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The Story Of Meltdown

Editor Natasha Scharf tells the story of how meltdown magazine came about.Editor Natasha- Photo by David Smith

Many times I have been asked what inspired me to begin meltdown - so here for your viewing pleasure is the tale of how the UK's biggest selling magazine for Goths came to fruition and how it will continue the work.

It began In the summer of 1999, I graduated from university with a journalism degree and was offered a part-time job as a feature writer on a locally-based magazine. As my post only took up three days a week, I
looked about for something to occupy my remaining time.

It was during a chance conversation with some friends at the local alternative pub that the idea to run a zine came about. I'd had experience of running my own music fanzine when I was at middle school so was ready take my knowledge a bit further. I was dissatisfied with the sorts of magazines that were available in the shops and wanted to write the sort of articles I would like to read.

Together with a local photographer, cartoonist and computer geek, the initial plans for an alternative lifestyle publication came about. I had hands-on experience of working with subscriptions and distribution through my day job so I thought I could handle it ok.

However, it was shortly afterwards that all but myself and the photographer pulled out of the project. Together, we started brainstorming about what this product could be. At that time, there was no other publication that focused on the gothic lifestyle, just music fanzines that came out infrequently - in fact many leading characters in the scene said the idea wouldn't sell!

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The Game Plan

We decided to bring out a quarterly magazine with the sensibility of a fanzine, taking the underground acts and fashions at the time and giving them a glossy presentation with an eye-catching layout - something that hadn't been done before in the Goth scene. The idea was to take the scene seriously so that others would do the same. My training in publishing gave me a head start as I worked on layouts using a desktop publishing system on my home computer. To this day, very few people actually believe me when I tell them that meltdown is run entirely from a computer with a modem in my bedroom. If you've ever written to me asking for a job or work experience and wondered why I turned you down, this is the reason!

It was towards the autumn of 1999 that the photographer sadly pulled out of the project, leaving me the sole bearer of this new format of magazine. I decided I could either quit or carry on and launch the first issue. Never a quitter, I carried on. In fact, it was Uncle Nemesis who encouraged me continually - he has tirelessly supported meltdown right from the very beginning.

The original title was the Melting Pot, which I decided was too long and fanzine-sounding, so Meltdown was chosen in preference. The idea for the name came from the magazine's pledge to combine all the elements of Goth into one publication hence a gothic meltdown. Old 80s copies of The Face and 90s editions of Sky Magazine had been my inspiration, while the review format was influenced by Select's cross-genre approach.

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The First Issue

Meltdown 1st Issue coverThe first issue of meltdown was very London-centric as I relied on companies who knew me to advertise in this unlaunched publication. It had a print-run of 500 copies and sold out quickly following its launch at the Whitby Gothic Weekend in April 2000. Meltdown was always intended to be a non-profit making enterprise, so the money generated from that issue went straight into making the second one bigger!

I quickly secured a number of national stockists through Whitby's Bizarre Bazaar and attracted some scene talent in the form of writers, cartoonists and, later, photographers. It is a little-known fact that my own mother took the cover photos for the first three issues!

I also enlisted the help of my friend Matt, who I knew from the London clubs. He had read media studies at college and had a friend who was a whizz at dark cartoonery. They were meltdown's first contributors and there were others. The Rattler, or CJ Lines as he prefers to be called these days, was a regular poster on uk.people.gothic. I loved reading the album reviews he posted on the newsgroup and emailed him to see whether he would like to write for my new zine.

Stuart Moses, on the other hand, was a local newspaper journalist who was introduced to me by a friend in London. He started writing for meltdown around 2001 and has been a regular contributor ever since. I kept seeing James White, aka Morph, around gigs and clubs so he approached me with a view to writing for meltdown. After all, it meant he could get in to see his favourite bands for free in exchange for a review! James and I coined the term "ubiqui-goth" - a goth who's seen everywhere - and soon enough that word was being applied to me as I travelled around the country promoting meltdown at all-dayers and clubs.

Artwork by Doktor AI had known Doktor A for a few years but lost contact with him. We bumped into each other again at the Whitby Gothic Weekend in 2000 and shortly afterwards he lent his twisted mind to designing the dark art that gave meltdown its signature look from issue 3. His growing commitments have sadly meant he hasn't had time to work on new cartoons for us this year.

There have been other contributors, many of whom have since gone on to write for other music publications. I have always been quite fussy about who I had writing for meltdown. I suppose this was part of the whole quality control side. Almost everyone who has written for me has had some kind of journalistic background. There are very few exceptions. In fact, I have spent the last year and a bit writing dark music reviews for Terrorizer and Classic Rock magazines in addition to running meltdown.

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Copies On Shelves

It's always been a case of trying to find more outlets through which I could push goth to members of the unsuspecting public! Just before meltdown's first birthday, I secured a deal with a comic distributor which saw meltdown's circulation double and got it out to hundreds of new readers. Word spread about the magazine and soon we were getting offers from the US to carry stock as well as being approached with requests from chainstores like HMV.

