever be up?

X-Ray plans to kick a little bit of sand in the face of the rather dreary music press. At least that what it hopes to do. Editor Rich Sutcliffe writes in his introduction: "X-Ray is about passion, about not telling someone you don't like a certain kind of music before you've even given it a chance. X-Ray is about experiencing new stuff and making your own mind up."

Strange as it may seem, that is radical for a music mag. Published by Swinstead Publishing, the home to Sleazenation and Jockey Slut, for London alternative radio station Xfm, X-Ray manages to break away from looking like a customer title. Sure, there's lots of mentions of Xfm throughout the pages, as well as musings and interviews with DJs such as 'The Office' creator Ricky Gervais, Zoe Ball and Christian O'Connell (the 12th most popular breakfast show presenter), but that's about it.

Other than the shared interest in exciting, new, independent (that's minded not distributed) music, and the use of exclusive session material on the covermount CD, there's nothing more to connect except the letter X.

The debut Jack-sized issue -- it will start publishing monthly in February 2003 -- has interviews with the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, Badly Drawn Boy, The Flaming Lips (whose surreal version of Kylie's 'Can't Get You Out of My Mind' is on the CD) and heavy metal hip hop outfit Non-Phixion.

It also sports a rather simple reviews section, but the simplicity is appealing -- concise, succinct reviews that have a good mix of objectivity and passion without either turning into bland PR drivel or coruscating nonsense that says nothing about the music and more about the writer. How long has the music press been waiting for that?

If X-Ray has a downside, it's that it hardly likely to create a cosmic shift in the way people listen to music or the music they listen to, but I get the feeling that's not part of the masterplan. If it manages to introduce a few more people to eccentricities, oddities and wonders such as Electric 6, The Datsuns and Lemon Jelly, then it has succeeded. And any magazine that has the sheer perversity to spend five pages discussing the man who produced The White Stripes and The Flaming Lips and his amazing analogue studio gets my former-jaded-music-hack's vote.

Advertising in the debut issue is mainly music-related, but there ads for Jameson Whiskey, Beck's and PlayStation2. If any media-buyers out there have been following The Demographic Shift, X-Ray would be a fine fit for the floating 20s-30s demographic, those too old for nu-metal and too young for Radio 2. There are quite a few out there and a lot of them should gravitate to this monthly.

It's only surprising that X-Ray is only getting an outing now.

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