There has been an exponential growth in promotion agencies. What's your perspective on the promo system? In how far is it influencing your choice of artists and topics, in how far is it useful for pre-selection, in how far do you feel it is possibly undermining journalistic freedom?
They tend to be genre-based, which I have an instinctive distrust of. I don't find they undermine freedom, but they encourage regular patterns of thinking and quota-ticking, which is rarely a good thing. If I am listening to a bunch of new music I ideally prefer a bunch of downloaded files all mixed up together so I can listen to them more or less blind without too many preconceptions.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the publishing landscape? How do they affect journalism in general and your own take on writing in particular?
I actually came to The Wire through blogging and internet forums. I started a blog mainly about grime in the early 2000s, and I had been writing on the Internet forum of the independent football magazine When Saturday Comes for a long time, as many of those Melody Maker writers I mentioned earlier happened to be on there writing about music and other matters. There was, and is, a very good standard of concise, tightly argued writing on that forum.
Blogging was really important to my development as a writer. The intellectual scope of blogging was wide, the writing could be experimental and long-form, and there was a healthy and friendly competition between bloggers. Some of that style of writing was out-flanking traditional music journalism at that time – someone like Adam Harper would spend 3000 words analysing the synth riffs on tracks on the Night Slugs labels. Blogging explored a state of deep emotional and intellectual immersion in particular small corners of music; a timely response to the ever more fragmented state of music.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the readers, the publication you're writing for?
The readers, the publication, and the facts. All are linked. Of course artists are very important: without artists, there would be nothing to write about! But everyone's experience of listening is different, and we have to allow for the possibility that the writer might hear something in the music that its creator might not have heard. And the writer must preserve enough distance from the musician so that they can discuss tensions, flaws, awkwardness in their creative practice.
I think flawed art and artists and human beings are often the most interesting in any case. I don't want to read about perfect people or perfect art. They don't exist.
Social media are allowing for a closer relationship between listeners, readers and journalists than ever before. Do you see this as a potential improvement or rather as a problem?
I think it is has amazing potential. Social media has of course huge drawbacks, as is seen by the election of Donald Trump, and the bubble effect of people's carefully selected social media feeds. But I love the fact that artists and listeners and writers are able to connect and share knowledge so easily. There are damaging effects - the tyranny of consensus, the privileging of one-upmanship over actual discussion - but if used effectively it's great.
Arguing against social media is a little like arguing against the invention of the telephone, or the television - it is a democratising channel and in plain terms, a fact of life. Back in the day, it wasn't easy to say "hey, have you heard this?!" to a writer. It is now, and sometimes you get an instant response. Great!
Is there a new media format for presenting great new music away from standard formats such as interviews or reviews that you would find exciting and which hasn't been realised yet?
I like oral histories, they can be very strong. Oddly though, I tend to find Q&As with single artists quite unsatisfying. I like artists talking about other people's music - that can be really interesting.