YES & NO is a much-anticipated, Pentagram-designed quarterly making a bid for the front rank of intelligent and opinionated cultural magazines. It looks promising on the outside – is it as good as we hope? Yes or No?
The magazine is the creation of Cassius Matthias, a former assistant to film director Anthony Minghella and a print publishing newcomer. His explanation for the magazine’s name goes to the crux of its ambition. Rather than the more obvious ‘YES OR NO’ the stress, says Cassius in his editorial, is on the ‘&’. Rather than dealing in polarities or absolutes he wants the magazine to contribute towards a more inclusive approach to progress, an ‘evolving conversation’ that embraces multiple viewpoints. It’s a positive note to start on.
'...it's refreshing to see content largely free from PR-driven agendas. Nobody is really pushing product here and there are no lazy extracts culled from some commercial mothership.'
Some of the names that catch the eye (Sam Taylor-Johnson, John Malkovich, Duncan Fallowell, Brian Eno) in a creatively reworked list of contents might suggest that YES & NO is aimed at a mature demographic. Although personal connections are detectable or declared Cassius says the contributors have been selected for challenging or asking us to think differently and, while this is a claim I hear all the time, it's refreshing to see content largely free from PR-driven agendas. Nobody is really pushing product here and there are no lazy extracts culled from some commercial mothership. The Sam Taylor-Johnson interview is a long, seemingly sprawling but well structured conversation that we don’t get often enough in an increasing world of prepared answer interviews.
The interview with photographer Sandro (Miller) is similarly freewheeling and quite deep. Miller has worked in film and portraiture with the actor John Malkovich for almost two decades. Some of his most astounding images, including Malkovich as Adolf Hitler and a transitioning Marilyn Monroe based on Bert Stern’s images of the icon, are published here. Material like this is so often presented with cursory captioning for a passing oggle, so it’s a treat to drop in on the working methods of this partnership, to go beyond mere statement.
Science and technology also fall into the magazine’s scope, and come with a human edge that’s well-judged. An exploration of the impact of smart technology on our lives looks in different places to posit intriguing and unsettling outcomes. Articles in the public domain highlighting blood-born viruses (BBVs) are unfortunately rare; I worked in liver disease-related health comms long enough to know. 'Bloody Viruses’ is a two-part examination (that is, over two issues) of the major components of liver disease packed with perception-altering facts and stats that everyone should acquaint with. Hepatitis B and C are widespread, catastrophic and stigmatising yet airbrushed out of the public health landscape. Did you know Hep B is the largest cause of cancer after smoking? Take a bow for going here, YES & NO.
The magazine looks a little different from the outset. The cover reveals no banner logo to speak of, with a barcode placed roughly where you might expect to find the title, which actually lurks just underneath in what looks like 6 point text. Inside, categories progress in sections, delineated by bold, page-occupying typographic layouts. Body text is not slaved over, by comparison with, say Luncheon, and feels loose and rule-breaking in a way that keeps you on your toes.
So it seems odd to end with a few recipes, courtesy of Michel Roux. This a conventional and uninteresting addition to what has been an unorthodox tour. It’s billed as a foodie accompaniment to an earlier, informative interview with a champagne house heiress (Vitalie Taittinger), but I would rather head out into the night. The magazine is on the slim side for the price (£15) when stacked up against the heavy delivery from the likes of So it Goes and a slew of strong competitors asking around a tenner, so I think YES & NO needs to come up with something weightier here, especially to match the fare we’ve had so far.
Still, there are no advertisements, it attempts to offer something different and it is dense with things worth knowing about. Yes or No? I'll have to say yes.