Music » Music Stories & Interviews

The Beat is on(line)



When Angel Castorena, publisher of Backbeat magazine, which is devoted to San Antonio’s music scene and culture, told me he wanted to go back to the glory days of print media, when people longed to hold an actual paper magazine in their hands, I rooted for him instantly. When he said he didn’t want to be online, I thought he was out of his mind and predicted to him that, sooner or later, I’d find him on the net.

“Yeah, you said you wanted to hold me to it,” Castorena laughs, acknowledging that, yes, Backbeat is now online, but on its own terms. “We agreed that, when we’re out of print and you can’t find an issue, then they will be available online.” At the time of this writing, issue number one (October ’09) is online, and issue number two (November ’09) should be up now.

The desire to stick to paper and avoid the digital era is not a simple kamikaze whim. Everything about Backbeat–its design, content, attitude, and aspirations—are a kick to the groin of conventional wisdom, which insists that only immediately profitable, state-of-the-art tech dreams are worth pursuing, as if decades of fuck-you rock ’n’ roll were a waste of time. Most important: Backbeat is meant to be touched, cherished, read, and placed on your coffee table as a reminder that San Antonio’s music scene still dreams, hopes, and has a musical history worth documenting.

“It’s important that major newspapers keep printing, it’s important that we continue making books, and that’s why all of our laws are still printed on paper, because some things just need to be permanent,” Castorena says. “And I think that this record of our scene should be permanent as well.”

“We’re going completely against the grain, and we know that, but that’s part of the appeal,” says Editor Javier Padilla.

The free magazine, which comes out the first Saturday of each month, is supported by advertising and monthly fundraising concerts that, according to Castorena and Padilla, attract between 250 and 450 people paying $5 each. This takes care of a big chunk of printing and allows the mag to have a paid staff of five. It started with a circulation of 1,000, then 5,000, and the February 6 issue (number five) will have a circulation of 10,000 and will be available at about 200 outlets throughout the city, including CD Exchange, Best Buy, and Planet K.

But Backbeat’s purist spirit doesn’t close the door to growth. Castorena said he’s been talking to investors in order to get magazine racks, banners, and to make the transition from fanzine to magazine.

“We want to have a full-fledged magazine look and appeal,” Castorena says about the publication, which currently has color only on the cover. “By 2011 we want to be a full-color magazine. This is not-for-profit, it’s about growing. If profit comes, great. But at this point, we just want to be out there. One thing I guarantee you: It’ll always be free.”

“Backbeat is a musical and cultural magazine with the same intentions as a punk-rock fanzine, the same do-it-yourself-nobody-else-is-doing-it-and-somebody-has-to-fuck-it-let’s-do-it kind of mentality, but it’s striving to be more than that,” Padilla says. “We never set the bar low enough for just doing photocopies or staples. We want to have that soul and appeal, but it’s important for the scene at large to have a nice-looking, well-made, well-thought-out piece of work.

“We’re well aware that ‘print media is dying’ and all that crap; if we weren’t aware of that we wouldn’t be trying to save it, we wouldn’t be trying to make something out of it. At one point or another, all the greatest rock ’n’ roll artists had the status quo attempt to discourage them. But you can’t just go with the status quo and think that nothing cool will ever happen again.”

Isn’t that what rock ’n’ roll is all about?

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