Bauer Media monthly music title MOJO has unveiled its 30th anniversary issue.
As the magazine reaches this landmark, John Mulvey – who was appointed as the title’s editor in November 2017 – tells Music Week about what’s in store, and reflects on the past, present and future of music journalism...
Congratulations on MOJO reaching its 30th anniversary issue! How are you going to be marking the special occasion?
“We’ve put most of our energies into the magazine, to be honest. For the new issue, we’ve spoken to a bunch of our favourite artists including Robert Plant, Paul Weller, Blur, Jack White, Kamasi Washington, Noel Gallagher, Arctic Monkeys, Nile Rodgers and Wet Leg. Plus, there’s our first ever in-depth interview with Dolly Parton, a really nice piece with MOJO’s first editor, Paul Du Noyer, and a reader-assisted guide to the best MOJO compilation CDs. We’ve tried to treat our magazine’s history with the same love and attention to detail we treat musical history, right down to revisiting the graphic design of MOJO 1 from back in 1993.”
It’s coming up on six years since you took over editing MOJO. What have been the proudest issues you’ve put together so far and why?
“I like MOJO 329, with Lana Del Rey on the cover, plus Steve Marriott, Lonnie Holley, Teenage Fanclub, Little Feat and The Damned, and a Buyer’s Guide to Lovers’ Rock. That was a good one for showing how the magazine’s scope is maybe bigger than a lot of people realise, and it was fun negotiating with a load of LDR’s South American superfans to take down their pirated versions of our interview. I think MOJO 339, MOJO 352 and MOJO 353, with the exclusive Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Depeche Mode compilation CDs, were special. But maybe the ones I’m most proud of are MOJO 319 and MOJO 320, that we put together from home at the start of the first lockdown in 2020. Those were an incredible display of resourcefulness and resilience from the MOJO team, and it was humbling to discover how much our magazine meant to many of our readers through that time.”
I’m all too aware that some people think MOJO is just end-to-end Beatles every issue, but a big part of our remit is enthusing about new music and doing our bit to build enduring careers
While we, sadly, saw a lot of brilliant print music magazines fold during the pandemic, MOJO and a host of others are still performing incredibly strongly, which doesn’t always get celebrated enough in the mainstream media. Do music magazines get the credit they deserve, especially in terms of nurturing dedicated, engaged listeners?
“When we interviewed MOJO’s first Editor, Paul Du Noyer, for the 30th birthday issue, he articulated this idea of what we do so beautifully that I’m just going to defer to him here. 'In my head, chronology isn’t very important,' he said. ‘Whatever was created in the past is in some sense informing the great new music that gets made now. I think, and this is pure dopey Scouse mysticism, all music kind of exists simultaneously. Somewhere, in some dimension, Elvis Presley is stepping up to a microphone to sing Heartbreak Hotel for the very first time, and that is something that is close to the secret, I think, of MOJO.'
"How great is that, conceptually? The less mystical version, I guess, is that we write for a very knowledgeable and obsessive audience, and strive to make contextual sense of a diversity of music that’s both legendary and obscure, old and new, from a vast range of genres. We write for people who love this stuff, and who are always open to expanding their tastes. We review around 150 albums a month, we showcase new artists every month – also on mojo4music.co.uk and in our MOJO Record Club podcast – and we stay loyal to older artists who are still making vital music. Plus in this new issue, we’ve taken a punt on 30 current artists who we think will remain important in our world in 30 years’ time. I mean, I’m all too aware that some people think MOJO is just end-to-end Beatles every issue, but a big part of our remit is enthusing about new music and doing our bit to build enduring careers.”
We often see debate unfold online about whether the “music critic” is a thing of the past, and that people now like to listen to or watch their reviews instead of reading them. Why is nuanced, well-written criticism and storytelling still so valuable?
“I’m wary of mythologising the historical role of 'music critic' and getting hung up on our own importance; I’m not convinced that always produces the best journalism. But at the same time, I’m appreciative of the fact that many of our readers have built up a relationship of trust with MOJO going back 30 years, and a similar relationship with some of our writers going back even longer. My feeling is that most readers don’t see things in black and white. They listen to music on vinyl and CD, maybe even cassettes, but they also use streaming services. They get recommendations from MOJO, but also from social media and the Spotify algorithm. We have to be realistic about how we fit into that ecosystem – and truthfully, I think the nuanced music journalism we run in MOJO now is often more effective than some of the calculatedly provocative stuff we published in NME when I worked there in the 1990s."
What stories have you been proud of telling so far this year?
"Favourites this year? Hard, but Danny Eccleston’s Depeche Mode interview; James McNair’s piece on Alan Hull; Grayson Haver Currin’s tribute to Robbie Robertson in the new issue, which is an object lesson in how MOJO can go deeper into a story after all the quick turnaround remembrances and thinkpieces have been filed. Reviews: maybe Victoria Segal on Calexico; Jim Wirth on Lankum; David Fricke on Paul Simon; Andrew Male on John Coltrane & Eric Dolphy.”
Finally, as its MOJO’s 30th anniversary: what are the classic MOJO issues and moments that really jump out to you as encapsulating the brand over the years?
“OK, I’ve had a think about this one. I’m going for MOJO 24, from 1995, because obviously I have to choose a Beatles cover, and this was the first one (there were three different covers to collect, actually). It coincided with The Beatles Anthology, the resurgence of interest in them, and the first rush of archive releases from a lot of key artists – all of which set up MOJO pretty nicely. A couple from 1997: MOJO 39, which had Nick Drake on the cover, and really highlighted the passions and knowledge of our readers; and MOJO 45, which came with MOJO’s first CD (packaged as the Greatest Single Of All Time, and containing Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys). Then two of our guest editor issues: David Bowie doing the honours for MOJO 104 in 2002; and Tom Waits helming MOJO 200 in 2010. I think that Waits one might be my favourite MOJO cover design.”