The year’s 1993 – hip-hop is horn-led, R&B choruses are frowned-upon, shorts are big, athletic footwear is rugged, with outdoor courts in mind, and if they’re too much for you, the boom in plain retrospective suede models is in full swing. In the following year, the resurrection of the earlier Jordan models will slowly but surely infect sneaker releases, arguably to the industry’s detriment. But that’s enough of the scene-setting (and bitter digressions) – if you didn’t get into the big smoke much in the early ’90s, a magazine like ‘Phat’ was a glossy-papered oasis of subcultural information and a break from then-waning publications like ‘i-D’ and ‘The Face’ who were too busy covering Courtney Love and ‘The Crying Game’ to focus too much on street fashion, giving us our very own British take on the then-great ‘Big Brother’. ‘Sassy’ spinoff (via Andy Jenkins, Mark Lewman and Spike Jonze) ‘Dirt’ also achieved cultdom Stateside, with a similar gung-ho, irreverent spirit before cancellation, but over here, and available in your local WH Smiths? We had a lot less to go on. ‘Phat’ was a mine of information.
During the skate boom of the late ’80s, in the UK you could grab skate magazines like ‘R.A.D’ , ‘Skate Action’ and Skateboard’ from even the smallest newsagents. Then it all went pop. I’d like to hold Christian Slater responsible, but that would be oversimplifying things somewhat. With ex-Read And Destroy characters like Tim Leighton-Boyce, who kept hope alive during UK skateboarding’s darkest days, and the sadly deceased Gavin Hills behind it, plus contributions from a plethora of up-and-coming scribes, photographers and designers, when I found a copy during a family holiday, it’s safe to say it was a life-changing experience.
Firstly, because it proved to me that there were other oddballs out there on my wavelength, and secondly, because it really, really made me want to break out the Amstrad word processor and get some words down. Curiously, when I approached ‘Spine magazine; in early 2000 to see if they’d print my sychophantic Artifacts retrospective, it was ‘Phat’ alumni Chris Aylen who hollered back. Small world. i bought ‘Ya’ll So Stupid’s one and only LP on the strength of his review seven years earlier. Solid purchase too – rappers in Vans? It was never gonna catch on…well, not that decade. Proto-hipster rap right there…albeit with substance and longevity.
Ahead-of-its time was the underlying theme throughout the ‘Phat’ experiment’s brief existence. Targeting youths with the tagline, “Hot Stuff For Hoodlums” the publication was split into three sections or ‘modules’; the esoteric anti-culture, film and UFO part, Buzz – which broke down local skate spots and Produx, with its shopping guide and music reviews, giving you the latest street/skatewear from Stussy, Fuct, Droors, Poot for the ladies and Pervert, plus a supplement skate section that tried to fill a ‘R.A.D’ shaped hole in the market. Deliberately antagonistic, issue one’s gun-based cover story had it mentioned on the radio in a debate about unwholesome influences on the nation’s youth, but it remained gleefully unrepentant, peaking with issue two’s list of alternative hot girls amongst the Bite It! ads.
For three happy months between August and October 1993 it expanded the horizons of those who picked it up, despite numerous typos and an air of vagueness about the features, before an abrupt cancellation, no doubt fuelled by the earlier controversy. ‘Phat’ was trying to tune into a new breed of youth – neither overtly laddish, but certainly not particularly PC either, and with the same level obsession that the hype blogosphere has channeled in the last few years.
But by then, its work was done. Gone but not forgotten, yet rarely covered online for some inexplicable reason. The magazine actually had a very early (by UK standards) web-presence, that’s very crude by today’s standards, but still floats out there like a ghost ship. It must’ve been oddly vindicating when ‘Loaded’ appeared the following year and proved successful with a tweaked take on a similar formula. James Lavelle made an appearance there too during ‘Loaded’s early days, stood near the Slam City warehouse extolling the virtues of X-Large khakis for their non-voluminous properties. Bizarrely, earlier this decade ‘Phat’s online community-driven local spot index, the Knowhere Guide would hit the frontpage of my local newspaper, with local MPs livid again with them for claiming that my area was riddled with shotgun-wielding yardies in blacked-out BMWs.
‘Phat’ magazine…I salute you.