10 Years of So Young Magazine

Rough Trade Records

June 27th, 2024

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Long live print.

“We’re not here to fight the digital world, but our passion is centred on creating this tangible product and the ongoing growth of our audience, in a similar way to the growth of vinyl, tells us lots of others enjoy holding things too.”

So Young Magazine, the community-led creative platform bridging the gap between illustration and music, celebrates a decade in print in 2024.

Not only is it a publication brimming with fresh journalism, striking illustration and a keen ear to the ground, it’s a magazine that feels beautiful to hold. As fans of beautiful tangible products (we have a fair few knocking about in our stores), we have long admired So Young’s attention to detail and the acute craftsmanship that goes into producing something so essentially enduring.

Championing the best new bands from the underground up has always been at the heart of the DIY brand. So Young’s success story is a testament both to the fervent love for and support of the emerging guitar scene and the shared vision of Sam Ford and Josh Whettingsteel, So Young’s dedicated founders.

Exclusive Music & Merch
So Young Magazine 10 Year Anniversary LP on red vinyl + exclusive fanzine
Rough Trade x So Young Magazine Limited Edition t-shirt
Rough Trade x So Young Magazine Limited Edition tote bag

We caught up with Sam and Josh to reflect on ten years of running a magazine and the collective excitement that both bore and buoyed their now globally admired passion project.

As we’re celebrating your entire existence to date, it makes sense to rewind to the very beginning. Could you tell us when the idea for a magazine was conceived and how you went about making issue one a reality?

Josh: Having finished university we both found ourselves in a sort of limbo. I had just finished an illustration degree and was obsessed with the photocopied punk fanzines of the late seventies. Sam got back from Reading having seen Palma Violets for the first time and was raving about them to me. We both went to see them play live in Southampton and found ourselves inspired both by the music and the visuals that accompanied their record sleeves and t-shirts. On the walk home from that gig we decided we’d make our own fanzine based around Palma Violets and some of the other new bands around at the time who were equally exciting, channelling that DIY, cut and paste aesthetic I was so fond of. Best of Friends by Palma Violets is the first song on the compilation and was vital to the creation of our first issue. A demo of So Young by Splashh is the second song on the EP, another inspirational band and this song title played a small part in our decision to call the mag ‘So Young’.

Illustration plays such a huge part in So Young’s identity. Why was the meeting of the two (art and music) so important to establishing your vision as a brand early on?

Josh: I’d always loved the visuals of zines like ‘Sniffin Glue’ from the UK and ‘Punk’ Magazine from New York. When we started the magazine, having finished my degree I was immersed in a very collaborative community of illustrators where everyone was making zines and contributing to each others’. I saw it as an opportunity to work with some of my favourite illustrators from my course initially, that community of illustrators has just grown over the years. Being a collage artist and illustrator myself it was the natural visual language for us to use when approaching starting our own magazine. There was also a practical reason for the illustration and DIY aesthetic. The fact that we weren’t in a position to arrange our own shoots of each of the bands featuring meant that we had to be a bit thrifty and frugal with how we made the magazine visually interesting.

Photo by Kalisha Quinlan

Since you began there are just three bands who have graced your cover more than once (Shame, Sorry and Fontaines D.C., all twice). When you revisit an artist for the cover, does it feel like a bit of a full-circle moment that reinforces your part in their journey?

Sam: More often than not, our cover feature with a band will come around a debut EP or in anticipation of a debut album. We’ve never really been too concerned with the magazine tying in too closely with a release date, or a point where the audience is bigger etc (unless that was deemed as important by the band or their team). We know there are plenty of magazines/Websites out there that will give established artists a cover, so we’ve always thought that So Young’s primary role is championing newer things as loudly as possible, and when it comes to a magazine there’s nothing louder than the cover. From there we hope everything goes amazingly for the band, stay in touch via our inside pages but leave the “bigger” titles do their thing without repeating ourselves and just becoming “another cover” which would take an opportunity away from someone new. Sometimes the relationship feels so strong, that we revisit a cover band and that’s usually paired with something going well on the band’s side too. So yeah, its fun to go from “You should get excited about this band” to “Wow, so many people are excited about your band” etc. I’m not sure how much we lay claim to being a part of the journey, but I suppose the fact they’re willing to chat with us again means they may recognise our part and we’re really proud of that. 

Is there anyone you’ve really wanted to run a cover story with that you’ve not yet been able to secure? 

Sam: We feel satisfied that everyone we’ve truly wanted on our cover, has been. One exception we can think of is Dead Pretties. We loved that band and headed to their headline show at Boston Music Rooms to sound out their publicist and ask to do the next cover with them. The publicists reply? “We can’t, this is their last ever show. They’re breaking up”. 

“A demo of So Young by Splashh is the second song on the EP, another inspirational band and this song title played a small part in our decision to call the mag ‘So Young’.”

Talk us through the tracks and artists featured on the anniversary comp album – how did you go about curating the selection? It must have been a tough task to distil a decade into 12 songs!

