Interview: Lee Taylor, Editor, Flux Arts

Established in 1997 Flux Magazine has set its own course and refused to be anything but original, creative and adventurous. Editor and publisher Lee Taylor spoke to Victoria K. Walker about the surprising success of the magazine with the strong independent spirit.   

Scanning the Flux office in Manchester’s Northern Quarter it is difficult to imagine this small, cluttered space is the base for such an internationally renowned and successful contemporary art and fashion magazine.

The same can be said of editor Lee Taylor. He is unassuming and quiet and, at 41 years of age, surprisingly shy. As we start to talk, he avoids eye-contact, sipping his jasmine tea and looking out of the window.  

Lee is Manchester born-and-bred and studied Creative Arts at MMU. “It was a mixed course, art history and fiction with a little bit of music thrown in.” He lives in an apartment two minutes away from the office, in one of the Quarter’s recently renovated buildings, happily cohabiting with his girlfriend, and co-editor, Claire - who is expecting their first child in two months time. “It’s the scariest, but also the best thing that’s ever happened,” he says of their future arrival.

Lee is passionate about Manchester and has no plans to move into London, New York or Paris. “Because we are actually from the city, rather than just students who have come here and stayed, it makes Flux a little different.

“Flux would be very different if our offices were in London. It could have more advertising but I reckon it would become swamped by the whole London lethargy and cynicism.”

As we talk further about Flux, Lee’s barriers drop a little. “People often ask me where the name originated. It just suited the idea of cross-media, a cross art-form magazine - the idea of constant change. It seemed to suit the whole mood of the magazine.”

It was the daunting prospect of life after University that sowed the first seeds of an idea for Lee. “As graduation approached I started to worry, as all students do, about what to do next. Before my degree, I had had a lot of dull sales and admin jobs. I did not want to go there again. In truth, they destroyed my soul little-by-little each day.

“That is one of the things that drives me on to this day, the fear of having to go back to that kind of work.”

Lee is adamant there was no original vision or ethos for the magazine. “It was, in reality, meant more as a fun way of building up experience, and it was also fuelled by the DIY ethos to get up and do something for ourselves when there were very few opportunities around for graduates in Manchester. We were probably very adventurous and a little naïve.

“It has also become a lot more than we hoped, it has far outreached both mine and Claire’s initial expectations. We never imagined we could push it this far, but we are still continuing to push it further all the time.

“What started as just a Manchester magazine for us, went national, then international. Flux is less mainstream now than it was originally. We’ve gone the opposite way than most magazines, who tend to become more mainstream.”

Lee’s expression makes his opinion clear, and his words come out in a torrent. “I think mainstream magazines give people what they think these people want and are trying to sell products at the same time. I think it’s a little like the chicken-and-egg. A self-fulfilling prophecy. A lot of people are scared of stepping outside their immediate and familiar surroundings. They say they want things that are unique but, in reality, they cling to the familiar.

“Commercial people will tend to sell your own ideas, fears and ideas back at you, attached to a product. Journalists tend to go along with the whole process because they are just after a job and so it is hard for them as individuals to step out of line. That is why things seem so culturally stagnant at the moment.

“I personally like the arty, quirky, independent fashion and culture magazines you find in Magma and Borders Books, ‘Miser and Now’ and ‘Purple Fashion’. I think we have a little competition ourselves with ID and Dazed, but we don’t worry too much as they are still essentially trend magazines. We see Flux as more of an attitude, so we only feature certain things that fit the Flux ethos or attitude. It’s more timeless.” 

It must be difficult to maintain strong beliefs, original thinking and creativity and still publish a successful magazine. “We are pushed very hard all the time to go more commercial in terms of content, but we know that if we do this, Flux will become very diluted and the same as any other magazines out there. We work on this magazine because we love what we do. If it became commercial and bland, the simple fact is that we wouldn’t want to do it anymore.”

A regular feature of Flux is Lee’s unique Editor’s Letter, which is linked to a one-word catch-line on the front cover of the magazine. “I think of a rough direction, become influenced by the magazine and its ideas, then sum it up in one word. For the letter, I feed back into what I’m thinking and I then sort of stare at the blank page for a while and start waffling, change my mind, edit, change my mind again, edit. It’s instinctive at first, but then becomes finely honed. I edit and delete much more than I use.” 

So what is the future for Flux? “We are trying to push further all the time, in terms of content and design. It’s quite hard as we are working with a very limited budget. In the long term, we have to push as hard as we can to place the magazine in a niche all of its own.

“We need to think about honing our planning, relaxing more and stressing less about how we approach the magazine, being more open with PR companies and improving our publicity.

“In ten years we hope to be positioned as a leading international magazine, pushing independent thinking and creativity with wit and style.”