Suddenly meltdown was visiting places I'd never been, like Australia, Belgium and Germany...
The biggest kick for me was seeing a couple I didn't know reading my magazine intently one InFest. I think that was when it finally hit me that meltdown was starting to get successful. Meltdown was the first magazine for Goths to publish fashion spreads, beauty pages, full club listings, sales charts and use colour inside the magazine as part of the layout. It's strange because, at the time, I never considered what I was doing to be particularly special. It is only in hindsight that I realise how many publications I have inspired through meltdown and how other zines have imitated my original layout designs and use of colour on their own pages.

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Meltdown Takes To The Digital Airwaves

In the summer of 2001, I quit my job as a features writer and turned freelance, which gave me more time to also earn more money. I did my main work as a radio newsreader, which subsidised my increasing offers of work as a music journalist sparked off by meltdown. I'd had a vision to take meltdown to the next level as a radio programme and, through a friend who I'd made at an extreme metal record label, managed to get the station Total Rock interested in the idea.
Meltdown Radio It was in response to suggestions that I put a CD on the cover, something that I rejected as it would have doubled the cover price. This was an alternative way to get the music of underground bands heard.

The first meltdown show was broadcast on a Wednesday evening in November 2001 and I was inundated with bands all vying for an interview slot on the show. The programme has gone through several slot changes but now resides on a Tuesday night, under the new name of The Batcave, and is listened to worldwide.

Over the years, I have had many offers from companies to buy out meltdown. I have turned down all of them. Do I regret this? No, because meltdown would have lost its unique, independent focus and become something different.

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BBC Radio 1 Documentary

In 2002, I started submitting documentary synopses for BBC Radio 1. I had submitted four, which were all unsuccessful and, as a joke, submitted one on Goth. To my amazement, that was the one that received the commission. I actually received the call on my mobile whilst travelling up the M1 to Whitby Gothic Weekend. I spent the next week in a sort of daze, cautious who I told just in case Radio 1 changed their mind when I got back!

Beyond the Pale was broadcast as a 30 minute documentary on 4 November 2002 and went on to raise the profile of Goth even further. To this day, I still can't believe that I have achieved one of my childhood ambitions: to make a documentary for the station.
*see 'links' section below for details of how to hear the Beyond The Pale documentary.

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Meltdown TV

By the time 2003 came around I decided to pursue my crazy idea of meltdown television with the aim of taking underground music to a wider audience. It was something I'd always wanted to do but just hadn't known the right people. I do remember, way back in the early days, telling someone in Whitby's Elsinore pub about my idea for meltdown radio and television. He accused me of being egocentric and I suppose it did sound that way back then as no one else had managed to achieve that.

Detonator TV were the third company I had approached and it was a case of third time lucky. Sadly, Detonator.tv did not receive the funding it needed to continue so the fuse was extinguished early 2005.

When I started this humble enterprise five years ago, I had absolutely no idea that it could take me towards fulfilling my dream of becoming a professional music journalist. If you're reading this, I would like to extend a big thank you for your support. If you're a subscriber or advertiser, an extra special thank you for helping to keep meltdown alive and kicking!

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The Next Chapter!

It may be the end of meltdown as a magazine but the original aim still remains. The Batcave show on TotalRock will continue spreading the word of the dark underground scene as well as bringing you the very latest in unsigned and underground goth-friendly music. Sadly, it does also mean the end of meltdown in magazine format. There aren't enough hours in the day for me to run both and it was not an easy decision to make.

I hope that you continue to enjoy meltdown and support it. To keep up-to-date with the latest information, watch "natashameltdown" at livejournal.com In the meantime,if you're a band and want to submit your CD, you can send it to the meltdown address as normal. I will also carry on my goth and underground reviews for other magazines.

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You heard about them first here!

Here are just some of the bands that meltdown brought to the public's attention

Faces of Sarah (Spring 2000)
Queen Adreena (Spring 2000)
Mechanical Cabaret (Spring 2000)
HIM (Summer 2000)
D.U.S.T (Summer 2000)
Arkam Asylum (Autumn 2000)
Icon Of Coil (Autumn 2000)
Goteki (Autumn 2000)
Gothminister (Summer 2001)
Diva Destruction (Autumn 2001)
Ghost of Lemora (Autumn 2001)
Pro Jekt (Winter 2001/2)
Zombina and the Skeletones (Winter 2002/3)
Earth Loop Recall (Spring 2003)
Screaming Banshee Aircrew (Summer 2003)
Hatesex (Summer 2003)

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Links

www.meltdownmagazine.com - the official website will continue to supply back issues, merchandise and programme listings for the foresable future.

www.detonator.tv - the new home of meltdown

www.bbc.co.uk/radio1- search for Beyond the Pale under Steve Lamacq's documentaries

www.totalrock.com - home of the Batcave


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