Beat: The Independent Music Magazine With Megastar Influence
For anyone interested in music over the past decade, Beat magazine has been essential reading. Attracting cover stars including Beyoncé, Sky Ferreira and Lil Nas X, plus big-name photographers such as Clare Shilland, Alasdair McLellan and Tyrone Lebon, the magazine might have a no-frills feel, but its influence ripples far and wide.
Journalist and DJ Hanna Hanra founded Beat in 2010, and she has just pored over its 13-year back catalogue to compile the new book Punk Perfect Awful: Beat: The Little Magazine That Could... And Did. She started Beat out of frustration; she felt there wasn’t a space to showcase bands how she saw them. The catalyst came as she was working for style magazine i-D, and suggested they cover teen goth band Ipso Facto. “They styled them in a Givenchy outfit. I was like, ‘But that’s not the point. The point is they already look cool,’” says Hanra.
This experience provided a template of simplicity that Hanra has stuck with. “Beat really started off as one thing and it’s really remained that,” she says. “When you see it all together, it feels really timeless. [Looking at the images now], you’re not like, ‘That looks so 2007.’”
By sticking to her guns, Hanra’s magazine – created in a basement in London’s Dalston for a long time – found itself on the radar of megastars, such as Beyoncé in autumn 2015. “She did [US] Vogue and she did us, which is the other end of the spectrum. I don’t think she’d done anything that was essentially a fanzine made in someone’s kitchen before,” Hanra says matter-of-factly of Beyoncé’s Beat cover.
As for working with David Bowie, that was a moment when lifelong fan Hanra felt she had truly made it. “I felt like I’d been kissed by God or something,” she says. “I remember his manager was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been sending him every issue’ and I was like, ‘What?’” Sadly, Bowie’s work with Beat – a collage of his favourite images – was his last piece of press. The magazine came out a week after he died in January 2016.
As well as big names, Beat has always supported new talent. Hanra namechecks the band Muna, who have just toured with Taylor Swift, and Gracie Abrams, whose debut album Good Riddance charted at number three in the UK in March this year. Then there’s Service95 founder Dua Lipa – who Beat first featured in 2016. “We [photographed] her after a very early gig at Oslo [a small venue in East London],” says Hanra. “I remember thinking, ‘She’s going be big.’”
Over the time Beat has been publishing, the music scene has become more inclusive, welcoming a more diverse range of artists into the mainstream. The magazine has embraced this shift. “Thirteen years ago, [you wouldn’t find] many people who were of colour or queer or doing something that was different [celebrated in the media],” says Hanra. “Now, music itself feels a lot more inclusive.” The magazine has reflected this shift, with a diverse range of stars across its covers.
Hanra now has a small team working across the UK and the US, and the clout to be able to say ‘no’ when she feels like it. She says there have been ‘pinch-me’ highlights (see below), but the best moments aren’t predictable. “There are interviews I’ve done with a new person and you’re like, ‘Wow, I’ve taken a lot away with me,’” she says. “Sometimes it touches you in a way you don’t expect.”
Hanra’s 5 Unforgettable Beat Moments
- Interviewing Nick Cave for Issue 1 (2010) – “I have absolutely no recollection of this, which is unusual, because of, well, what Nick Cave and Grinderman [the musical act he was working with at the time] look like. But I know I did it because it exists.”
- Shooting a very new girl band called Little Mix (2012) – “Questions were produced from a Lady Gaga lunchbox and included, ‘What does love smell like?’ They were absolutely bananas, full of unbridled energy.”
- Interviewing Debbie Harry and Chris Stein (2014) – “I am rarely starstruck, but there is something about being in the presence of greatness that can be overwhelming. I remember every detail: Debbie’s outfit, the way she entered the room, the way my hand trembled over a page of handwritten questions, the way I cried afterwards with relief, or shock, or joy, or all three.”
- Seeing someone read Beat in the wild for the first time (2013) – “WHAT! A! RUSH!”
- Beth Ditto hosting a Beat dinner at London restaurant Hoi Polloi (2015) – “Something about the way she bussed tables, ordered chicken and sang a cappella made for the most perfect evening.”
Punk Perfect Awful: Beat: The Little Magazine that Could... And Did is out 12 September
Lauren Cochrane is senior fashion writer at The Guardian and author of The Ten