Sam: Realistically, this could easily have become a triple album or something crazy like that but vinyl isn’t cheap so we had to whittle it down. The artists featured within the compilation all have a story with So Young that goes beyond the printed page. Whether that’s Palma Violets’ Best of Friends which inspired our beginnings, Shame’s The Lick which felt like the instigator of a genuine scene of bands which we documented quite heavily, Wunderhorse who not only signify the future of the magazine but also nod back to Dead Pretties and the story above, or Fontaines D.C. who accepted nominal fees to fly over and play shows for us and accepted every invitation for a chat regardless of their rapid rise. These aren’t just bands we like, or bands we’ve featured, they feel very important to the world in which we champion and we cherish their personal relationship with us as editors too. It’s probably missing a couple that we’d have loved to have made work but we are really proud and grateful of who’s featured and how quickly everyone said yes!

Print media has encountered a lot of challenges in the years since you first began publishing. Have you felt pressures similar to other publications? How have you evolved or adjusted to ensure the brand weathers any barriers?

Josh: We’ve always remained independent and so we aren’t beholden to anyone else making business decisions above us, then you add in a little naivety and bravery. We’ve just kept printing regardless of what’s going on around us. 

Sam: Money has been the only hurdle, but for a long time we didn’t view So Young as a business whatsoever, so if we needed more money to print, we just waited until we got paid from our jobs to pay for it and release the next edition. So Young was, and is, only ever meant to exist in print. One of our earliest and longest discussions was whether a digital edition should even exist. We are pleased that it does, as its helped us reach people on an international level, but its only there to help raise further awareness of the print magazine and we feel that once you pick up a copy for the first time, that’s the only way you’ll want to read it in the future. We’ve said this before, and despite So Young now also being a record label, live promoter, and clothing brand, without a print magazine, there is no So Young.

Photo by Kalisha Quinlan

Why do you feel maintaining a space for print is so important in the booming digital age of music and culture?

Sam: In honesty, we’ve not really tried to make any statements as grand as that, or make a fight for print on a broader level. A magazine was the place for Josh and I to put our collective excitement for new bands and new music, so we just made one. And kept making it. We adapt to the digital trends and it’s been helpful for us to spread the word. We’re not here to fight the digital world, but our passion is centred on creating this tangible product and the ongoing growth of our audience, in a similar way to the growth of vinyl, tells us lots of others enjoy holding things too. 

There’s been a lot of press surrounding the ongoing crisis that independent venues face in the UK. As a brand, you put on regular live shows across a number of these spaces to help celebrate the underground scene. What would you tell the post-election government to help ensure the safeguarding of small venues?

Sam: From a So Young point of view, we would encourage that the lens in which these spaces are seen and argued goes beyond export and the economy. That argument is valid but speaks for itself to a government should it actually listen. However, the purpose of these venues isn’t just to find the next big thing, they’re community hubs and fertile ground for experimentation, development of the cultures this country is proud to host and boast about, and a home for young people to express themselves and tell their stories. When a small music venue closes, we lose more than just a great space, we lose ideas, music, communities and relationships. 

“When a small music venue closes, we lose more than just a great space, we lose ideas, music, communities and relationships.”

What are your top three moments since founding So Young Magazine (big or small), that on reflection really hit home how far you’ve come and the impact your presence in the industry has made?

Josh: I feel like we set a precedent for some of our biggest moments in the way we launched issue one. We spent 8 months pulling together our first issue and launched it with a live show featuring some of the bands from the issue and at that show we sold (gave away) our first t-shirt design. Print, live and clothing are vital to So Young in its current form.

Sam: In terms of impact of the industry, its hard to tell but its probably easier to gauge our impact on people a little bit more, and that shows itself in the live realm. Taking So Young to small venues, pubs and festival stages is a real world way to see the growth of a band and see how many people are trusting our tips for the future. Putting on tiny, early shows for the likes of Fontaines D.C., Shame, Squid, The Last Dinner Party and The Big Moon live long in the memory. Those shows along with stages at favourite festivals like The Great Escape, Truck Festival and Wide Awake show the two ends of the live spectrum we are proud to be a part of. One end is introducing new artists at the earliest point, like we do with our monthly club night ‘We Are So Young’, and the other is continuing the relationship as their audience grows and hosting them on big stages. Being able to work at both ends of that spectrum is something we are really proud of. 

Josh: Our presence in Japan and releasing a Japanese issue last year was a big moment and helped cement our cultural relevance on an international level. We were able to have a pop up shop selling magazines and clothing with significant placements in some of the biggest record shops in the country. 

Sam: It sounds an easy one, but releasing our 50th issue is a big milestone for us and not one we’d ever considered reaching in the early days. Having Fontaines D.C. a band who are on the trajectory to be the biggest band on the planet, still willing to make time for So Young and be on our cover again is not something we take lightly. We feel more energised than ever to keep making magazines and trusting our instinct to put whoever feels most exciting in one moment on the cover of So Young, no matter how big or small, four albums or one single.

Photo by Kalisha Quinlan

Which bands should we have on our radar as So Young heads into its 11th year? 

Sam: We generally work to the wire with each issue, knowing that something exciting could show itself at any moment, and knowing us, we’d like to write about it right away. With that in mind, each issue is a fair reflection of what is exciting us the most in that moment. The fiftieth issue reflects the artists we have on repeat right now, but if we were to pick out a few names in particular, we’ve been listening to a lot of Ebbb, Man/Woman/Chainsaw, Martial Arts and Fcukers recently. A few bands who are yet to release music but have played recent shows with us are Tooth, Mên an Tol, Most Things and The Orchestra (For Now) – we definitely encourage people to check them out asap. We also have a record label and have just released the debut EP’s from Cardinals and Slow Fiction – their debut albums should come in the next year or so too. 


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