Invisible Jukeboxes


A collection of visible jukeboxes.

Invisible Jukebox is one of the longest running regular features in The Wire magazine, a cross between music interview and music quiz in which a different interviewee each month is asked to listen to a piece of music and identify the title and artist. The musical selections all have a link either to the interviewee’s career or the idiom in which they operate. Right or wrong answers aren’t really the point, the interest comes from the way in which each piece prompts a discussion about either the music itself or some related matter. For the past two years the magazine has kept the feature Covid-free by asking musician colleagues or partners to test each other.

A large cache of Wire back issues turned up recently at the Internet Archive, the bulk of which is a complete run from 1982 to 1999. In its early years the magazine was almost solely devoted to jazz, old and new, but it changed direction in 1991 when the agenda broadened and the magazine slowly transformed into the forum for new music it still is today. I only became a regular reader in 1994 so it’s good to find these older issues and be able to read some of the Invisible Jukeboxes that I’d missed. What follows is a list of all the interviewees from the first Invisible Jukebox in 1991 up to the end of 1999, together with links to the relevant issue. I hadn’t realised before that the feature wasn’t always as regular as it seemed, there are occasional gaps in the first few years. The earliest ones also asked the interviewee to give each piece of music a rating from one to five, a rather pointless request that was soon dropped. Despite the increasing diversity of the magazine’s contents the list below remains male-heavy to the end. This may reflect the dominance of men in the music business as a whole but I’d still liked to have seen the test applied to (for starters) Laurie Anderson, Sheila Chandra, Alice Coltrane, Sussan Deyhim, Pauline Oliveros, Annette Peacock…

Mark Springer
John Harle
Bob Stewart
Kate & Anna McGarrigle
Leon Redbone
Bill Bruford
Taj Mahal

Cabaret Voltaire
Asley Maher
James Moody
Julian Lloyd Webber
Steve Martland
Ali Farka Toure
Humphrey Lyttleton & Acker Bilk
Billy Jenkins
Neneh Cherry

Sonic Youth
Don Pullen
Jack Bruce
Lester Bowie
Lydia Lunch
Pee Wee Ellis
Paul Weller
Holger Czukay

James MacMillan
Elvis Costello
Steve Albini
June Tabor
Saint Etienne
Ryuichi Sakamoto

John Peel
Mark E. Smith
Anne Dudley
Future Sound Of London
Bruce Gilbert
Peter Hammill
Mark Isham
Robert Wyatt

Gavin Bryars
Mixmaster Morris
Courtney Pine
Philip Glass
808 State
Ice T
Barry Adamson
John Cale
Henry Rollins
Diamanda Galás
James Chance

Harold Budd
The Orb
Airto Moreira
Jah Wobble
Sonic Boom
Ivor Cutler
Adrian Sherwood
Arto Lindsay
Van Dyke Parks
4 Hero
Bootsy Collins

Julian Cope
David Thomas
LTJ Bukem
Jesus & Mary Chain
Talvin Singh
Ken Kesey
Derrick May
Derek Bailey

Jim O’Rourke
Kevin Shields
Natacha Atlas
Alec Empire
Stock, Hausen & Walkman
Blixa Bargeld
John Paul Jones
Terry Riley
Lee Konitz
Caetano Veloso

7 thoughts on “Invisible Jukeboxes”

  1. Wow, what a find, thanks. I started reading The Wire sometime in 1987 (based on my recognising the covers about that time). I wonder whether the magazine’s okay with them being made available. I used to love The Wire, even wrote a few reviews for them, but at some point 10 or more years ago found the whole thing rather stultifying and stopped reading it. I picked a copy up a few years ago at a station and was shocked that the format and layout were still pretty much the same as I’d remembered it from a long time before. There was an issue which featured Michael Jackson on the cover when Mark Sinker was the editor which caused a bit of a furore in the readership, but I’d have liked it if it had widened its critical perspective to include the mainstream as well. But this cache is great – I’ve randomly happened on Kodwo Eshun’s one pager with A Guy Called Gerald on Black Secret Technology from ’95. Wonderful.

  2. I’m not sure what they’d think about back issues being available this way. I know they don’t mind articles being reproduced online so long as you include a link back to the magazine website. I’ve also had a few connections with the mag over the years. I did some ad designs for Steven Severin’s Re: label circa 2000/2001 and even visited their office when I happened to be in London at the same time some ad art needed to be delivered. I think I also had a letter in one issue.

    I’ve had issues with the design as well. I liked the Non-Format era (2001 on) but thought that whoever was doing the design after their stint made the whole thing look rather amateurish. The contents seem to depend a lot on the editor, inevitably. The balance they used to have between the old and the new has changed increasingly in favour of newer artists some of whom don’t seem to warrant the attention. One thing you always notice with old music mags is the artists who were being talked up as potential big names who subsequently disappear from view. It’s something I always have in the back of my mind when reading a feature about a new artist.

  3. I imagine that this will be frowned on since access to the back issues is one of the perks of subscription, as far as i can remember. In these precarious times for print media anything that degrades the income stream is probably going to get stomped on. I used to read it religiously, cover-to-cover, each month in the ’90s and ’00s and randomly flipping through the scans I’m amazed at how much seems to have stuck in my memory – I recognise interviews, pictures, lumps of text and quotes. A sign that I should have got out more at the time, no doubt (June ’95 has an interview with Xenakis, to tie in with a post from last week). I still subscribe and read it but inevitably the excitement has diminished. The gap between over the top prose for some new hot-shot and the disappointment when you listen and find them a lot like some old, previous hot-shot older artist wears you down a bit.

  4. I loved The Wire back in the 90’s. I think my interest piqued when I saw Bill Laswell on the cover. The magazine opened up a whole new world of contemporary classical and new jazz. I keep dipping my toes back into reading it very so often, but found I have never heard of many the artists it writes about and kind the music very niche indeed.

  5. The Laswell issue from December 1994 was the one that made me realise this was the mag for me. I’d been buying everything he was involved with at that time and suddenly here was a magazine with him on the cover plus Jon Hassell inside talking about the greatness of Bitches Brew, and Julian Cope writing about German music in the article that eventually led to him writing Krautrocksampler.

    I think you have to give new artists a chance to establish themselves so I try to remain open-minded. That same Laswell issue had a page about Mouse On Mars who I hadn’t heard of at the time but shortly after was listening to a lot. But who gets featured depends on the perceptions of the writing staff. They’ve always had some writers whose recommendations I’d trust more than others. One reason I value the Invisible Jukebox idea is the way it makes interviews go into areas that aren’t just about the interviewee’s own music. I hadn’t really paid much attention to the Master Musicians Of Bukkake until they had Randall Dunn in the Invisible Jukebox slot talking about Jorge Luis Borges as well as his work with Earth and Sunn O))).

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