I knew this would be bad; as it happens, it’s worse. Half a year ago, groups and their managers, self-appointed local music pundits, and all manner of alt-culture hangers-on swooned in grateful joy as that pillar of the international music press, the NME, washed up on these shores to start an Indian website. A perfect match, you’d think: a scene full of insecure dickheads dying to have their existence acknowledged, and a brand that’s willing to sell what credibility it has left down the river to stay in business. The presence of a name magazine does wonders to preserve the cosy delusion that Indian pop is “thriving”, never mind that no one in the outside world has taken that magazine seriously in the last twenty years: the NME knows what you don’t, that the natives are desperate, and any crumb will do.
But even accounting for this, NME India is startling in its lack both of editorial direction, and of any kind of writing talent on its rolls. In principle, the website mixes up articles from the regular edition with features of local interest; this would’ve been a sound idea had anyone bothered to do their homework in picking the topics, or in writing about them with any intelligence. Instead, the site is an aimless jumble of waggish headlines, blurb-length pieces (the inevitable, imbecile “ten greatest guitar riffs of all time” piece amongst them), and a clunky gig guide map: the whole thing looks like a shabby amateur project gone to pieces, as if everyone realised just a little too late that running a magazine is actually hard work.
There’s a point to be made about all this, but first, the hall of shame: the NME prides itself on being “first for music news”; the top headline, then, reads “Indian rockers Indus Creed to play at Blue Frog”, which translates to “baboons to play pub”, and if this were the only news to come out of the country, then we’d all be best off packing our bags and going home. The Carlos Santana show in Noida gets a series of photographs instead of a write-up: this is fair up to a point, the less said about Carlos Santana in this day and age, the better, but the pictures and their captions look like something out of the Facebook page of a high-school ditz. And all this is billed under “Santana conjures up magic”, and I swear I put more thought into cleaning my teeth than that reporter did with that title. A word to the wise: don’t use “pushing the envelope”, “epic solo”, and “notching up the decibels” when you’re writing about music, it’ll only make you sound like a moron and your friends will laugh at you behind your back.
The NME’s presence in India is either a cynical cash-in or a case of being wildly out-of-touch, and it’s a mess whichever way you slice it. They aren’t sleazy enough or interesting enough to be gossip, and they don’t have the insight to be a serious pop culture rag; they have blindingly obvious opinions on blindingly obvious things, and they only report the most superficial news. This is coupled with the NME’s declining status as a magazine of any standing (the international edition is almost as bad), awkward formatting (which is inexcusable when every undergraduate knows how to set up a webzine), and writing that seems to have been done under a deadline by underpaid no-hope interns (which is probably true.)
NME India plan to launch a print edition soon. Even given that they’ll only face competition from a tiny number of cosmopolitan vanity projects, my bet is that they’ll bomb. And when they do, they’ll blame it on a target audience that’s too small, on the absence of a pop culture, and on the various logistical hassles of doing business in the third world. What they won’t admit – because clueless fuckers like these never do – is that all these problems are surmountable, but if you’re flogging a crap product, then you really don’t stand a chance.